Fat Boy, a theatrical dance production by Teo Castellanos and D-Projects, premiered last weekend at Miami Light Project’s stunning new Lightbox theater at the Goldman Warehouse in Wynwood. Fat Boy describes a world out of balance — to bass-heavy beats by DJ Le Spam. The structure of the piece was a complex hybrid of performance traditions: Shakespearian drama, Balinese mask dancing and rude-boy lingo, mixed with butoh and break dancing.
As diverse as they were, the endless cultural references converged on two points. At one extreme lies the disordered thinking of an individual mind. At the other end — global poverty. By linking them together on stage, Fat Boy implies but never insists on a link between the two.
One of the main characters was an everyman, sitting in meditation. Silence is, for a meditator, a very loud place, and Fat Boy perfectly illustrated what Buddhists call “monkey mind” — a cacophony of inner voices roaming wildly through greed, attachment, doubt and fear. As the meditator sat quietly in lotus position, illuminated by a single spotlight, a second character appeared in a separate spotlight like a devil over his shoulder. The enigmatic antagonist, played by Castellanos, seemed to delight in the opportunity — he ran nonstop through a monologue of verbal trickery, song references and social critique.
It was hard to trust Castellanos’ character. Dressed in white, he looked like some kind of delirious angel. But long pointy fingernails, borrowed from Thai dancing, were wicked, and he spoke in riddles. Was he deliberately trying to mislead us, and the meditator, into distraction? Or was he speaking truth? Both, actually.
Here, and at every level, Fat Boy refused the simplicity of easy answers. It’s a fair representation of the intense complexity behind any major issue. The antagonist character made reference to race, class, international politics, economic exploitation, and social confusion without dwelling on any of them. Because this was the background noise in a meditation session, it took on a double meaning. On the one hand, each of the issues is a heartbreaking reality — photos of slums were projected throughout the show, taking the audience into the rough life of impoverished communities around the world. But on the other hand, an individual’s faulty and disordered thinking — unenlightened behavior — can create ever larger disturbances in the external world.
The archetypal everyman appeared again, in a minimal jail-cell scene visualized by rectangular pools of light on the floor. Rather than resting in meditation, he was raging at an invisible guard. Given the political tone of the show thus far, this seemed at first to be a commentary on the American justice system, until he shouted, “what do you mean I have to free myself from myself?” Again, questions were raised but left unanswered. To what degree are prisoners responsible for their own imprisonment, and why? How many social ills can be tied back to the destructive thoughts of individual minds?
Watching over all of this drama was a character played with awe-inspiring perfection by Theresa Barcelo, aka Toogie. She was flown in from L.A. two weeks before the show, a last-minute replacement for another performer, and miraculously, her character was the life of the show. Hidden behind a haunting Balinese mask, Barcelo never seemed human. She was something much more powerful and mysterious, a being from another dimension. Like Castellanos, Barcelo studied movement in Bali and, for Fat Boy, she seamlessly combined Balinese dance theater with two forms of popping — called waves and animation — closely associated with break dancing. Her choreography was brilliant beyond description. As the only female performer, she became the conscience of the otherwise male cast of characters, the one who understands and grants goodness, perhaps capriciously.
In its political ambiguity, and unapologetic appropriation of traditions from other cultures, Fat Boy was potentially problematic. But this very conflict, and the discomfort that lies beneath it, is at the core of Fat Boy’s message. As almost every spiritual tradition teaches, the human condition is complicated, flawed, and infinitely beautiful.