WGBH: Arts This Week: Arrabal

Publication date: 
May 18, 2017
Author: 
Bob Seay and Jared Bowen

Bob Seay: Well, we begin with a production at the American Repertory Theater that’s lots of music and dance...

Jared Bowen: It is, I’m still thinking about it. It just opened last night and this is a lightning fast, intense, sensual 90 minutes. Arrabal is a piece that looks at Argentine culture and all aspects of that culture and that history. You first walk into the A.R.T.’s Loeb Drama Center and a little bit like Natasha, Pierre that was there earlier last year–last season—you walk into this nightclub setting. So you have a sense that you’re going to see great tango, feel this heated Argentine night, and like tango itself I would describe this show as something that intimately acquaints you with the most powerful emotions from despair to sensuality and it will make you want to undo buttons, Bob.

BS: [laughter]

JB: [laughter] So, you go into this nightclub and suddenly you flashback to 1976 and this is a piece that looks at what happened to Argentina when General Jorge Rafael Videla came in, and with his military junta started to take people and ultimately about 30,000 people were “disappeared” and so then we flash forward and we meet Arrabal who’s a woman—a young woman—who is trying to find out what happened to her father. And she goes to the Milongas and she starts to learn more about him. But this is a piece that is told only through music and dance and yet you follow this story which becomes so evocative as you trace her journey to discover what happened to her father and it gets very emotional, it gets very tough, because some of the brutality of this regime is depicted. But this is a piece that’s entirely the conception and composed by Gustavo Santaolalla who grew up in Argentina. He has since gone on to be a very prolific musician. A lot of this music comes from his own band, which is this mix of tango, milonga, rock, hip hop, electronica, jazz, and classical. But he is also someone who was exposed growing up in Argentina to the threats against his art by the military junta and here’s what he had to say about that.

[Cut to Gustavo Santaolalla interview with Jared Bowen]

Gustavo Santaolalla: Me, like many other Argentinians, you know, we’re submitted to being put in jail. I mean since I was 16 I’ve been in jail so many times, just for 24 hours, 48 hours, because really I didn’t belong to any political party, I didn’t commit any crime, I just had long hair and an electric guitar. But it was just enough to make your life miserable. To either cut your hair, change or leave the country, you know, or else.

[Cut back to JB & BS in studio]

JB: So, among the projects that he has worked on, and he makes all of his work very personal, and you can understand why when you see what he has experienced in the world. But he won back to back Oscars actually for Brokeback Mountain and the score to Babel. And he told me that his music is very, very personal, in fact when he was scoring Brokeback Mountain he was struck by just that wide expanse of land in this story about these two cowboys and the silences between them. So, here he talks about how he works and writes.

[Cut to GS interview with JB]

GS: I tend to listen to my surroundings in musical terms, lots of the time, I don’t do it every single instance but lots of time during the day I will find myself listening to what is happening around me and somehow putting it in a musical frame.

[Cut back to JB & BS in studio]

JB: And Bob, again, I really—this is the U.S. premiere of this piece and I can’t express just how charged it is. Everything from very deep sensuality to really, really poignant moments as you look at the effect of all of these people, a whole swath of society that was, again, taken, murdered, kidnapped, disappeared…

BS: Wow, Arrabal presented by the American Repertory Theater through June 18.

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