Theater / Film
Review: Bistoury Physical Theatre’s latest chapter explores ‘Fear of Freedom’
Carla Forte wearing a box on her head in Bistoury Physical Theatre and Film’s “The Commune, Chapter 3: Fear of Freedom” at Miami Dade County Auditorium’s On.Stage Black Box Theatre. (Photo by Alexey Taran)
If Bistoury Physical Theatre and Film’s first part of “The Commune” constituted a search for alternative ways of being in the world and 2022’s part 2 “The Commune” presented practices of freedom, its latest did a deep dive into the existential consequences of rejecting freedom and abandoning the self.
On Thursday, Oct. 6 and Friday, Oct. 7, BFTF (the acronym by which they identify the group) performed “The Commune, Chapter 3: Fear of Freedom,” at the Miami Dade County Auditorium’s On.Stage Black Box Theatre. Miami Dade County Auditorium commissioned “The Commune.” I attended both performances and, although on different nights, the execution differed minimally.
Choreographer Alexey Taran and filmmaker Carla Forte founded the company in Caracas, Venezuela, in 2005 as an avant-garde creative platform for dance and film. In 2007, BFTF moved to the city of Miami. The company’s projects reflect a philosophy of respect, admiration, and curiosity for the extraordinary creative movement and diversity of Latin American megalopolises.
In its latest “The Commune” chapter, BFTF laid out the psychological tics and neuroses of four people trapped in a pandemic-like form of physical and emotional isolation.
In show notes published online, the group claimed “Fear of Freedom” reflects on the thought of Frankfurt School psychoanalyst and political theorist, Erich Fromm (1900-1980). For Fromm, freedom occurs in the sphere of the interpersonal. In the practice of freedom, people aim at knowledge of what others really need which emerges only through caring and having respect for their autonomy.
People either embrace or reject their freedom, and those who reject it do so in different ways – by socially conforming or submitting entirely to powerful personalities or deepening the destructive tendencies of their isolation until they destroy their world.
Whatever the strategies they employ, the rejection of freedom initiates profound mental conflicts that can deepen into acute forms of mental illness.
BFTF’s performance opened with the theater divided into four large squares. One square contained a suitcase, another a huge pile of clothes. The two squares at the back of the stage was strewn with sheets of crumpled white paper and the last contained a potted white orchid and a box.
The show began by showing four videos of the performers – Taran, Forte, Heather Maloney and Carlos Fabian – doing different actions like staring at their faces in a mirror, climbing a wall, shuffling through photos, hugging themselves or undressing and raising a fist.
Clips showed Forte with a box over her face and Fabian with a bag over his head.
The Christmas song, “Carol of the Bells” – a recurring musical motif of the piece – played faintly in the background.
As the film ended, the stage was illuminated by a bank of lights from the left and a timer flashed on the back of the stage and started to count backwards from 40 minutes.
In one of the back squares, Forte sat with her head covered by a cardboard box and a white orchid in her lap. She recited into a microphone statements about grief like “El luto es la Avenida principal de la ciudad” (“Grief is the main avenue of the city”) and “El luto es las memorias” (“Grief is the memories”).
Sometimes she would begin sobbing, sing scales or call out for “Gloria,” presumably a pet. At one point she dumped a box of what looked like cat litter over her head.
With his back to the audience, Taran sat in the square adjacent to Forte in the midst of huge sheaths of white paper, which he either shredded or folded up and snapped beneath his arm. His movements were erratic and robotic. At times he would snatch a tablet and launch into a pantomimed lecture or fiercely conduct Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique” Symphony from his chair.
Occasionally he would stand, salute and declare: “Aqui por la patria!” (“Here, for the Fatherland!”)
In the square in front of Forte, Fabian shuffled through a huge pile of clothes and then frantically began dressing and undressing. At times he had a difficult time keeping his pants on while at others he stuffed more and more clothes into his shirt and pants until they clownishly bulged.
At one point Fabian kneeled and recited the “Apostle’s Creed” in Spanish before donning a red dress and leopard print jacket and running circles in his square.
In front of Taran, Heather Maloney – her face pained – hugged herself tightly or slowly ran her hands up her legs, briefly palming her face. At times she moved as if drugged.
At other moments, she would tie on a red dress and dance, pirouetting or standing en pointe before collapsing on the floor and slowly spinning in place.
None of the performers behaved as if they were aware that others shared their space. Each played out their compulsive behaviors as if entirely engaged in medicating the internal sense of deep conflict each experienced.
With the stage trashed, the countdown hit six minutes. Fabian in black jeans and black sunglasses held his phone in front of him as if beginning a FaceTime call, waving and repeating,
“Hi Everyone! Love you guys!”
As he did so, he crossed the stage and became the first performer to break from his square, crossing Maloney’s space who then danced along the full floor’s diagonal.
At the cue, Taran hung over his chest a disco ball and bright white light then spun and danced around the theater to Laura Branigan’s 1982 pop hit, “Gloria.”
Facing the audience Forte danced and joined in with the vocals. Given the chaos on the stage, Branigan’s line, “I think you’re headed for a breakdown so be careful not to show it” hit home.
For these four characters that ship had already sailed.
Then the timer struck zero, flashed red, and the house lights went black.
After a few seconds of darkness a bright blue light streamed from the ceiling to the center of the performance floor. As the four performers all huddled in its beam, Fabian opened an umbrella over them.
For the first time in the 50-minute show they spoke to one another in low tones and touched as a stream of what looked like snow fell from the ceiling onto the umbrella.
BFTF’s “Fear of Freedom” constituted a brilliant, risk-taking work of multimedia theater. The performers powerfully brought to life Fromm’s thesis concerning the neurotic, self-destructive mindsets that capture people in their gambit to escape the demands posed by their lives and other human beings.
The work’s closing with the four performers huddled together for protection stayed consistent with Fromm’s thesis – that only through the sphere of the intersocial can the emotional disturbances initiated by rejection of freedom be healed.
If you didn’t get the chance to catch “The Commune, Chapter 3” this time around, BFTF plans on staging it again in December, on a date yet to be determined, at inkub8, 2021 NW 1st Place, Miami. For information, call 305-482-1621.