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This Broadway review by Simon Saltzman was published in U.S. 1

Newspaper on July 15, 1998. All rights reserved.

New York Review: `Villa Villa’

The walls of the lobby of the new Daryl Roth Theater

that serves as a holding space before entry is allowed into the

performance

area for the performance piece, "Villa Villa" (pronounced

vee-ja vee-ja) by Argentina’s De La Guarda company, are painted in

bold, garish graffiti. A few minutes before the show starts, the

audience

is herded into a large tented space without seats. Somewhat resembling

a link to an imagined Black Hole of Calcutta, the space is notable

for its enveloping black canvas sides, enclosed canopy ceiling, and

shiny black floor.

Huddled en masse, the audience gazes upward as eerie flying shadows

can be detected, zooming and zig-zagging overhead. As the light is

raised, the space begins to reveal the strange, moving and

reconfiguring

shapes as human flyers. With our eyes fixed on the flyers, who can

now be seen attached to cables and wires, we watch these aerialists

who, like space-invaders, suddenly begin to plunge directly into the

crowd and occasionally abduct and fly off with an unsuspecting (we

assume) observer.

It is comforting to know that those who leave the earth come back,

as do hundreds of balloons and streams of confetti, all of which

descend

through slits and holes in the undulating firmament. This carnival

atmosphere is short-lived, as a terrifying wind now forces the

audience

into another huddle. This, as bolts of lightning flash, ear-shattering

thunder shakes the room, and torrential pockets of rain fall mostly

on some new visitors who have begun to populate the space with

daredevil

gymnastic and acrobatic stunts. Those in attendance seemed prepared

to get sprayed by the windswept water.

Strobe lights are used to affect our vision. But we are nevertheless

curious about this weird looking and sounding company of performers

who dive amongst us, stomp to the rhythm of pounding drums, and scream

out a mixture of primitive dialogue and primal song. Certain members

of the company take on the characteristics of insects and other flying

non-humans, notably those hoisted and heaved about by pulleys, chains,

and ropes. Some take particular delight in being slammed again and

again into the billowing canvas walls. This starts the audience

cheering.

Otherwise, those who frenetically chase each other up and down the

walls and embrace each other in passionate ritualistic encounters

rather mesmerize us. I’m not sure what this unusual spectacle means.

I am sure that I didn’t like standing for an hour in a very hot room.

Perhaps I was envious of the one performer who apparently cools off

by flying through the air ass bared. Although there is a lot of neck

strain involved, the episodic entertainment provided by the De La

Guarda troupe is not designed to strain the intellect. The mostly

young audience seemed to get a charge from all the yelling and

interaction.

This one-hour immersion experience may appeal to those who long to

see someone else climb the walls for a change. HH

— Simon Saltzman

Villa Villa, Daryl Roth Theater, 20 Union Square East

at 15 Street. $45. Tele-Charge, 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.


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