- El Otro by Compañía El Niño Proletario
In January 2016 a striking image dominated the walls, poles, and windows of Santiago, Chile. On the ubiquitous black-and-white poster, a 40s-something person of small stature stares forward, his body enveloped [End Page 654] in an oversized pair of sweatpants save for his bare shoulders, chest, and upper arms. On his right a tall, large man, his face unseen, stands in profile. This man’s sweatpants rest halfway down his buttocks under an exposed, dramatically protruding belly that approaches the dwarf’s ear. The advertised play’s title, El otro (The other) by Compañía El Niño Proletario, lines the top, and words and image together suggest diverse “others” at play: those with bodies outside accepted norms or functions, or those upon whom we emotionally depend. In a country whose democratic government continues the neoliberal policies of the prior dictatorship, El otro’s recognition of these “others” troubles a longstanding national ethos of individualism.
The image also alludes to the show’s inspiration: photographer Paz Errázuriz and writer Diamela Eltit’s book El infarto del alma (The infarct of the soul, 1994). Errázuriz’s black-and-white photographs capture couples occupying a mental hospital in the isolated town of Putaendo, while Eltit’s poetic texts expand them in varied tones, genres, narrators, and registers of truth. She focuses on the abundance of love at this grim state facility, where those who do not effectively produce or consume are shut away. At odds with a society that associates love with weakness and illness with uselessness, the residents embrace and elevate these alleged deficiencies, as they did with the tuberculosis patients that lived there before them.
Similar to these connected histories, the venues for all productions of El otro (it premiered in 2012) visibly layer past and present. Just as the mental hospital exists in a crumbling former sanatorium, El Niño Proletario has inserted stages into abandoned factories and jails. I saw the remount in Centro de Creación Infante, a factory-turned-community center whose former function remained evident. The actors performed on the concrete floor of a long, empty area marked off by a curtain. Exposed metal pipes snaked above them and wooden pillars awkwardly segmented the space. Only one wooden table with two benches served as set, plus some chairs along the sides. Outside the curtain Errázuriz’s photos of the actors were on display, and their resemblance to the book’s photos also layered the past and present.
El infarto’s influence extends to the multimodal nature of the performance proper. By using moving bodies, light, sound, and text, El otro dynamically reiterates the book’s themes and its collage-like composition. As in the company’s other works, El otro’s primary medium is the live body, as revealed by the poster’s focus on two of the actors’ physical idiosyncrasies and interrelation. While the show portrays daily behaviors, the mental states of those executing them render them abstract, even dance-like, without clear impetus or goal. The three women and three men do not exchange any dialogue; but for one monologue (Eltit’s words) and one sung bolero, they only vocalize personal tics or animalistic utterances.
Yet Eltit’s language, taken from El infarto and her 1994 novel Los vigilantes, does serve as multimedia content. Short excerpts were periodically projected on the floor; recorded voices at times spoke about love with an eloquence that was radically distinct from the embodied action. The intermittent soundscape also integrates ethereal music, sometimes further overlaid with cries and yells that the company recorded onsite. Light is the tapestry’s final element, varying from chiaroscuro to full brightness to isolated illuminations. This mixture of sensory expressions evokes the “texture” that the artists sought to recreate after their site visit.
Far from linear, the dramaturgy of El otro is also textural. Vignettes, mostly two-person interactions of love or friendship, segue fluidly into one another. Wearing old, dirty, and mismatched clothes...