By Monique Jones
By Ciara LaVelle
By Jeff Weinberger
By Monique Jones
By Travis Cohen
By Liz Tracy
By Terrence McCoy
Fuerza Bruta isn't showing in the Arsht Center's concert hall. Nor is it being held in the studio theater. To get there, you pass the Ziff Ballet Opera House's front, continue around the side, and walk through a loading dock that leads to the backstage area.
Big bay doors open to a series of cavernous rooms where you eventually find Fuerza lurking in the dark like an occult secret improbably let slip amid the the city's club scene. Clubbers are the people you find in cavernous room number two, AKA the G Lounge — a dim and foggy place that feels a little like an H. R. Geiger spaceship. Stacks of mean-looking industrial fans tower against one wall; vast heaps of metallic equipment with no obvious function stand against the others.
Liquor bars along two of the walls sell "liquid nitrogen cocktails" for ten dollars, along with five-dollar burgers and a whole mess of sexed-up stadium food. This is not your average theater lobby, and it is not your average theater crowd. The night I went, I found two young ladies doing lines in a bathroom five minutes before showtime.
Weirdly solipsistic videos play on high-def plasma screens, showing ostentatiously hip, young things striking poses as though starring in one of Warhol's screen tests. I wondered, Where is the show? Because in the G Lounge, there were no obvious entrances to a theater. There was just the industrial décor, the black-draped walls, and a bunch of beautiful women with perma-frowns getting juiced on their muscular boyfriends' tabs. Also: What are these people doing here? Can this crowd handle a serious theatrical experience? They were young, drunk, rowdy, and — if the constant parade of elbows and shoulders trying to separate me from my date was any indication — rude.
But that's OK. These questions — Where am I? and Can these people be trusted? — are Fuerza's apparent subject matter, and they recurred periodically throughout the night. Shortly after 10 p.m., a black wall split open and we herded ourselves into a seemingly infinite performance space. The room's edges were obscured by darkness and fog, and its center was occupied solely by blades of purple light. An unseen MC asked us to respect the artists' intentions and to move about the space as the performance demanded. This was necessary, for Fuerza uses no fixed stage, and the action continually pops up all around you.
Fuerza's central image is that of a man in a suit, walking or running on a treadmill and blasting through whatever objects appear in his way. At the show's beginning, you cannot know where he will materialize. Last Saturday, he seemed to rise magically from the crowd; when obstacles appeared in his way, it was as though they'd been teleported. After crashing through walls and doors, the walking man was shot. He fell down. He ripped off his shirt and resumed walking. Soon he fell into a bed, but the treadmill — which we couldn't see — decided to make off with his possessions while he slumbered. He awoke, grabbed at his tables and chairs, and tried to keep them from disappearing into the distance. Inevitably, he failed. People sped by him before falling like rag dolls out of view. Sometimes he seemed to like these people. Other times he was indifferent. On occasion he was hostile, and so were they.
The treadmill and its inhabitants eventually disappeared. To where I can't say — Fuerza's technical goings-on are obscured by the fact that the show is performed atop provisional, slightly raised platforms in a flat, stageless space filled with standing spectators. All below-the-knee action is invisible. I never saw a performer's ankles until he or she began to fly.
Fuerza is really a series of set pieces with only tenuous thematic connections. The second of those involves two women running, ninja-like, across a shimmering vertical tarp some 25 feet above the audience. Cables then whisk a similar tarp overhead. Though no actors are visible at that moment, it is the most meaningful thing to happen all night.
Fuerza Bruta is the brainchild of visionaries Diqui James and Alejandro Garcia, formerly of De La Guarda, and their intentions, as explained on their website, are so pure and innocent it's difficult to believe they ever got funding. Consider: They mean to create "a space... the spectator gives itself to, knowing that he is part of an artistic event that is inside a parallel reality, ethereal, beautiful, delirious, and absolutely more truthful than the day-to-day." Lovely words, and certainly the kind of thing most regular theatergoers could get behind. But these were not regular theatergoers, and you cannot expect every random person who stumbles out of a cocaine-dusted bathroom to immediately comprehend such concepts.
When the tarp swooped down and began dancing over the crowd like a gargantuan, benign ghost, many people reached up to touch it. Some grabbed it. A few pulled it, hard. Suddenly, part of the tarp became disconnected from the harness that hoisted it.
The man who had given the almighty yank that did the damage looked momentarily pissed with himself, as if he had learned something painful and important. Though Fuerza prides itself on inscrutability ("No one knows the meaning of the work, because it doesn't have one," say the creators), the night I went, it seemed to exist solely to create these confrontations. The artists, popping in and out of the audience, tried to disorient us, surprise us, shock us; the audience, unaccustomed to shock and surprise, wished to ritually establish its ordinary control over its surroundings — perhaps by fucking up the show.