The clock began to strike; the lights dimmed. Around the tall table, draped with a white tablecloth, 12 lights appeared, illuminating from below a circle about two inches in diameter. A waiter slid past the people gathered around the table, placing a cup of dense liquid directly atop the light. Meanwhile, a trail of waiters in white and black circled the floor, miming in perfect coordination the ideal technique for soup slurping, as a voice narrated over the loudspeaker. It turns out we had no idea what we were in for....
It's the year that San Sebastián carries the title of European Capital of Culture. What's that, you may ask? Basically it means a lot of EU funding gets funneled into a city to prime their cultural offering, both in the form of ephemeral acts and permanent works of both art and construction.
As is to be expected with the Donostiarra obsession with all things culinary, many of the offerings on tap this year are food-related. Time Machine Soup is one of them—and it was a truly unique spectacle, an exploration of the timeline of the human race using dance, sound, sight, light, and soup as its mediums. Yeah. It was freaky.
In the Tabakalera, San Sebastián's new International Contemporary Culture Center, attendees were led into a cavernous, dark room, before being presented with a theatrical performance involving a rather strange combination of a veteran TV figure, a wild-faced modern dancer, untrained young waiters and 12 soups.
An impressive group of artists and movers & shakers is behind this event. Names that are familiar around here, like Santos Bregaña (behind much of the design in Mugaritz) and Iñigo Cojo (one of the founders of A Fuego Negro).
Hence the near-perfect execution of what was quite an enjoyable act of theater. The high points were the akelarre, which drew you in as the modern dancer imitated the jerky motions of a spirit posessed. It even gave me chills. And the moment of the Grecians, with the whispers of the venom is the dosis. Got me thinking about deep life sh*t. Other moments fell a bit flatter, and I'm not sure whether I can chalk that up to the skeptical Basques at my table, insistently cracking cheap jokes at the most challenging moments of the act, or not.
Gender roles were protagonists of the night. It was no coincidence that the presenter and the dancer chosen to interpret some of the action were female; it was also no coincidence that at times, both the male and female actors donned long wigs and dresses.
It has long been said that a matriarchy reigns in Basque households, and the household is where food is most firmly rooted. Hence the female representation at the table during Time Machine Soup—all the way from the grandmother's broth to the akelarre, or witch's coven. By 1500 D.C., however, the Basque culture faded out of the limelight and gave way to the Renaissance, to Rome, Greece and Mesopotamia.
All in all, the night was a pleasing experience—not the dinner that one might have expected of an event that has 'soup' in the title and takes place around dinnertime. Rather, it was a theatrical exploration involving the five senses, taking advantage of the oft-neglected sense of taste to transmit feelings of comfort, disgust, disappointment and happiness.