Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Theatre: Arrabal

Who knew I would like dance?  I have always asserted that I find pure dance performances boring because I prefer shows, especially musicals, that have a strong story, dialogue and preferably singing.  After watching Arrabal, I stand corrected.  While there was no dialogue or singing, Arrabal told a very powerful tale of political injustice, personal loss and the quest for truth.  The plot was conveyed exclusively through the use of expressive dances that ranged from passionate to moving, and clever staging which included lighting effects and video.

Arrabal opens in the context of 1979 Argentina, which was controlled by the vicious military dictatorship that was responsible for up to 30,000 "forced disappearances".  Alleged political dissidents were abducted, tortured and sometimes killed.  Rodolfo, the father to baby Arrabal, is one such protestor who flaunts his allegiance to the former Peron regime by proudly displaying his "PV" (Peron Vuelve, meaning Peron will Return) t-shirt at a political rally.  He is caught, beaten and then executed by the soldiers of the military junta led by General Jorge Rafael Videla, while his best friend El Puma flees, unable to help him.

Eighteen years later, Arrabal dreams of her lost father in a tender ballet that turns into a nightmare as he is torn away from her.  El Puma decides it is time to tell Arrabal about her father and sends his servant to lure her to his tango club.  Along the way, she encounters the streets of downtown Buenos Aires as well as the patrons of the tango club.  She is fascinated by the intense and sensual tango dancing, especially by Juan, with whom she forms an instant connection, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend Nicole.  El Puma approaches Arrabal and dances with her, but loses his nerve and runs off in shame as he relives Rodolfo's torture and his own guilt at not trying to help him.  Juan rescues Arrabal when she is cornered by a group of predatory men, and the two fall in love (yes this is quick, but it is a dance story).  El Puma finally summons up the courage to reveal all to Arrabal after conjuring up happy memories of his and Rodolfo's childhood days.
Arrabal is devastated by what she hears but comforted by the ghost of Rodolfo who gives his blessing for her to be with Juan.

The scene that gives the story its greatest poignancy is rooted in history–The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo were a group of Argentinian mothers of the disappeared, who gathered and marched at the Plaza de Mayo carrying signs with photos of their children around their necks, demanding answers regarding their children's fates.  In the show, Rodolfo's mother joins the march as haunting faces of the missing are shown in the background.  Then in a dream sequence, Rodolfo and other "disappeared sons" drift on stage to have a touching dance with their mothers before fading away again.  As their mothers embrace them, the men spread their arms in a religious "Christ-like" pose.

Black and white video footage of those dark times in Argentina help accentuate the horrors of that period.

The beautiful ballets and fast-paced tangos were thrilling to watch, but it was the moving story that drew me in.  A thorough synopsis provided in the program really helped to highlight the various plot points.  The show also included much audience participation. Prior to the start of Arrabal, members of the audience could go on stage for tango lessons, which were then put into good use when they were led back on stage for a quick dance in the middle of the show.  A few lucky patrons were able to watch the show from cabaret-styled tables located  both on stage and along the front row in front of the stage.  Although that would have been a unique experience, I'm not sure it would have provided the optimum sight-lines to watch the intricate dance patterns.  We were quite happy with our seats further back, where we could see the entire stage.

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