First Night: Living up to 'better than sex' promise

De La Guarda Roundhouse London
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The Independent Online
THE AUDIENCE didn't need the thudding drum-beat to get their pulses going. Within minutes of being herded into the dark room, they were craning their necks upwards as a tantalising shadow trapeze show played itself out on the thin membrane of paper above their heads.

If the show, as the publicity had promised, was better than sex, then this was the foreplay. They weren't disappointed.

The explosion of publicity surrounding the Argentinian group De La Guarda's return to London is safe in the knowledge that it will always be upstaged by the show. From the moment a demonic trapeze artist rips his way through the membrane of paper, the audience is hurtled into seventy minutes of sensual confusion. Two girls run wildly across a vertical floor; a dangling buffoon with naked buttocks grabs individuals from the crowd and elevates them to temporary stardom; balloons burst beneath the feet; water jets assail expensive suits and hairstyles.

The show's secret is that it never allows the crowd to feel entirely safe. For a moment while the membrane of paper is still intact, it seems that water is going to flood through and soak the audience; later as the audience watches two lovers run up the vertical wall, the pair fly more and more violently out into the crowd, threatening physical harm as well as titillation.

The spectacle continues throughout the evening to tease out uncomfortable areas of the audience's emotions, using distress and empathy as well as fear to get the adrenaline pumping.

At one point, a girl is sus pended on a rope and bounced gently against a vertical screen. The crowd's amusement turns to anxiety as the men operating the ropes smash her increasingly violently against the screen, while she merely sighs and laughs.

The atmosphere is also one of carnival and foolery. Physical comedy has as much place as acrobatic feats. During each sense-defying performance, there are always members of the group hanging from the sides watching or shouting. This is a world in which no-one talks - people growl, rant, scream, and shout, but anything bordering on civilised behaviour is not allowed. It seems that the performers as well as the audience achieve catharsis. You leave the Roundhouse unable for a while to return to normal existence. All you want is to indulge the primal urge to scream, howl and dance in the street.