Review: Sensation and Skin, in a theater housed in the bodies

What is a theater without a theater? The the choreographer Luciana Achugar, whose experiences have long involved such slippery questio...


What is a theater without a theater? The the choreographer Luciana Achugar, whose experiences have long involved such slippery questions, has explored for years what a utopian theater might look like in his contemporary dance works.

During the pandemic, she made a discovery: we don’t need a real theater to have one. A theater has always accompanied us, in our homes, in our bodies. It didn’t matter if we were isolated or with others. A theater is empowered by privacy; his genre of theater is overflowing with sensations and emotions.

All things considered, Achugar has found the right kind of setting – a theater in transition – for his new play, “Puro Teatro: A Spell for Utopia”. The vast Théâtre de la Chocolaterie, which moved to a new location in Long Island City, Queens, during the summer, is a middle space with raw, unfinished beauty. Even though Achugar gave him comfort by wrapping the stage in rugs and ottomans, you can still feel his bones – and his promise for the future.

“Puro Teatro,” presented in collaboration with the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art and the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, features a charismatic cast: Achugar, Molly Lieber, Antonio Ramos and Sarah White-Ayón. The staging is an incantation recited by Achugar; her mouth was wide in a close-up projected on video as she recited lines related to how we might see and feel her kind of theater: “Eyes in the skin, the skin in the theater, the theater in the theater. eyes.

The shape of her mouth, her trance song, her words – an interchangeable mixture of theater, skin, body, house, eyes – were hypnotic, up to a point. Little by little, his instructions are more forced: “Can you let your eyes breathe?” Can you allow the ability to see with those eyes regardless of what you see? “

She encouraged us not to name what we would see, but to notice and listen. It went on for a while; the people in the front row sank deeper into their bean bags. But Achugar, assuming the role of guide, persisted, encouraging every member of the audience to “allow themselves to take pleasure in breathing.”

On stage, the moans and sighs of the four performers are louder. (Was it a burp?) As the lights lit up the space, the performers – once a bunch of bodies – sprawled out on the stage, twisting with more energy as the feet moved through the armpits and legs. folded around the back. There was a lot of trial and error. It was like a game of Twister without the colored dots.

One goal seemed obvious: to reach the corner of the stage covered with a pile of fabric where nudity followed. Rolling in the tangled fabric and sliding it across the stage, the performers began to pull on their costumes, revealing a butt here, a breast there. Eventually, the dancers began to pat and slap their skin. Nothing was forbidden because their flesh, more and more exposed, became red, as if burnt by the sun.

All the while, the sound of it, as well as the live drumming of Efraín Rozas – an incredible physical presence – transformed the theater into a soundscape. Without clothes, the bodies of the dancers became straighter, more visible: Ramos hopped on one foot, patting the soles of the other. I wanted to laugh, he was so agile, so committed! Lieber, emerging from the depths of an inner space, was his usual fascinating self. When she covered her head with cloth and used her fingers to tear his eyes out, she looked like a ghost. I gasped.

But over time, as the dancers continued to play their bodies like instruments – slamming and hitting the ground with their feet, hopping and jumping – the scene became more and more monotonous. Obviously, they were experiencing sensations – their sweat, their red skin showed that they had reached a kind of transcendence through exertion. But it was all too one-sided. I never felt the theater in me. I never felt the charm. I wanted to! At the end, they woke up from their reverie, slipping through the small crowd while dancing and singing La Lupe’s “Puro Teatro”. It was a sweet surprise, but it didn’t elicit any enchantment.

Puro Teatro: a spell of utopia

Until November 15 at the Chocolaterie, chocolatefactorytheater.org.

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