The tug of a primal push and pull

Special to The Times

The dance troupe called Grupo Krapp is from Argentina and they probably don't know how dispiriting their name sounds to English-speakers. Never mind. If they want to hint at their brand of playful absurdity, replete with thoughtful commentary on life's primal desires, then their homage to Samuel Beckett's play, "Krapp's Last Tape," is as good a gesture as any.

Something about the eager loopiness of Grupo Krapp's six performers recalls the best moments of underground theater of the 1960s and early '70s. In an impressive debut at Highways in Santa Monica Thursday night, the Buenos Aires-based group updated that enthusiasm as part of a project called Performing Americas, meant to impress with the latest from Latin America. Mission accomplished.

In two style-proclaiming works, Grupo Krapp combined the aggressively athletic postmodernism of, say, Elizabeth Streb or Edouard Lock with a kind of Monty Python capering, and intermittent, cinematic pauses that emphasized comedy and cruelty on display. Themes are similar throughout, with the 40-minute "No Me Basabas?" (Weren't You Kissing Me?) by Luciana Acuna, Luis Biasotto and Gabriela Caretti quickly establishing the way little moments of desire can kindle conflict. Two dancers seeming to lean in for a kiss, for instance, spit in each others' faces instead. Time after time, a playful overture turns into unwanted groping, and bodies that could move in concert end up being tripped, slapped and stomped on in intricate choreographic patterns.

Recorded music interrupts silence; sometimes guitarist Gabriel Almendros and accordionist Fernando Tur play. All of it is as integrated into the action as the dancers and actor Edgardo Castro.

In "Rio Seco" (by Acuna, Biasotto and fellow dancer Agustina Sario), the workday slacks that were stripped off to reveal kneepads in the previous piece become beachwear, but the menace and hilarity remained the same. Dutiful lining up produced bickering, and hugging and congratulating turned into slapping and harassing. Sex as a too solitary or too aggressive activity surfaced; togetherness turned to percussive slams, thuds, smacks and chops. After a while, you think about sexual impulses and violence, how both are performed and choreographed in life, how both constantly recur.

The brilliant little scenes Grupo Krapp creates don't make sense, and yet they do. There is slapstick, combat, then little moments of gawky grace, culminating in a bathetic, slow-motion denouement to George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." Someone curls up under a piano, two men use a woman as a doormat, and lyrics flow over the scene. "With every mistake, we must surely be learning," indeed.



Grupo Krapp

Where: Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica

When: Tonight, 8:30

Price: $16

Contact: (310) 315-1459

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