>OMBRA by Les Fura dels Baus

>reviewed by kenneth kwok

>date: 15 jun 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: victoria theatre
>rating: ****

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


According to the programme, there was a story being told. OMBRA was a look at the life of Lorca (one word, like "Shakespeare"; but, okay, his birth certificate would have said "Federico Garcia Lorca"), the great Spanish writer and poet who was elevated to the status of mythical icon upon his execution by the military authorities at the beginning of the Spanish civil war in 1936. The play professes to "go through the different aspects of his character that had been built up in the preceeding years, and which ultimately brought him to this [final] point" of death. It would explore his childhood, his family, his closeted homosexuality, his dreams, and the crushing of those dreams.

And yes, I am sure that story was in there. But I did not see it, or if I did, I saw only vague snatches of it. I had sat there in the Victoria Theatre for an hour and fifteen minutes but at the end of it, if you had asked me to tell you anything at all about Lorca other than what was already in the programme, I could not. In fact, I could not even find what was said about Lorca in the programme in OMBRA itself.

But I tell you this: tonight, I have seen a show that I will remember for a long time to come.

>>'I think Lorca would have approved'

OMBRA was a multi-media, multi-disciplinary work that seemed really more to be inspired by the story of Lorca than attempting to tell the story itself. The audience was treated simply to image after image of sheer beauty and power - evoked either through dance, installations or video projections - that were drawn from ideas in Lorca's factual and fictitious world; and each would be framed by flashes of poetry, aching with sad beauty ("I am in love with a boy with a pen nib in his mouth and we live together in a knife" - that sort of thing).

You didn't always understand the significance or literal meaning of each acteme and I certainly had no idea how they linked into any kind of story (the spoken words, so beautiful in their poetry, helped create these visual images but no linear "plot") but you certainly couldn't take your eyes off them either. Dancers doubled over and magically (okay, clever use of lighting) disappeared into stone walls; a man crawled down the sheer face of a wall, aided by three pairs of hands growing out from the wall itself; a flamenco dancer spun furiously in a glass box; men's faces morphed into wolves' on screen; and a voluptuous black diva (pretty much Aretha Franklin remixed as technopop) held by giant cables fixed to her back played narrator through it all - in song.

It was like being at a carnival. And for some members of the audience - a minority if the rapturous applause at the end of the production was anything to go by - that may have been all it was. Just a spectacle of sound and fury. But even without considering how each manifestation, arguably, was tied to basic themes of freedom, and a fight for freedom, of love, life and death, I fail to understand why sometimes that cannot be enough.

So many journeys in theatre these days speak to the mind. They try to impress upon you with their intellectualism. They try to tell you something. Or they are trying to play with your heart. Your emotions.

This one just let you watch. And listen. And sit in the presence of a dark, morbid beauty. And be in awe.

I think Lorca would have approved.