H2Ombre at the Arsht: A Waterlogged Theater Experience Like No Other
Wet and wild.
The Arsht Center's Ziff Ballet Opera House is about to get wet. Very wet. The sort of wet that if the water were the result of natural causes, it would require extra flood insurance.
Nightly Wednesdays through Sundays — and three times Saturdays — more than 6,000 gallons of water will be expended on every performance of H2Ombre, an immersive theatrical experience in the vein of previous Miami hits Fuerza Bruta and The Donkey Show. The agua will gush from the stage like newly struck oil and shoot from the bodies and hands of the performers, who wield the element with the precision of superheroes exercising their special powers. The actors become human sprinkler systems, artfully dousing anything in sight and drawing their material from a tank installed beneath the stage (the water is recycled every show).
But beyond the liquid dazzle lies a deeper message about the nature of creativity.
"Water is an incredible element," says H2Ombre co-creator Pichon Baldinu. "It brings everybody into a primal state. I like to approach the water in the sense that it's the primary element we need for life. We need this water to keep going, to create more life, to create things. Water is life, is creation."
The origins of H2Ombre date to the 2008 Spanish World Expo in Zaragoza, where Baldinu and Gabriella Baldini, founders of the Argentine theater troupe De La Guarda, were commissioned to create a water-inspired theatrical experience. The result, the 20-minute Hombre Vertiente (Watershed Man), played to rave reviews, inspiring expanded workshop performances in Buenos Aires, Mexico City, and Tel Aviv.
Scott Shiller, the Arsht Center's executive vice president, entered the picture in 2013. No strangers to experimental summer programming, Shiller and the Arsht helped develop Hombre Vertiente into H2Ombre, the full-length (and world-premiere) culmination of Baldinu's supersoaked vision.
"We worked hard to create a new type of theater experience by bringing immersive storytelling to audiences," Shiller says. "We hope to get audiences to engage with the artists and the storytelling in a way they don't get to do in traditional theater experiences, where the audience sits in seats and the actors are on the other side of the proscenium. [This show] immerses the audience into the performance."
The first sign that H2Ombre isn't a traditional theater piece begins outside the auditorium: Instead of entering through the front doors, ticketholders will file through the Ziff's loading dock, which has been tricked out to resemble an industrial-themed lobby and box office. They'll be led past the actors' dressing rooms and the "Bubble Lounge" — a makeshift VIP drink experience offering libations inspired by the three states of water — and finally onto the opera stage itself, which holds 200 seats (another 600 can sit in the arena).
The show will then commence in a 360-degree fashion, including high above audiences' heads, where the cast of 14 actors/dancers/acrobats will bring H2Ombre to wordless life, supplemented by a pulsating electronic score by Gaby Kerpal. In addition to the dizzying onslaught of dynamic movement, there will also be massive inflatables and 3D projection screens, creating a sense of controlled chaos.
Distinctions between the audience and the cast will blur, and attendees will enjoy an unusual amount of freedom. "The audience chooses their own adventure," Shiller says. "If you want to run up and get close to actors while they're spraying water, you can do that. Or you can hang back at the bar."
Indeed, it won't be the front row of SeaWorld for all audiences, though most will feel the sort of condensation emitted from restaurant misters on a hot day in South Beach. As Sergio Trujillo, a Broadway veteran hired as H2Ombre's creative consultant and choreographer, puts it: "Audiences are like children; it's like you're on a playground, and you either go on the swings or you don't."
Trujillo has compared the piece's movements to those of Pina Bausch, the late, great modern dance choreographer who was largely resistant to linear storytelling. But Baldinu says there is a narrative, however fragmentary. "We wanted to tell a story about an artist and the journey of this artist to get into the different universes he creates. We all have sensitivity for creation and for art, and I try to talk about this process in a universal way," he explains.
"Our goal is to bring the audience into the origins of creativity, imagination, and inspiration," Shiller says. "You are literally sucked into the mind of the artist."
But don't be surprised if the show's abstract movements leave you scratching your head. Part of H2Ombre's purpose, in fact, is to engage audiences into filling any gaps themselves.
"The real goal is for each audience member to transition out of the real world and into the world of the show," Shiller adds. "Pichon has created a story arc the characters go on, but for each audience member, they'll see a different story unfold based on their experiences, because it's nonverbal. The beauty is that the audience member is the final playwright. Each person will see parts of their life and experiences reflected in different ways.
"We want to get people talking about the show and their experience after the show ends — posting Instagram photos, talking about it over drinks and social media. It is important to us that the story lives in different ways as people retell what they saw. It's even more important than every audience member understanding the beginning, middle, and end."
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about arts and culture events in Miami and offers you won't hear about anywhere else.