Friday night, in the foyer of Skirball, Luciana Achugar greeted her audience nervously; Achugar doesn’t normally give speeches before her performances.
“I went back and forth a lot,” she said, “but it feels that this is such a grand space that you need some direction.” And so directions are indeed what she gave us.
First, the audience was asked to walk into the theater, not through the large doors on either side of the stairwell, but from backstage as if they were performers. “I would love it if you could share the space with us,” Achugar continued, “But I don’t want to make you upset or uncomfortable. There are beautiful house seats.”
By the end of “Brujx,” no one had escaped the interactive performance unscathed. Finally, Achugar gave us her final suggestion, “I ask you to consider the labor of the audience. That there is a job. That you have a job … That you are completing the work.” Achugar’s assertion wasn’t simply an extension of the Marxist ideology that inspired the “On Your Marx” festival at NYU Skirball — it was tangible.
The three dancers in “Brujx” moved with purpose about the stage, plowing through crowds of audience members who had taken Achugar’s earlier suggestion to join the performance. Oftentimes, it seemed that dancers would intentionally choose the path of most resistance to arrive at their next destination. Most people moved out of their way immediately, but some stayed, and were promptly crawled over or grunted at. Not even the people in the back of the theater, sitting quietly, evaded the dancers’ movements. Achugar herself jumped off of the stage and crawled through the occupied house seats, which seemed to make some of the older audience members upset and uncomfortable. But, was that not their job as audience members — to become upset or uncomfortable? Was that not the labor of the audience?
“Brujx” tries its best to answer this question. While the three dancers perform what looks to be a vigorous, and repetitive, pilates routine in denim vests and assless black panties, and an automated mechanism of metronomic cowbells rings in the center of the stage, the audience watches intently and participates when moved to. The dancers move to different positions. The audience selects a singular dancer to crowd around. The cowbells ring in the background. This repeats for almost two hours. It’s mind numbing.
I asked myself many times what exactly I was watching and why exactly I was watching it. There didn’t appear to be any deeper meaning behind much of their exploration on labor. And in fact, for much of the performance, the dancers seemed exhausted, upset, and even frustrated at the intensive labor this performance demanded. Yet, they kept going, and that was exactly the point. The dancers continued to work for the same reason the audience didn’t leave the theater — that was what was expected of them; they had a job to do.
Towards the end of the performance, antsy and a little frustrated myself, Achugar began to hit the golden column along the stage with her jeans furiously. She then proceeded to aggressively take off her shirt, look me in the eye while I took my notes and throw it directly at me. And suddenly, I liked “Brujx” a whole lot more.
Email Claire Fishman at [email protected]