CAMPO’s “Still Standing You” at the Walker Art Center: You’ll never look at a beard the same way again

CAMPO’s “Still Standing You” at the Walker Art Center: You’ll never look at a beard the same way again

When I’m recommending the Walker Art Center’s Out There series—as I do often—I tell people that it’s a series where anything can be done on stage, and whatever is done will be done extremely well. That proved exactly right with respect to CAMPO’s Still Standing You, now at the Walker as the second installment of this year’s four-week series. The show’s premise is revealed early on, and over the course of the next hour performers Pieter Ampe and Guilherme Garrido follow that premise to extremes you wouldn’t imagine. Well, didn’t imagine, and to quote Han Solo, I can imagine quite a bit.

The show begins with Garrido sitting on Ampe’s raised legs, chatting amiably about Minnesota weather while Ampe grunts and signals that he’s getting tired of holding his partner aloft. Finally, Garrido dismounts and the show begins. The genius of that opening bit, which ostensibly doesn’t have much to do with the rest of the performance, is to put the audience at ease, to make us understand that it’s okay to laugh and interact with the performers.

It also establishes a tension between the two, tension that rapidly flares into full-on confrontation as the two begin to dance in a manner that you’d only call “dance” if you understand that contemporary dance can be hard to distinguish from wrestling. Local companies—notably Black Label Movement—make effective use of this kind of intensely physical, sometimes violent interaction among performers, but with Ampe and Garrido, the gloves (and, eventually, everything else) are off.

As the piece unfolds, the duo seem to be alternately testing themselves and one another with bold, often comical feats of strength and dexterity. One way to see the performance is as a lampoon of showy confrontations, from the animal kingdom (growling and snarling is common, and at time the two seem to ape beasts of the wild) to the boardroom, where intimidation and clever demonstrations of prowess are more important than actual harm-doing. Seeing Still Standing You, one understands why action blockbusters credit “fight choreographers.”

I won’t spoil the surprises that—so to speak—unfold over the course of the performance, but by the show’s conclusion you feel almost overwhelmed by the intensity of the performers’ interactions. Many of the leaps, bounds, thrusts, flips, and grabs are played for laughs, and at times I found myself on the edge of my seats, both laughing and gasping in disbelief at what was transpiring on the bare marley of the McGuire Theater.

By the show’s conclusion, Garrido and Ampe have found their way to places of almost unbearable intimacy. I say “unbearable” because the piece pushes so far beyond the comfort level of what people are used to seeing happen between two bodies. Conceived and executed with impressive discipline, Still Standing You steers clear of any obvious signposts that would cause us to believe we’re seeing ideas or events rendered symbolically—it stays resolutely in the moment—and yet the contentious closeness that exists between the bearded duo echoes dimensions of any number of human relationships.

Still Standing You is a strangely fascinating experience that you won’t soon forget. It’s Out There at its best.

Jay Gabler