Ever dreamed you were being smothered by a giant marshmallow? Me neither, but this is one of the many thoughts or sensory images that might occur when watching Blaas…
Categorised as dance in the Brighton Festival programme, it is a dance of sorts – between an inflated white cube and an audience, initially seated. Director Boukje Schweigman says her intention is to make us think about our bodies in relation to a space or an object. Blaas, meaning blow or bubble in Dutch, is a collaboration with designer Cocky Eek, who, apart from having a brilliant name, has created a sensational bit of kit with which to fulfil that intention.
It would be unhelpful to say what (ahem) unfolds, as this is a seriously experiential work. I find myself considering scale: the big billowing cube, skilfully manipulated by performer Ibelisse Guardia Ferragutti, seems delicate in the lofty public gymnasium. I’m aware of it clanking against metal doors and reflecting light from the green netting that separates off the basketball pitch. There’s a feeling of being underwater from that green light and the way the thing sways, lifts and rebounds almost weightlessly, anchored by human limbs inside. Some might find the setting distracting but I like how this workaday environment contrasts with a pristine, almost clinical, otherworldly encounter.
Further transformations take the audience by surprise and increase our anticipation. There have already been confrontations with air-filled fabric and now things are getting bigger, louder and closer. We feel a little in jeopardy on tiered benches as our plastic foot coverings rustle against Jochem van To’s subtle and curious music. His soundscape seeps into your brain, occasionally reinforcing the idea of oceans with whale song and clicks. A boy who looks about ten is spellbound and keen to engage and it’s a shame he’s the only child: the guidance age of twelve seems strange.
That said, I keep seeing body parts amidst the abstraction of form: a bosom with an inverted nipple, a sphincter. Fabric full of air lends itself to these images, especially when gripped and twisted in a fist. You’re never unaware of the person making things happen, and you do get to meet her (she pops out of another orifice), but you can suspend disbelief enough to feel wonder and enjoy working out how it is all done. Who is running around the outside? How are the fans positioned to make such effects? In the central 20 minutes of the show, when we’re asked to just ‘be’ in the chilly space, I think about other large inflatables encountered over years of theatre going. Forkbeard Fantasy’s magnificent pneumatic Blue Woman, The Luminarium becoming a glowing and disorientating space for dancers, the Udderbelly deflating on the Ornate Johnson’s in 2008, turning into a giant purple cow pat…
The masterstroke comes in how the piece resolves. We have all been quite separate for the past hour, thinking about breath or light or nipples (OK, just me) but the company cleverly brings the audience together at the end to the extent that I was I able to blag a lift home from a fellow traveller.
File it under a visual, sensory, performative, disorienting experience then. Or, as my kind driver said when asked why she had booked for this show: ‘I had no idea what it was. I just like the strange stuff.’
Featured photo (top) by Geert Snoeijer.
Schweigman& will be presenting For The Time Being (UK premiere) at IF, Milton Keynes International Festival, on 22 and 23 July 2018.