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After Visa hassles, Out There festival kicks off with Cuban history and bold fashion

GlassWorks Multimedia

GlassWorks Multimedia

At the end of Teatro El Público's performance Thursday night at the Walker Art Center, performing arts curator Philip Bither stood up and briefly alluded to the ludicrously arduous visa process that left the members of the Cuban company stranded in Mexico City for a week spanning the New Year's holiday, barely making it to Minneapolis on time.

Out There: Teatro El Público

Walker Art Center
$25

While they were waiting, the internet exploded with condemnation of Logan Paul, an American YouTube star who disrespectfully included the body of a suicide victim in a video he posted from Japan. America needs this show more than it knows, the company members might have reflected.

Bodies are at the center of Antigonón, un contingente épico. Four of the five performers begin the show nude, isolated in spotlights. Slowly and silently, they begin to interact: falling into mournful duos, carrying one another across the stage, and ultimately collapsing into a pile together.

As an opening, the gesture has the effect of centering the body. Many costumes follow, but they often seem incomplete: ornament without underlying support, leaving body parts exposed that are normally kept concealed. The effect, given the context, is one of both vulnerability and resistance. This is who we are, the performers seem to say. This is who our ancestors have been, and how they have fallen.

Written by Rogelio Orizondo and directed by Carlos Díaz, Antigonón is an elegy as well as a provocation that reflects on decades of Cuban history. It's now at the McGuire Theater for three performances as the opening selection of the Out There festival's 30th anniversary run, and ideally you'd see all three: once just to let it wash over you, once after reviewing Cuban history, and once more after re-reading Antigone.

Antigonón interprets the ancient drama, but it doesn't tell the story so much as deploy its characters and themes to emphasize the universal tension between shared pain and divided loyalties. Reciting monologues, exchanging dialogue, and in one case singing a song (mostly in Spanish, with English supertitles), the performers in Antigonón evoke the vast promises of the modern nation's founders, while marking the human toll in word, gesture, and archival video.

"My friend: If you don't understand this play (in whole or part), it doesn't matter," writes Fabián Suárez in a program note. "Think about taller towers that have fallen and already been forgotten." Even viewers who miss the references to ideas and conflicts particular to Cuba will appreciate the anguish of the mourning sister, the defiance of the proud peacock, and the empty braggadocio that nonetheless gets people killed.

You can't phone this kind of show in; Teatro El Público, the Walker, and their partners deserve credit for doing the work it took to bring this fiery and committed performance to Minneapolis as one of just two stops on an U.S. tour. The hurdles they faced to do so are sad testimony to the continuing relevance of Sophocles' pained meditation on the harm that can be done by a leader who lets law trump empathy.

IF YOU GO:

Antigonón, un contingente épico
Walker Art Center
8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday
$25