nytheatre.com review by Kyle Ancowitz
August 12, 2008
The most amazing thing happened to me as I was crossing City Hall Park to see Gaitzerdi Teatro's Ansara/Uneka in PACE University's outdoor courtyard. When I stepped out of the subway, the skies suddenly blackened and I heard massive rainfall hitting the asphalt, although the spot where I was standing was still completely dry. Almost as if I were in a horror movie, I slowly swiveled my gaze and saw that the rainburst was chasing me down the block. I lit off down the street with rainspatter nipping my heels. I punched the afterburners and skidded to a stop under a hardware store awning, where I waited with a dozen other shocked New Yorkers in shorts and sandals, all wondering how close to each other we'd have to stand before the rain died down.
When I arrived at the courtyard, the members of Gaitzerdi Teatro were still shaking the rain out of their long hair and attempting to salvage the performance. This physical theatre troupe hailing from Bilbao combines stylized movement with ingenious low-tech special effects in their theatrical vignettes, but they didn't appear to be prepared for the bad weather and there was palpable anxiety in the air. If the rain resumed, the audience and the performers would be exposed, but, after some brief confusion, the sky abruptly cleared. The technicians pulled the trashbags off the lighting booms, the audience took their seats, and the show commenced.
Ansara, the first piece, introduces us to a silent, barefoot young man in a long ponytail and a velveteen jacket. He would appear to be some sort of poet, judging by the tattered notebook he carries and the enormous rosebud hidden in his mouth. Before long, he discovers a lovely young women, who is dancing with a Japanese fan inside some sort of transparent chamber. The two are immediately taken with each other, and as the young man climbs inside an adjacent chamber, they begin a dance of seduction from within their separate enclosures. Whimsical and enigmatic, this piece is filled with homespun, clown-inspired theatrical gags, though it takes an arrestingly grisly turn before the finish.
Uneka, meanwhile, is mordant and brooding where Ansara is sweetly sexy. A darkly beautiful woman in a trenchcoat and a bowler-hatted man (played by company principals Yolanda Bustillo and Iňaki Ziarrusta) alternately entice and assault each other in precisely choreographed movement underneath a steel double-pyramid structure that evokes a giant hourglass. Unfortunately this element of the piece was not rainproof—the performance is designed to be performed under an intermittent veil of drifting sand, but the wet sand at the top of the pyramid was too clotted to pour out. A quick visit to YouTube will confirm that when the piece is working right, the effect is impressive and the performers, highly professional, are mesmerizing. As it was, the actors and the audience were working hard together to wish away any further disasters. The curtain call was followed by accented apologies and calls of, "Don't worry! We imagined it for you!"
In their mission statement, Gaitzerdi Teatro's proposes to discover new theatrical languages. I'm here to tell you that their inventive pieces, while not necessarily weatherproof, both intrigued and charmed me. Don't worry about the rain—these people are clearly pros and I doubt they'll be caught off-guard again. Catch them before they return to far-off Spain, where the rain falls mainly on the plain, not on top of them.