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Culture Reviews
De La Guarda (Argentina)
By Neil McGowan
You come home in damp clothes. Your shoes are covered in a thick layer of papier-mache. Your jeans are plastered with soggy lumps of paper up to the knees and beyond. You have little plastic frogs down your neck, there are polystyrene balls in your pockets. Yes, you’ve been to De La Guarda….

Half “new circus”, half ambient-music concert, and half acrobatic-display – yup, it’s a show-and-a-half, and has been enthralling audiences around the globe for over five years now. I first encountered it (and it’s very much a participatory event!) in London six years ago… by comparison to the cheerful but tatty Roundhouse venue there, the Moscow show is superbly fitted-out in a purpose-converted venue. If the title “Zavod Show” had you expecting some abandoned soviet tram-depot, you can relax – the facilities are slicker than most of Moscow’s nightclubs.

The core of it – probably - is an Argentinian troupe of aerial wire-performers, and it all goes on overhead… you stand for the whole show (about 80 mins, no interval), and you’re moved around the performance-space by cheerful and friendly Stage Crew, who direct you to places where you can see the next bit best, whilst staying clear of most of the torrent of water now being directed onto the performers from the ceiling (did I mention the water?). It’s all in mime, so there’s no language barrier… some of the numbers are pure technical bravado, but others are acted-out scenes of shipwrecks, slapstick helicopter rescues, wall-walking, and much more.

There’s a bravura new-agey soundscape that accompanies all this, over a sound and light system that easily outclasses many a major rock concert. The skill of the performers lulls you into forgetting exactly how hard what they are doing is… the abiding effect is the stupendous beauty created in many of the scenes, contrasted with the high-adrenalin party atmosphere of the latin-drumming numbers… and occasional members of the audience being dragged-off on a bungee rope and into the ceiling of the auditorium. During many of the numbers, performers not directly involved drift through the audience, some interacting with them “in character”, whilst boys might get goosed (or randomly snogged) by female cast members?

The show had not changed significantly from the one I saw in London, but the excellent purpose-built venue not only presents crisper lighting and sounding, but offers a pleasant high-end environment that almost anyone would find acceptable. As an all-standing show there are no numbered tickets – you’re gathered into a well-equipped club area, and then invited to come forward into the blacked-out performance area immediately before the show starts. (Hint – try to stay in the middle if you can).

To say more than this would take the edge off the many breathtaking surprises in the show, so instead, just a few more hints; the main one being, don’t dress your finest. Lots of paper and water get thrown around, and then danced into a soggy pulp under your feet by the audience, and it splashes everywhere. You don’t, however, get soaking wet – you won’t catch your death heading home afterwards. Leave your preconceptions at home – it’s truly like nothing else you’ve been to. Their Moscow-event website is curiously unhelpful about either the show or the location – they don’t deliver tickets, but will hold them for you, collectable at the venue up to 15 mins before showtime. They have a small box-office (at the Operetta Theatre on Bolshaya Dmitrovka street, see www.delaguarda.ru for sketch-map) if you’d prefer. If you have a broadband connection, sound, and around 20 minutes to spare, their main website at www.delaguarda.com is a work of it in its own little self, and contains extensive interactive clips that give more idea what the show is really like. At 1900Rbs a ticket it’s not the cheapest way to spend an evening – but it’s something truly amazing.

21.12.04
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