An evening with De La Guarda: All we can say is, be on guard

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An evening with De La Guarda: All we can say is, be on guard

Returning from a performance of De La Guarda, the Argentine-spawned, interactive acrobatic performance now at the Sejong Center, we stop at a bakery. The stare from the woman behind the counter tells us what we must look like ― our clothes damp and clinging, our hair dripping wet, flecks of dried-up paper pulp stuck to us; certainly not ideal customers. We are far indeed from the strange world we have just occupied for an hour and a half.
Entry into De La Guarda’s world is deceptively simple. The audience is herded into a large, dark room and asked to stand. When the room suddenly plunges into darkness, the audience yelps as if they’d been waiting for the first opportunity to scream.
A play of light begins on the “ceiling” above, which starts to buck and sway as silhouettes of flying figures streak by above it, suspended on ropes, making graceful, shadowed arcs as they go. The ceiling is paper, and is definitely not going to be strong enough to hold one of the swinging figures should it decide to plop down from above.
Sure enough, strange humanoid creatures babbling incoherent Spanish begin to punch through. Still suspended on ropes, they growl and cackle. The audience meets them with even more vigorous screaming. One of them drops down, grabs an unwilling ajumma and pulls her up into the ceiling, kicking and screaming, never to be seen again.
The paper shell is torn aside, revealing black metal scaffolding on all sides and a large white tarp hanging at one end. The focus is clearly on the performers. And on the ajumma, who has still not reappeared.
De La Guarda (its name, roughly translated, is “guardian angels”) started as a street performance in Buenos Aires in the late 1980s, and quickly gained cult status. It packed off to New York, where it has sold out for six years running. Its sojourn in Seoul began in July 2002, when the original Argentine cast came over for several months to show Korea how it’s really done, a Korean cast taking over afterward. But the original cast is back again, for a limited time.
These guardian angels have a peculiar idea of “protection.” One cast member burrows herself under the back of a horrified man’s shirt, sticks her head through the very same neck hole he currently occupies, grabs his hands and begins petting anyone she can get her hands on. One particularly feral-looking performer tries her decidedly lambada-like dance moves out on an unsuspecting couple. Cast members envelop three victims, strap them into harnesses and hoist them high into the stratosphere.
Once the audience is suitably terrified, the acrobatics begin. Bouncing off the walls, the cast covers every inch of space in the theater, always on their trusty ropes and harnesses. In one poignant scene, a collective, interlaced mass of bodies is lifted skyward within a tumbling shower of water.
But acrobatics ― and getting drenched ― are only part of the show. These performers are also musicians, banging the drum not so slowly and blowing the horn not so quietly as they reach a frenzy of rhythmic and physical energy.
Back in the safety of the bakery ― where the ceiling, upon inspection, seems structurally sound ― we explain our situation. “Ah!” the woman behind the counter smiles in recognition. “I thought it might have been that show! You’re lucky, though,” she tells us. “It used to be much worse. They used to soak you to the bone.”

by Jason Zahorchak

De La Guarda is on an extended run at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts’ De La Guarda Hall, just behind the Sejong Center main building in central Seoul. Use subway line No. 5 to Gwanghwamun station, exit No. 6. Shows are at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, with additional 5 p.m. shows on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets range from 50,000 won ($42) to 55,000 won; visit or call (02) 1588-1555.
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