Grupo Krapp

October 31, 2002

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.