H2Ombre: Arsht Offers Experiential Theater at Its Strangest and Wettest
The liquid onslaught poured forth long before audiences entered the Arsht Center for H2Ombre this past weekend. Torrential rains slowed the flow of spectators into this undeniably unique prooduction. But they finally arrived to find a combination platter that's equal parts rave, 3D movie, and modern dance show.
After passing through the so-called "Bubble Lounge" offering specialty drinks, audiences entered an unfamiliar Ziff Opera House where most of the chairs have been removed. Theatergoers were split between an open dance floor and a VIP area one level up.
During the show, all notions of traditional theater decorum disappear. On opening night, many attendees shot smartphone videos, waved rainbow-colored glow sticks they received upon entry, and donned neon green plastic glasses frames that rendered everything slightly trippy. Servers interrupted the show once to take drink orders, and again to make customers pay, which was distracting--less like a night at the theater than a night at the Improv. Then again, patrons could also wander the two rooms of H2Ombre at will, which proved unusually liberating. Audience interaction and freedom is central to the show's conceit, and so is commerce: You exit through a gift kiosk.
On the "stage," such as it is, a troupe of 12 performers enact creator/director Pichon Baldinu's wordless vision, which is, in a nutshell, man battling nature for the soul of the artist. H2Ombre evolved into its current, world-premiere form from a 20-minute production called Hombre Vertiente that premiered in Spain in 2008. It used water in unique ways. In our production, 6,000 gallons are dispensed each show.
In its most liquified scene, the water starts as a drizzle spurting from one of the actors' shoulders; then more actors enter the stage, each emanating water from different concealed holes. Gradually they learn to control the liquid, like superheroes discovering how to wield their powers. The water progresses from symbolizing a creative block to suggesting a creative release, with the actors ultimately "playing" the water like instruments (if you're on the dance floor, wear clothing you don't mind getting soaked). At its high point, the H20 gushes from the floor of the stage like an oil geyser, with the bungee-suspended actors dancing atop it.
Then, triggered by Gaby Kerpel's throbbing techno score, H2Ombre shifts to its next scene, in which an actor hangs from the ceiling and drifts toward a giant projection screen, which depicts a fractured desert-scape. He lands on the "sand," interacting with it, until a quartet of costumed "lizards" crawl through the screen and join him in a ritualistic dance that implies both danger and mating.
Before you know it, the lizards have shed their reptilian raiment and have taken the form of nymphs. Thanks to the magic of the show's 3D projection screen, they appear to live both inside the screen and in front of it, suggestively cloaked in drapery - like angels cavorting in heavenly bedsheets. It's a dream, an out-of-body experience, an evocation of an afterlife.
And so it goes. A succession of dazzling set pieces contrived by at least one mad theatrical genius (credit is also due to Broadway choreographer Sergio Trujillo, who signed off as a creative consultant, and the Arsht Center's Scott Shiller, its "Special Artistic Advisor"). Just wait until you see the massive inflatable dragon, which resembles something between a prop from Roger Waters' "The Wall" tour and a Hunter S. Thompson hallucination. Water makes its triumphant return here, the actors mingling around the dance floor and turning it into a dragon-battling sprayground. After just an hour of these spectacles, the actors bow. H2Ombre definitely leaves you wanting more--too much so, frankly--but its idiosyncratic qualities outweigh its brevity.
Trujillo has correctly compared the show's movements to those choreographed by the late, great Pina Bausch, whose routines thrived on athleticism and repetition, resisting linear storytelling. Here, there is supposedly a narrative through-line about entering the mind of a creator (the lead actor, played by Leo Kreimer, is credited as "Artist"), but beyond its original water symphony, you mostly have to take Baldinu's word for it. Form supersedes content, rendering interpretation beside the point. It's easier to enjoy a towering dragon without thinking about what the dragon signifies.
Notions of traditional theater criticism seem irrelevant too; H2Ombre is eligible for Carbonell awards, but, being neither a play nor musical, fulfills few of its categories. Likening it to anything else on the South Florida theatrical marketplace is comparing apples to staplers.
Following the performance, audiences are encouraged to stick around for an after-party and groove to a DJ pumping out Latin dance tunes and the pop hits of yesterday and today. The opening-night crowd was an odd mix of rhythmless theater insiders--like yours truly, and Zoetic Stage's artistic director, Stuart Meltzer, who told me, "this is so not my scene"--and stylish Miami scenesters who felt more comfortable on a dancefloor than in front of a proscenium. It might take glow sticks and flying nymphs to do it, but the show succeeds where so many worthwhile plays haven't: in bringing the coveted demographic of young people to the theater.
H2Ombre runs through Aug. 31 at Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; $50-$125; 305-949-6722, arshtcenter.org.
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