Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bloga Juniors Dos - El Fulgor Argentino

I have arrived in Easter Island, a land which can easily make one feel like Super Mario. However, my hostel has no internet, which means you'll be seeing this a good deal after I write it. Travel is complicated like that, especially when it involves trying to connect to the global community from the most remote inhabited place on Earth. At any rate, the subject of this post is not Easter Island (I got in after dark, so I haven't seen any moai--giant heads--yet), but rather my most recent night in Buenos Aires.

Last night I had the great pleasure of attending a work of Argentine community theater, called Club Social y Deportivo El Fulgor Argentino. The show was at Teatro Catalinas Sur in La Boca, and had some truly excellent props assembled by my friend and fellow Wesleyanite Hannah Nielsen-Jones. Hannah and her boyfriend John have been living in BA for a while, but we only just managed to get together this week. They are truly awesome people, but I'll come back to them in a bit.

The show was excellent. I tend to be pretty jaded about all things theater, but this was really everything it should be. The piece is a revue of Argentine history from 1930-2030 (the future part is pretty crazy), with the country represented by El Fulgor, a social and sporting club of the type that is quite prominent in Argentine society. It's a musical with a cast of over 100 performers, very creative songs and staging, and phenomenal costumes. It also features some astonishing puppetry--puppets made by the same guy who does most of the lifesize statues (muñecos, in Spanish) in La Boca--executed in truly creative ways. For example, there is a sequence in which the whole group dances Tango in a circle, each pair made up of one person and one puppet, connected at the feet, so that the puppets' feet move in synch with those of their partners. There is another moment in which an actor appears in military garb with a puppet on either side, connected both at the arms and the head, so that they mimic his every move. It is really something to behold.

In a lot of ways, my enjoyment of the show mirrors my enjoyment of Uruguayan Murga. In addition to having moments in which the musical style was similar--the finale, in particular--I was most impressed by the wholehearted commitment of everyone involved, and the degree to which this is really just a labor of love for the local culture. The cast is all volunteers, and the logistical nightmare that must be involved in coordinating so many people in something so complex is totally obscured by the seemless transitions on stage. It's clear that everyone involved has put a tremendous amount of sweat into the project, but seeing them perform gives the impression that they were all born into the script.

I was also particularly happy because this was the most accessible Argentine culture has felt for me in Buenos Aires. It is easy to feel that there is a Buenos Aires for the locals, and a separate one for the tourists. Certainly New York can be like that, so I don't mean this as a criticism. But even something like tango, which is a major part of the cultural history of the city, often shows up in a form that feels somewhat camped up for the sake of the out-of-town crowd. At El Fulgor, those feelings washed away. I don't know that anyone there other than Hannah, John, John's parents, and me spoke English--certainly not as a first language. I finally felt a part of the city in exactly the way I had been looking for and struggling to find. So, a hearty thank you to Hannah and John for inviting me to share in that.

And now that I've come back to the subject of how awesome Hannah and John are, I have to say that it was really great to see a familiar face. What's funny is that I hadn't seen Hannah in six years, and I'd never met John. So there's no reason it should have been that different from spending time with the various friends I've made throughout the trip. But one thing that does happen when you're meeting new people and making new friends is that you inevitably have your guard up a bit--no matter how awesomely down-to-earth your new friends may be. So it was just incredibly relaxing to be in a spot where I had even the slightest sense of home. I even felt that way after we discussed the most academically intimidating class I ever took, Colonialism and its Consequences in the Americas*. At any rate, it's really remarkable how valuable a bit of familiarity can be after a three-months of new experiences. And, to repeat, Hannah and John = good people.

There's a three-hour time change that I'm dealing with now, so I'm going to go to sleep. Hopefully I'll be able to find some time to post this, and presumably by the time that happens I will already have seen some giant stone heads. I've been working on my moai impression, so hopefully I can break that out soon. For now, I'm going to work toward an early start tomorrow.


*My struggles in that class forced me to confront how unseriously I took academic study, and, to an extent, myself. I still think it's good not to get too wrapped up in oneself, but I've at least gotten the intellectually serious thing down--or at least some semblance thereof.

El Fulgor Argentino

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