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Flash Review 2, 11-77: Argentinean Krapp
Grupo Krapp's Song for Latin America

By Aimee Ts’ao
Copyright 2002 Aimee Ts’ao

BERKELEY -- Despite its name, Argentina's Grupo Krapp is an excellent dance theater ensemble, which made its U.S. debut at the Roda Theater in Berkeley this past weekend, jointly presented by Cal Performances and Berkeley Repertory Theater as part of the Celebracion de las Culturas de Iberoamerica. The name pays homage to Beckett, i.e. his play "Krapp's Last Tape," and as the performance attests, it is a fitting choice for several reasons.

Due to current market forces in the entertainment industry (meaning it's profitable), just about the only form of Argentinean dance we get to see north of the Tropic of Cancer is, of course, tango. I love it, but how stimulating to experience the other side of dance world from Buenos Aires, with thanks to the National Performance Network for including Grupo Krapp in its program to increase exposure and creative opportunities for contemporary experimental artists from many cultural backgrounds. While tango explores the romanticized individual response to the difficulties of life, Grupo Krapp takes a more confrontational stance, painted in broad Kafkaesque strokes, that resonates in both the politico-social and the personal realms.

Opening the evening with its signature piece, "No me besabas?" (Weren't you kissing me?), directed and choreographed by Luciana Acuna, Luis Biasotto and Gabriela Caretti, with music by Rosamel Araya, Compay Segundo, and Fun-da-men-tal, Grupo Krapp makes it clear that it is a theatrical force from the moment the performers take the stage, even before the lights go down. With an intensity that never lets up, though is modulated through various timbres, the six performers command your attention through dance, movement, music, acting, and speaking. They are equally adept at the dramatic and the humorous, revealing a brilliant sense of timing in their ensemble dance/movement work as well as in their comedy.

Two women and a man begin staring into the audience while leaning on the legs on both sides of the stage. They notice each other and interact, moving swiftly, athletically in a style that verges on contact improvisation, but with a force and speed that goes far beyond it. The narrator, Luis Biasotto, says they will repeat the same thing but with sound. Now they move even faster with accompanying grunts, groans and shouts. He picks up each woman, Luciana Acuna and Agustina Sario, by the shoulder and crotch and drops her from waist level to the floor. In this brief time, we've already seen love and lust overlaid with violence and a bit of wit.

Then three men, guitarist Gabriel Almendros, accordionist Fernando Tur and actor Edgardo Castro, enter and join in. They contribute an aura more in keeping with Americans stereotypical ideas of Argentinean culture -- guitar and accordion music and macho men -- while the complexity increases. In addition to blatant sexuality and homoeroticism, there are hints of the military, a dictator, a torturer. I am reminded of Brazilian Augusto Boal, director of the Theater of the Oppressed and Columbian playwright Enrique Buenaventura, both active in the political and social theater movement in Latin America during the 1960s and '70s. Whether Grupo Krapp is consciously influenced by that movement or not (its members were all children at the time), I suspect that living in Latin American countries alone is enough to inspire such artistic reactions to one's environment. I even thought about Pina Bausch's "Nelken" (Carnations) with its themes of authoritarianism and oppression. Bausch comes from a culture that survived Hitler, and South America became home to many Nazis who fled there after the war. I don't know if they were attracted by an already fascist flavor, if they contributed to its development, or both. But the end result is the same, a political vice that spawns art. This company should be seen on the strength of this piece alone.

"Rio Seco" (Dry River) makes up the second half of the evening. Acuna and Biasotto provided the artistic direction as well as the choreography with the help of Sario, and Almendros and Tur wrote and performed the music, for this lighter piece about family vacations. Though extremely well crafted and inventive, and meticulously performed, it lacks the weight and substance of the first piece. I enjoy it, laugh a lot and feel twinges of nostalgia and loneliness but I miss the power of "No me besoabas?" In some ways I am glad to go home in a lighter mood, yet despite the food for thought of the former having grown cold, I still have an appetite for it and wish it were warm.

I applaud Cal Performances, Berkeley Repertory Theater and National Performance Network for their joint vision and hopefully they will continue to bring us the young and restless new artists in whatever performance mode they work. We already are fortunate to have the opportunity to see many established overseas companies here in the Bay Area, but I certainly would welcome the chance to see even more unrecognized groups from ever more diverse sources.

For those of you fortunate enough to live in Southern California or Texas, Grupo Krapp continues its North American tour, appearing this weekend, November 7-11 at 8:30 p.m. in Santa Monica, CA at Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th Street, (310) 315-1459. On to Austin TX at Dance Umbrella Nov. 11-17 (512) 450-0456, then San Antonio at the Carver Community Cultural Center, 226 N. Hackberry, Nov. 19-21, (210)207-7211 and then at the Watson Fine Arts Center Nov. 22-23, (210)207-2234 also in San Antonio.

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