There’s a lot of pleasure to be had in Otro Teatro: The Pleasure Project, the culmination of luciana achugar’s three-month exploration of public intervention, individual and collective ritualized movement, and the relationship between performer and spectator. As its title suggests, it is “other theater,” an unusual, experimental approach to dance and performance, part of the American Realness festival at Abrons Arts Center. But first things first: It’s best to know as little as possible about this eighty-minute evening-length work. If you like nontraditional, challenging, immersive dance theater, then just buy your tickets and go. They don’t even hand out the programs until you’re on your way out; instead, you’re given a small piece of paper with a quote about the body, including: “a body in pleasure with eyes that see without naming, they see without knowing….” But if you truly need to know more and don’t want to experience the numerous surprises that achugar (The Sublime Is Us, A Supernatural Return to Love) has in store for you — and there are surprises galore every step of the way in this unconventional, invigorating theatrical premiere — then read on.
Spoilers Galore: Otro Teatro takes place in the Abrons Arts Center Playhouse, but instead of sitting in the cushiony red seats in the audience, you’re led through a hallway onto the stage itself, where you can sit or stand anywhere on the four sides of what has now become a small black box space. The lights are on and the curtain is closed as several bottles of Old Taylor are passed around, with everyone invited to take repeated swigs of the “Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey of Topmost Class.” Slowly, a few people break away from the mingling and start moving determinedly. One pounds her feet on the floor. Another kicks an aluminum gate. A third slithers like a snake. A fourth bangs against a post. At times it evokes a group of zombies waking up, getting their brain-hungry day started. As the performers, one of whom might be right next to you, continue to reveal themselves, it becomes confusing; someone stretching might just be someone stretching and not part of the show. Then again, you start wondering if anyone can participate, as it appears to be so random, and the performers come in all different shapes and sizes. Eventually, the lights go out, and in the darkness the sound and movement continue until the curtains are being pushed back and forth, opening up onto a whole new world. A few of the performers squiggle toward the rim of the stage and tumble over, reversing the usual stage-star dynamic as the audience, onstage, watches a handful of dancers making their way over chairs and up and down the aisles, pounding doors and creeping through the rows. The crowd follows the dancers toward the front of the stage, a few audience members even walking down the steps and finding a seat as action keeps going on all around them. Soon clothes start coming off as well. It’s part zombie apocalypse (evoking Bruce High Quality Foundation’s short film Isle of the Dead, about zombies heading toward a theater on Governors Island), part 1960s happening, with Old Taylor still making the rounds. The show never really ends; it just peters out, as ushers start asking the audience to grab their things and head for the exits, even as naked dancers are not quite done yet, scratching the walls and hiding beneath some seats. So, what was it all about? You won’t find the answer in the program, which is three pages of bios of the cast and crew and acknowledgments; they even left the fourth page blank, leaving it up to you to figure out what you’ve just experienced. Which, of course, is always the way it should be.