Grupo Krapp

Grupo Krapp

The Roda Theatre at Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Berkeley, California,
October 31�November 2, 2002

So rarely do Americans have the opportunity to sample any dance from Latin America, except for those packaged-for-tourists ethnographic extravaganzas, that the Halloween night American debut of this Argentine dance-theater troupe would have been a newsmaker�even if the dances hadn't been so insidiously entertaining.

What astonished most about this seven-member, collaborative troupe from the tip of the hemisphere was its pedigree. American observers had no trouble finding comparison with the word-cum-movement essays of Maguy Marin. It was easy, also, to spot the sources of the eclectic vocabulary, suffused with influences of contact improvisation, hip-hop, physical comedy (of the abusive, Three Stooges ilk), and gymnastics. But it was just as easy to note the concerns of a nation that hasn't completely shaken off the tradition of machismo. The troupe's signature work, from 2001, No me besabas? (Weren't you kissing me?) reveled in women giving the men as good (if not better) than they get. The more recent (2002) Río Seco (Dry River) proposed athletic contests as a metaphor for a social order in ferment.

Founded in 1998 in Buenos Aires by Luciana Acuña, Luis Biasotto, and Gabriela Caretti (replaced on this four-city American tour by Agustina Sario), Grupo Krapp's team also includes actor-musicians Edgardo Castro, Fernando Tur, and Gabriel Almendros. The ensemble's name derives from Samuel Beckett's monodrama, Krapp's Last Tape; the two choreographed collaborations featured on this calling-card program revel in a similar absurdist philosophy. In No me besabas?, a series of four monologues (declaimed in Spanish) concern the ways in which we inflict pain on our intimates. The palaver is punctuated by a string of breathtaking duets, in which domination emerges as the theme; watching the spitfire Sario roll the lanky, laconic Biasotto across her knees makes us all complicit in the ritual.

Violence, of a more brutal nature, arrives in the guise of a gangster figure (Edgardo Castro), and he seems to inflict real pain. The music, furnished onstage, was by Fun-da-men-tal (an Iraqi group based in England), Compay Segundo (from Cuba) and Rosamel Araya. The repeated guitars at the end, a fine film noir touch, strike a delicious note of parody.

Nevertheless, Río Seco, the shorter of the two pieces, is also the more coherent. This six-performer opus probes, amid all the zany antics, a measure of hard truth about competitiveness between the sexes, who can't wait to flex their undraped biceps. Structured like a series of Olympics events at a seaside setting, the movement involves sprint postures (and a recurring buzzer), aerobic exercises, and a swim competition, with all the contestants flat on their stomachs, attempting the breast stroke and looking a lot like beached flounders. It's like a company picnic gone bonkers and when, at the end, guitarist Gabriel Almendros sultrily reclines atop an upright piano and serenades the audience with George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," this camp routine impresses one as positively subversive.

Grupo Krapp was presented locally by the University of California's Cal Performances as an entry in its Celebración de las Culturas de Iberoamérica, an admirable new programming initiative that will import emerging and traditional artists from the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking nations. To judge from this attraction, it won't all be castanets and huaraches.

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021