From Vegas...

DE LA GUARDA

By • Jan 24th, 2001 •

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Where: At the Rio Hotel & Casino, 3700 W. Flamingo Road, Las Vegas Tickets: $45 (702-252-7776) When: 9 P.M. Tuesdays through Fridays; 9 and 11:30 P.M. Saturdays

Friends of mine reported back to me after they went to a pre-opening, charity-sponsored De La Guarda performance of “Villa Villa.” They left early, after getting wet and being acoustically assaulted. Gerda said: “It was a rape of the audience.”

Indeed, I loved it! And, I got it.

First, let me say I hate audience participation shows. If I go to see B.B. King, I want to see him play guitar. I don’t want to stand up and sing for him. I don’t want to hold hands with other audience members. I don’t enjoy the women who stand up and wiggle, trying to get the performer’s attention. I refuse to join in for “now women only” lyrics. I don’t want to sing the high notes for singers who don’t want to strain their voices.

So De La Guarda was a challenge for me since the singular theme is that the audience is an integral part of the show. Sitting down passively is not what creators Pichon Baldinu and Diqui James had in mind.

Now I feel like an obedient sheep passively watching as someone performs on a stage. I’m seriously rethinking theatre now that De La Guarda has infected me. I have since reasoned: Who can’t stand for 70 minutes? You can walk around. Burdensome accoutrements, such as coats, handbags, and stuff are safely put away in Rio provided lockers; and, I heard, earplugs are available.

De La Guarda at the Rio takes place in an enormous, warehouse-like room that can comfortably contain 500 to 600 people. Everyone stands up under a white gauze canvas. And waits. Just like in the movie ALIENS, flying creatures race across the white canvas. To the sound of pounding primitive drums, they rip through the canvas as confetti falls. Then they fly overhead.

Soon they lower themselves and engage the audience. The performers jump and pound each other while flying though the air. Several scurry across another horizontal canvas. Two more careen towards each other in some mock match. A woman keeps banging her body into the canvas. At one point the aerialists join together and, as a mass of flesh, fly wildly around. De La Guarda is not performance theater, it is “chaos theater,” and it is brilliantly done. It is absolutely exhilarating!

Why? Answer these questions: When was the last time you went out in the rain and got soaking wet? When was the last time you were in the middle of a tornado? Or tried to get hit by lightning? When was the last time you tried to overthrow the government in a people’s revolt movement? Or spent an hour in a pit black room filled with hundreds of people shouting? De La Guarda is a spectacular event that celebrates not only freedom, but democracy. There are no bad seats in the house.

Everyone seems strongly divided over the “message,” and the meaning of the bare-ass naked guy flying around overhead picking people up. So it becomes important to say “I got it.” De La Guarda’s roots are in Argentinean political unrest and the death of it’s military dictatorship’s “dirty war” against leftists and subversives. For me, the standing, the music, the clothes of the performers suggest an Eva Peron at the balcony fervor. In fact, at one point, a shirtless man shouts insults (in a made up language) from a rafter. The nonverbal environment of De La Guarda allows you to interpret the event for yourself. I talked with another audience member on line for the after-party who said he saw it as representing the individual-against-the-corporation. By the way, after the impact of De La Guarda we decided that standing passively on line was anti-Villa Villa, so we left.

And now some thoughts on the “bare-ass guy.” The people around me were truly astonished to see this guy flying around wearing a harness (that only covered his genitals) and hardhat. I thought he represented Freedom, as in, when people flip out and bolt out of society, they generally shed their clothes.

The Rio has designed a special De La Guarda theatre, so I would say that the Rio offers the best environment for the show, which is also running in New York and London. I’m not happy seeing De La Guarda only once: I plan on going back with the right shoes, in a big white dress, and staying in the center, ready to be lifted up by The Bare-Ass Naked Guy.

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