By Mike Hoban
Arrabal – Book by John Weidman; Music by Gustavo Santaolalla/Bajofondo; Choreographed by Julio Zurita; Directed and co-choreographed by Sergio Trujillo; Choreography by Julio Zurita; Scenic Design by Riccardo Hernandez; Costume Design by Clint Ramos; Lighting Design by Vincent Colbert; Sound Design by Peter McBoyle; Projection Design by Peter Nigrini. Presented by the American Repertory Theater at the Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle St., Cambridge, through June 18
It may be relatively early in the 2017 theater season, but it seems highly unlikely that anything you will see on Boston stages (or anywhere else) this year will pack the kind of visual, aural and emotional wallop that Arrabal – now making its United States premiere at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge – will deliver to the senses. This tango-based work combines Latin music and dance with a horrific (and true) political story to create a singular theatrical experience that is alternately steamy and harrowing.
Set against the historical backdrop of the 1976 Argentinian military coup which led to the disappearance of over 30,000 “dissidents” in the period from 1976-1983, Arrabal tells the story of the title character (the angelic Micaela Spina), an 18-year old girl whose father Rodolfo (Julio Zurita, who also co-choreographed), was “disappeared” by the brutal regime of General Jorge Rafael Videla in 1979 while she was an infant. Rodolfo’s best friend, El Puma, who runs a milonga (tango club) with his wife where her father once worked, summons Arrabal to Buenos Aires so that he can tell her of his father’s fate. Once there, she learns about the city’s tango subculture, and the waif-like beauty is quickly set upon by the local wolves (and a jealous girlfriend) before being rescued by her handsome protector, Juan.
Much of the story (which is communicated by dance, with no dialogue) is told in flashback, including the abduction and torture of Rodolfo. But although the narrative is political (and chilling) the music and dance make Arrabal a spectacularly uplifting experience. Although tango-centered, the dancing is actually a bit of a mash-up – a combination of tango, ballet and modern dance that is not only enormously sexy, but mind-blowing in its precision and grace. Although I have come to a greater appreciation of choreography in recent years, there is nothing I have seen on stage that matches the physicality and passion of the dancing of this production – which also incorporates some subtle and not so subtle violence. The larger dance numbers in the club have (almost) too much going on, and you may feel like you’re going to miss out on something if you allow your eyes too linger too long on any pair of dancers.
But as exhilarating as the dancing may be, the music is perhaps the most electrifying element of the show. That statement may border on the blasphemous, but composer Gustavo Santaolalla and his Orquestra Bajofonderos blow the roof off of the Loeb with a mix of tango, milonga, rock, hip-hop, electronica, jazz and classical music that defies description. And although this is a love story, it’s one that has little romance in it. Instead, it is about the love of one man’s daughter seeking the truth about her father’s early death; the love of Rodolfo’s mother and the other mothers of the disappeared who take to the streets in search of their missing loved ones (the flashback scene where the mothers meet their deceased children and have one final dance is haunting); and the love of Rodolfo’s friend El Puma, who aches to share the story of his friend’s demise with his only child.
This is not the type of show that will be able to be replicated with a different cast and orchestra, so do yourself a favor and catch it while you can still see it in your own backyard. This truly is a “don’t miss” production. As an added bonus, performances include a preshow mini tango lesson (by cast members) for audiences on a first come, first serve basis. For more info, go to: http://americanrepertorytheater.org/events/show/arrabal