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Review: Arca Struts the Catwalk Between Diva and Meta Diva

For all the arresting high-tech video imagery — psychedelic layers superimposed until they took on hologram-like pseudoreality — there was a studiedly rough, decidedly non-stadium aspect to the show.

Arca’s first costume change — out of a slinky, shimmering black dress into a plastic breastplate with lights at the nipples and a patchwork miniskirt — took place in full view of the audience, without much rushing or showmanship. The awkwardness of how long it took, the lack of spectacle, seemed intentional: This, she seemed to be saying, is the glamorous drudgery we put female artists through. We sometimes saw Arca on video as she lay on an examining chair, as if our perspective was that of her surgeon.

Her piano — unlike Swift’s or Lady Gaga’s — is prepared with magnets that turn it into an electroacoustic machine of woozy, otherworldly lyricism, tinged with buzz. And unlike most pop divas, Arca had a synthesizer setup on the other side of the stage, at which she grinned maniacally and made the kind of noise that she specialized in at the beginning of her career: harsh shards in wet earth, glitches, explosions, video-game-style machine-gun rounds, roars, spacily stretched tones.

It was the kind of soundscape that fit the show’s title: “Destrudo” is a term relating to the Freudian death drive, a theme in keeping with Arca’s gothy-cyborg self-styling. But while the music occasionally got loud on Wednesday, there was little of the heavy, disorienting, oozingly morphing melancholy of her early work. Lacking the encompassing (if changeable) moods of the albums, this was a performance more endearing than emotional; even the dancey parts were too brief to build up much joy.

“Destrudo” follows “Mutant;Faith,” her 2019 production at the Shed. In that period, when she began identifying as a nonbinary trans woman, pre-“Kick,” it landed more squarely on the side of experimental performance art. Arca did the show in a dirt pit, wore hoofed stilts, used a stripper-pole synthesizer and rode a mechanical bull.

Now, trying more than ever to have it both pop and not, she is still fascinating, but — maybe inevitably — not fully satisfying.

At the Armory, she was charming, game, sweetly grateful to the crowd. “This is fun, right?” she said, sincerely, as she paused to correct something wrong with the technology in her high heels that seemed meant to translate her steps into sounds. And it was fun — sort of.


Through Sunday at the Park Avenue Armory, Manhattan;

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