Q&A: Luciana Achugar talks about her new dance OTRO TEATRO

Luciana Achugar explores the primal side of pleasure in her latest premiere

Choreographer Luciana Achugar wants to change people's experiences of the theater—not make them to think differently, but to feel something new. Her new work OTRO TEATRO, which runs Apr 2–5 at New York Live Arts, translates to  "another theater" or "other theater;" like her recent works PURO DESEO, FEEL...FORM and her River-to-River Festival foray, it reimagines the space and time of a performance.

Luciana Achugar winces as she reveals the duration of her latest premiere: It’s more than two hours. “I didn’t intend to do that!” she insists. “It just happened.” In OTRO TEATRO, her point of departure is pleasure, and in her seductive, voluptuous pieces, pleasure requires time. Still, it’s handy to know that she’s hoping to arrange for New York Live Arts to keep a bar open for audience members during the performance. “I’m trying to move away from doing something that’s so precious: Look at me and how great I made this beautiful, perfect thing.” In OTRO TEATRO, whose name means “another theater” or “other theater” in Spanish, Achugar—who hails from Uruguay—digs deeper than ever to explore the primal body. 

Why is your title in Spanish?
First of all, I thought of it in Spanish so I’m trying to stay true to that. I’m bilingual. I also don’t feel I can translate it into English well. The translation is “another theater” or “other theater,” but the meaning is somewhere in between. It’s similar to PURO DESEO, the duet I did with [Michael] Mahalchick. There is something about a mixture of words in Spanish; it feels like it comes from that part of me. It’s a little bit of my Latino pride or resistance against having to always translate and accommodate the dominant culture, even though I know that the main language here is English. So it’s a little bit about forcing people to think or wonder, What does that mean? And for them to look it up and to make them work a little out of their English comfort zone. It’s a little bit of my immigrant resistance. Instead of assimilating, I’m trying to shift the culture here a little bit toward what I am. Putting in my two cents.

Did this piece start out as a solo?

It’s a solo. 

You’re so lying! Your face is red. 
[Laughs] There are maybe special appearances or guests, but it’s mainly a solo. I feel like the essence of this work is about people’s expectations. How you walk in as an audience, and what you expect to see definitely shapes how you’re seeing, so I’m taking that into consideration. What do people think is happening? This work is dealing with the pleasure of moving, the pleasure of being in one’s own body and going into that all the way. The practice I’ve been doing in rehearsal has been the practice of being in pleasure.

How do you do that?
I’ve built this work with every rehearsal beginning with 45 minutes of an improvisation of being in pleasure. There’s a lot of improvisation in it; although it’s extremely designed and choreographed, it’s also very open with specific aesthetics and a specific score. It is indulging completely in pleasure and just doing what feels good, but not as an obedient performer thinking, Now I have to do this. Also, the work is both about a love of the audience and…fuck you is a little strong, but there is a bit of a resistance to the gaze of the viewer. It has a rebellious quality. At the same time, it’s all for you, for the audience. The composition is to make you feel something. 

Yes—or noticing that there is pleasure in being in yourself. It’s not just to make the audience feel pleasure, but to make the audience feel itself. To be aware. And at the same time, I’m not interested in manipulating or participating. I don’t like to make people do things. In a way, it seems like it’s revisiting a lot of ideas that I had in PURO DESEO. It’s kind of the same seed, and it’s dark. There’s a lot of black.

You know I like that.

[Laughs] It doesn’t start all in black like in PURO DESEO. I was trying to do that again, but it didn’t end up that way. I can say that I begin completely covered with this fabric from Uruguay that’s actually shade fabric for plants. It’s soft and it shimmers, so it has a glamorous thing to it even though it’s almost like burlap. What’s similar is that I cover myself for a big part of it. There’s also a similar relationship of sound to movement—the sound of the fabric, the movement, the touching of things, that the sound and the dance is not separate. I joke that it’s the opposite of Cunningham and Cage, that I’m trying to make something where the sound is absolutely necessary for that movement and same with the movement coming from sound. It’s not a chance encounter, but an exploration of how sound and dance can come from the same place or what sound is necessary for what movement. In that way, it’s a visceral, primal thing that I keep going to. In that duet, I began with a premise of being honest with myself and realizing that my fantasy was to put a spell on the audience. That’s why it began in the darkness with singing. In this work, I’m playing with the notion of the artist in society being a witch or shamanlike figure trying to shift alchemy around. I’m trying to propose another way of seeing things but also shifting molecules in the room or in the bodies of people. 

In the way that you might affect their thinking or perception? 
Yeah. One of my attitudes as a choreographer is almost a naive hippie that wants to do a “Kumbaya” thing: Like we’re all together, let’s do this super participatory, everyone-in-a-circle dance. I want to go there! I do believe that dance is a bit hippie. I don’t want to be afraid of it because it’s cheesy. Pure dance [She moves her arms dreamily]…there’s a little bit of that freeing yourself, liberating yourself from these social codes.

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