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Reviewed by:
  • Otro Teatro
  • Alexandra Ripp
Otro Teatro. Choreographed by luciana achugar. New York Live Arts Theatre, New York City. 2 April 2014.

The ostensibly simple title of luciana achugar’s OTRO TEATRO, like the dance itself, belies ambiguity. The Spanish bars immediate understanding, and even translated the phrase can mean either “another theatre” (an alternative) or “other theatre” (a replacement). The word teatro also provokes questions: The physical space or the art form? For spectators or performers? Each audience member must understand these terms, and her own connection to them, for herself.

OTRO TEATRO immediately declared itself as distinct from conventional performance, but without asserting how. An usher doled out papers stating the piece’s mission of “grow[ing] ourselves a new body” that reconnects with its own “practice of pleasure”; behind him, a crouching figure covered in shiny black-shade fabric (from achugar’s native Uruguay) kissed each entrant’s feet. While rows of seats sloped down to the stage in familiar arrangement, the stage itself was shockingly bare and exposed. Arriving on this dark, empty horizon, achugar, covered in black cloth except for red paint–striped feet and calves, offered the audience no human connection, only impenetrable and spectral anonymity.

Nor did achugar’s hypnotizing, ritualistic accumulation of simple movements, coupled with sound and breath, elucidate meaning. Crouching, she chanted a series of seemingly meaningless sounds between heaving breaths, then stood to rotate in a widening circular path. Her chant variously repeated, expanded, and broke down, until it coalesced into a cry in her native Spanish: “Un día voy a ser otra distinta” (One day I’m going to be someone different). After shuffling eerily forward and then vigorously slapping her soles apart, she fell as if loosed, coughing and exhausted. While the structure of build, climax, and release was clear, its ends were not.

This opaque accumulative process also incorporated a simultaneous, equally enigmatic undoing. As achugar’s steps and breaths grew labored, the sequence appeared less her creation than evidence of a force overtaking her. Her fatigue could not be wholly attributed to the simple physical movements—something otro exhausted her spiritually as well while impelling her toward a mysterious endpoint. The title’s nebulousness remitted to performance: What precisely was this elusive (an) otherness, where did it reside, and for whom was it meant?

Progressing by repetition and intensification, OTRO TEATRO dissolved one’s need for strict definitions and narratives by urging affective understanding of the ritualized structure. The cycle’s second repetition added a communal presence: moans and sighs from performers discreetly planted throughout the house responded to achugar’s widening sound- and landscape so that her declaration now spoke for the group. On the third cycle, the community’s sonic presence intensified with groans, chanting, and pounding, amplifying achugar’s push toward a mysterious physical and emotional fruition.

Halfway in, achugar and her acolytes did achieve rebirth—into their own bodies. Still crouching, achugar peeked her face, smeared with sweat and red paint, from her black cocoon for the first time; as if new to the world and herself, she touched and moved with curiosity. Her naked, red-painted body now uncovered, she coordinated her limbs in simple, slow, repeated sequences, first on the ground and then upright. Her body, solid yet feminine, pulsed with energy and breath, reveling in the sensation of each motion.

When achugar’s community again followed her lead, they clarified the affective motif of searching for personal bodily pleasure. The sounds from the house grew loud and persistent, and the performers—both men and women—began to wriggle and moan in the seats and aisles. After a second black-shrouded female figure crawled onstage, women from the audience gradually joined achugar, [End Page 102]

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luciana achugar in OTRO TEATRO. (Photo: Ian Douglas.)

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luciana achugar in OTRO TEATRO. (Photo: Ian Douglas.)

[End Page 103]

unabashedly exploring their own movement and engaging one another through tactile investigation. OTRO TEATRO celebrated the hunt for pleasure as both communal and individualized, without defining any final product.

The staging of individuals’ distinct, impromptu searches for personal...


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