It struck me, as I lay broken and beasted on a padded dais in almost total darkness, involuntarily holding the hand of a features writer called Chris, that what had just happened to me might serve as sound preparation for the presidency of Donald Trump. Being roughly manhandled in often suffocating darkness with dubious sloppy liquids smeared across one’s face or messily dribbled down one’s throat with minimal consent seems just the kind of thing mandated across the pond.
As for the UK, the creators of Futuro (the third chapter in The Waldorf Project series) are to be congratulated for their singular piece of gastronomic performance art that currently inhabits the vacant monolith of Here East on Stratford’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
Whatever expectations I may have had before the slender white hand of a Japanese dancer yanked me through black institutional curtains and into the dark, they were completely confounded.
I’m still not exactly sure what happened, but I can tell you I’ve never had a cultural experience like it, certainly not one rated at £84 a go.
The three-hour session acted as a kind of meditation on consent, posing physically (as the four dancers who manipulated and controlled our every move never spoke) numerous questions about how far members of an audience can be pushed by performers.
It started gently enough – we were danced in and around before our hands were roughly placed atop tables.
Re-arranged repeatedly and served cubic glasses filled with some sort of booze enriched with a red liquid impregnated into the vertical oblong tanks by means of squishing handily placed balloons up their sides with our mouths.
I fed another member of the audience at our dancer’s unspoken request, her hands guiding mine, the pulsing electronic sound track filling our ears. He looked terrified as I tipped the glass too fast.
Then things took a turn for the strange.
Without going into unnecessary detail we embarked on a journey through a series of unpleasant experiences mostly with very little light and always shepherded by the wiry, steel, aggressive quartet of dancers.
We became passive, keeling submissively, having floppy cups of warm custard pressed into our mouths with fingers and tongue, being thrown to the floor, forced up against polythene sheets ready for assault with alcohol-filled plant misters and eagerly ingesting foul-dry clay squeezed into our mouths.
I discovered a profound claustrophobia when shoved into a tight, pitch black crawl space, kicking out and refusing to the rough displeasure of the performer goading me.
In the end she simply led me round the obstacle, frightened and ashamed.
And that’s what’s unusual about Futuro – it’s harsh, visceral construction delivers sharp cuts of experience in an unquestionably brave way.
By the end of its run on December 4, I fully expect its dancers to be wrecks.
The unspoken agreement between audience members to remain silent similarly adds to the peculiar atmosphere – as though one were experiencing these things with ghosts, often denying a feeling of safety in numbers.
But, for all its artistic and aesthetic courage and the fact I will never forget the experience, I cannot honestly say I enjoyed it much.
While the interactions with the dancers were intense, there were also long periods spent on the floor, on one’s knees or lying, gazing up at the smoke alarms on Hear East’s ceiling that broke its spell.
With only the ketamine-filtered, Flash Gordon sound track for company, too much time was spent awaiting the rough grip of the hands on arm or collar that heralded the next shock in the merry-go-round, the relief of a curious boredom.
And then there’s the balance. While the journey involved a pleasant, redemptive end with the dancers turned from black-clad torturers to fibre-optic angels, it proved scant consolation for the preceding discomfort and violation.
In the end, the touch of Chris’ hand (cool and fleshy though it was) did little to make me forget the foul tastes and humiliations visited upon me.
It also did little to prevent the flashbacks of an impassive Japanese woman’s face drowning me with exhaled e-cigarette smoke before slopping cold goo messily across my lips while my hands scratched at the sandpaper blocks placed beneath them.
So go if you want something to talk about for days, challenge your comfortable, insulated world. It’s originality wins it a third star.
Just don’t expect to be able to tell what you’re eating, drinking or feeling and don’t expect to enjoy it much.
As for the future of gastronomy, while not identical, it did put me in mind of restaurant critic Marina O'Loughlin's 2009 April fool in Metro where she imagined an all-black semi-legal establishment featuring manacles and cuisine noir. Art imitating life?
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