It is easy to speak of life and the wonders of human nature with trite, meaningless and fluffy words. It is harder but far more effective to show these things, as La Niña Barro does.
The performance is so simple: movement by Elizabeth Sogorb, hollow notes plucked on an mbira – a thumb piano – by Alex Rodes and Spanish poetry by Marta Massé. Sogorb is meant to be naked, a fundamental part of the show’s meaning, but the venue’s restrictions mean she is in a skinsuit.
La Niña Barro, the mud girl, is a limp mass squirming out of her plastic cocoon. Her eyes are caked in mud, her hair and skin matted with clay. She emerges, wakes and tries to find her feet like a newborn calf. She experiences a progression, slowly understanding all her senses.
First, she moves. Then she sees, the muddy eyes open. She learns how to control her body, to stand on her feet. She grows: she is la niña, la chica, la mujer, la anciana. She feels human pleasures, like sensation – giggling as she lets water drip down her body. The mbira melody makes her aware of her ability to hear and, hearing, she dances to the plucked notes.
Sogorb’s absolute absence of shame at her naked body, her wide-eyed curiosity and complete innocence are like a rebirth, a challenge to the audience to re-evaluate the limits we like to impose on ourselves – to be numb, not to feel. It is not saying we should all be naked all the time, but it is reminding us that senses and sensation and the ability to enjoy them are valuable things.
La Niña learns about the restrictions that make us human, too: Rodes chides her for dousing herself in water, she begins to learn ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Rodes blindfolds her with a cloth, removing one of the senses she has just learnt to enjoy.
The quality of Sogorb’s movement and expression is innocent but not childlike, instead she captures some raw, untainted essence of being human, something Edenic and prelapsarian. What does she represent? Woman? Or human, as opposed to animal? Or is La Niña Barro just a character created from Massé’s poetry? Despite saying and doing so little, the performance asks so much. In the clamour of a festival city a naked woman covered in mud gives an earnest performance and provides a simple, valuable space for pause and reflection.
La Niña Barro is at Laughing Horse at the Newsroom (Venue 93) until 24 August. For more information and tickets visit the EdFringe website.