Theater has always compelled and empowered the reinterpretation of our most primal needs, fears, and brutal aspirations. In this provocative interview our resident writer Kat Hepburn sits down with one of the performers Hallie Bulliet of Fuerza bruta to wonder out aloud how these themes are currently reflected in our world and what happens when we are suddenly forced to deal with brute aggression as well as sensory perception amongst strangers. –Scallywag.
After checking my coat and gulping down some beer at the Daryl Roth Theatre, I make my way towards the show, Diqui James’ FUERZA BRUTA, where I shuffle into the mass of standing people. A loud speaker’s broadcast tells us to be attentive to the directions of how to move, where and when.
Then the gray t-shirted STAFF begins. They direct us like a commercial jet on an airport runway. With their elbows bent and stiff fingered palms in the air, they signal us to fit inside the white line of tape on the floor. As each individual moves closer to the next, breaking down the barrier of personal space, we become like some giant organism gathering our strength.
The room is rural in its darkness. Hundreds of hearts pound with anticipation in the high ceilinged space. Music from the speaker rises like the dawning of an African sun. The beat, too, sounds as if it’s coming from an ancient, tribal drum. Then a man emerges in the center of a circle glowing white with light. Dressed in a collared shirt, khaki pants and necktie, he’s walking on a large treadmill-like device keeping up with someone else’s pace.
People and chairs pile on board, steadily streaming past. Though they appear to be in search of their own way, they’re all walking in the same direction. The treadmill rolls faster now and the man is left alone, running. He’s doing his damnedest to keep up with the world’s rhythm, but in the process, he’s losing his own inflection. White chips of paper, cardboard and Styrofoam boxes fly in his way. Lightly, at first, then harder and thicker, it starts to rain. From his front, something or someone shoots him in the chest, point blank. Blood stained and wet, the man falls on his face.
It goes black again and we, the audience, are moved to stand in a new way. Up where the sky should be, there’s a couple making love. The man is on his back, whirling in a circle. The woman spins above him, her hair, shirt and undies swimming in a shallow pool of water. Though the lovers are separated by a pane of something like Plexiglas, their smiles and movement communicate that pleasure is being had.
For a little over an hour, the performance drags us back and forth between the earth and the sky. The earth, with it’s sidewalks represented by something like large tin foil sheets, where men and women are held inside of cities, inside of streets, inside of buildings, offices and clothing. Then we are compelled to move up into the sky, where humans run and leap in a transparent slip and slide. The performers are lowered for the audience to reach and in a unanimous gesture, we touch their pleasure like one best friend rubbing another best friend’s pregnant belly.
All the while, the pace of the show continues to increase. The characters on earth gain courage from the joy taking place in the sky and they dance and dance and dance until the lead character nearly breaks free from his tie. Then the performers climb from the moving walkway up a staircase and through a door that reveals nothing, also known as a place to leap into.
My notes stop right there with me asking two questions: “One, am I supposed to feel like I’m in a hurricane? Two, is he about to commit suicide?” Before I knew it, the show had ended. The actors take their bow. The rain machine pours on us and we, merely observers before, now begin to dance!
I don’t know how Mr. James first had his FUERZA BRUTA idea. Perhaps one night he sat down at a bar with blackboard tables. Maybe after a few drinks he began to sketch all the beautiful people thumping together on the dance floor, determined to capture the music’s beat in the thin lined figures scrawled in yellow, blue and pink.
But he’s communicating a theme here, too. For as he smears away the image with the palm of his hand to draw something new, each moving figure leaves its own blurring stain. Scene after scene, each scene piles up. By the end of the night, the weight of all those beautiful people in such a small space can be felt.
I never attempt to describe anything in one word. So I won’t, I will use two! Sensual immersion. This is what FUERZA BRUTA is. And if I don’t know for sure where Mr. James’ idea came from, I am certain that he has spent time being sensually immersed.
For only after internalizing the joys that can be had in the human body experience, must he have decided to find himself a black box and call it a theatre. Then, like some god giving birth to every aspect of creation, declared that light, music and human movement should be all that exist.
Now, with FUERZA BRUTA, Mr. James (along with his cast and crew) offers us his own aesthetic vision as a gift. A block away from the Daryl Roth Theatre, there’s a glass walled building with a many-digited number taking up a row of windows. If the world keeps turning for centuries to come (and I hope that it does!), imagine how many rows of windows the number will grow to take up. This, in my opinion, is how many people FUERZABRUTA should reach. Then they too can walk away changed, empowered by the beauty of human beings with ears that hear, eyes that see, hands that touch, noses that sniff, tongues that taste; a body born to experience and destined to create.
After my second Fuerza Bruta experience, I had the opportunity to sit down with Hallie Bulliet to discuss her experience as a performer in the show, challenging the traditional methods of language and getting personal with strangers.
KH: Fuerza Bruta is experimental theater. In what way does it go beyond the current trendy-ness of cutting edge and experimental newness?
HB: Fuerza Bruta combines the dramatic theatrical experience of classical theater while at the same time challenges the limits of communication by using sound and movement to tell a loosely thematic story to the audience. We explore the possibility of expressing deep and thoughtful ideas in new ways. And by freeing the ways in which we can communicate, we are able to speak to extremely diverse groups of people.
KH: In Judeo-Christian culture, historically there is a divide between the spirit and the body. The spirit is often thought of as “higher” than the body, destined to rule over it. Thinks like sex and food, bodily desires, are frowned upon. As a physical performer, what is the relationship between your body and your mind?
HB: There is no division. None. The show is so physically demanding, we are just trying to hold on! There’s almost no room for the mind. If you had to think about what you looked like to the audience while you’re hanging from a suspension line and flipping in the air, you would get knocked upside the head. You can’t think about your body. You just have to be your body and do it. There’s no room for questioning or self-consciousness. It’s so simple and beautiful because all you are is a body reacting to the physical world around you and what’s happening to you.
KH: Fuerza Bruta is a very physical performance. How do you get yourself into a physical and mental comfort space to prepare yourself for the show?
HB: I listen to music to help me gear up for the show. I also decide what story I am going to tell during the performance. Because the show does not have a linear story, each performer has to come out with an idea of what they want to communicate to the audience that night. Diqui James has given us as performers a lot of freedom to interpret our roles. This freedom allows us as performers to reach deep within ourselves and search for new ways to communicate with each other and the audience.
KH: Where do these stories come from?
HB: They come from my life. Whatever I am going through in my personal life I get to express in front of nearly 400 people in the audience. I don’t want it to sound too therapeutic because I think we are giving a lot to the audience, as well. But it is wonderful and very stress releasing to be able to kick down walls and break through ceilings while I am performing! But sometimes I am trying to tell the story of what I see going on around me in the world. If I am disturbed or touched by something I see on the news for instance, I let that come out in my performance.
KH: Because communication in the show is limited to sound, light and image, how does the audience understand your story?
HB: We use out bodies and our energy to communicate to the audience. We are communicating something that is deeper than words, deeper than real language. I feel like I am not limited by words and that the ideas I am trying to express are bigger than words. But I also think that the audience has just as much room to interpret my performance as I have when I am deciding how to deliver it. They are living their own journey while they are watching Fuerza Bruta. It is like visual art in that each person has different emotions that are evoked by what they see.
KH: More than a play, Fuerza Bruta seems to be an experience. How is having an experience different from being performed for or “lectured” to?
HB: The audience is another character in the show. We switch up the roles of each character every night we perform. And in the same way, the audience is different each night. When we perform in the suspended pool of water hanging over the heads of the audience, we are having a dialogue with them. We get lowered down so that they can touch our bodies through the plastic. In order for this to work well, we have to communicate with the audience and respond to the way in which they communicate back to us.
KH: In a world filled with so much aggression- where there are random acts of violence, war, spousal abuse and violence against ourselves- how did Fuerza Bruta decide to allow audience members to get so close to their performers and the set pieces?
HB: We trust them. People appreciate that we have extended this trust to them and they are so excited to rise to the occasion. I have no idea how it happens. It’s miraculous. I’m sure that some of our audience members have done abominable things in their life, but we get to see them at their best. They are in a state of awe and wonder and it’s like they all turn into who they were at like 9 years old.
KH: In America and especially NYC, people really value their personal space. In Fuerza Bruta, this personal space doesn’t really exist. What is the psychological effect of forcing the audience to not have personal space?
HB: Well, the same people who would be so cranky if they had to be in a squished subway car are thrilled to be in the space at the show. I think it’s because people feel transported by the beautiful images they see. The show gives us permission to break free from a lot of the rules we have about socially acceptable behavior. I am able to move through the audience and dance with strangers and look people directly in the eye. I would get yelled at or looked at like I was crazy if I waltzed up to a stranger on the street and started dancing with them! And I’m disappointed when I leave and remember that I cannot do that on the “outside.” It’s a phenomenon that comes from the fact people get to discard their pedestrian lives.
KH: The show is also a light show. How is light used to communicate to the audience?
HB: I will give an example. During the pool scene when we are dancing above people, the audience is looking through the pool at the performers. And as the pool begins to rise up, the light changes so that the bottom of the pool becomes a mirror and reflects the audience’s image back at them. How often does the audience have an opportunity to see themselves in a performance? Never. There are a lot of lighting feats like that in the show where the audience has been looking at something from one perspective and as the lighting changes, they gain an entirely new perspective.
KH: Why does the show strive to manipulate perspective?
HB: I think because it challenges the audience to think for themselves. And we want people to have the freedom to use their own minds to interpret what it is they are seeing. By showing multiple perspectives, we are validating each individual’s perspective.
KH: Well, part of my perspective was that the show was extremely sexual. Is this part of the show or is this just me?!
HB: No. I think it is, but perhaps more for the audience than for us. It’s sensual and sexual. In the way that any kind of raw, uninhibited energy is. But for me, there’s nothing less sexy than a person trying to be sexy. But maybe the show is sexy because that’s not at all what we’re going for. We are going for communication and perhaps that is what is sexy. Sexuality is at the core of everything that we do because it is how we continue to survive.
Darryl Roth Theater: 101 east 15th st.