On May 1st, 2007, La Fura dels Baus performed IMPERIUM at the Dashanzi 798 Art Compound in Beijing, China. These are some impressions about the event and, of course, some images I took of it.

Since the 80s, as a spectator I’ve kept in touch with the work of La Fura dels Baus. I knew about them for the first time when I was a theatre student at university in Mexico; people were saying that a group of crazy spanish actors was going to come, trash cars and spray the public inside the parking of the National Auditorium with paint (and it was like that, of course). Some time later I saw them in some theatre festivals and tours around Mexico; as everyone did, I also watched their spectacle for the Opening Ceremony of the Barcelona Olympic Games, and watched the TV news about their performances in the World Expo in Germany; and the last time, live, in Beirut, Lebanon, when a part of the company was travelling on a boat through the Mediterranean and stopped at the Beirut port and moved, with their technological and spectacular games, the static Lebanese culture.

I was very surprised when I heard La Fura was coming to Beijing: the Chinese (the Chinese government, of course) usually avoid “dangerous” Performing Groups, but I also remembered that La Fura dels Baus, even if they like to play with violence, protest and rebellion, have got an advantage: their spectacles are mainly movement, music, sound,yet very little text (1). And I wasn’t wrong, they choose IMPERIUM, a spectacle where text is minimal, in Spanish, and with no translation.

An old depot or factory room was chosen as the performing espace, one of dozens with huge theatrical possibilities that exist in this former industrial complex in the east part of Beijing.

Dashanzi is currently the avantgarde in China, more than any other artistic place in the country, including Shanghai; they say it’s the next Soho China offers to the world. In one enormous area of obsolete factories where the Comunist era had its climax many years ago, with some interesting Bauhaus style buildings, a small group of chinese artists (first) and some foreigner investors (later), took root there and established their studios and small galleries. Time passed by and Dashanzi 798 (the name by which people knew the factory place) became the new Mecca for the new Chinese artists, for foreigners hungry for contemporary art, for more entrepeneurs and, of course, for the Chinese government(2). Now Dashanzi is included in the plans for the modernization of the artistic chinese world; yes, it’sa fact and there’s no turning back. But thanks to that, it was in the eyes of the international Cultural World, and La Fura dels Baus performed there.

Dashanzi 798 video:

Any spectacle by La Fura del Baus is always fantastic; once you taste their products inevitably you offer yourself to them, and that’s because they offer everyhting to the spectators.
I’ve always had my doubts about their way of managing dramatic structure, about the developing of the story within any spectacle, even about Acting (when acting refers to the needs of a classical character), but at the same time I recognize every spectacle is an evolution in their amazing way of exploring the stage. IMPERIUM got the same “mechanical” structure of other spectacles of theirs: machines in continuous movement, video, physical violence, but the story and the way to put it on stage got a real link with the spectator, the mix between technology and the human body (including the spectator’s body) is really punching; this time there are no unresolved points because, as a spectator, I couldn’t define any intelectual point beyond body language, beyond sound. It is not an apology of Violence, it is a showcase of it. IMPERIUM is very “actual”, we can see terrorism, politics, the media, and our bodies, our horrified minds; it literally moves the spectator, running together, shouting together, yelling together.

I saw dozens of spectators yelling and running and taking video and photographs at the same time; and this is for me one of the most interesting points, the creators of IMPERIUM are in concordance with our modern world: you can’t forbid people to bring in technology if the spectator actually wears it, uses as a part of his memory… They wanted us to take photos and videos as part of the spectacle, IMPERIUM is still performing in my computer, every time I see the images extracted from it.

IMPERIUM video (first part)

IMPERIUM video (second part)

(1) There are exceptions, as their “Fausto” (Faust), but they definitely didn’t want to perform those kind of spectacles, first because of the language barrier and second because of the obstacles Chinese could put to any theatrical text. Of ocurse all these are suppositions of mine.
(2) That means censorship working nearby (let me remind you of The Gay and Lesbian Dashanzi 798 Cinema Festival, banned since 2005); it also means big enterprises look at it as a good way to spend their “cultural taxes”, investing in special galleries and museums like Nike and Guess have done, showing their products like pieces of art. This bizarre mix between unknown artists looking for spaces to show their art and the “new Chinese free market money” make of Dashanzi 798 a place partly fascinating, partly hideous.