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Festival review: Blaas

Adelaide Festival

‘I don’t know what to expect.’ My 10-year-old companion’s slightly nervous anticipation seems to be shared by others around us. At the end of this surprising show, we are definitely no longer in the dark.

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While looking forward to seeing Blaas, it is difficult to summon much enthusiasm for going out on a day when the temperature is more than 40; we hope only for air-conditioning, not giving thought to much else. We need not have worried. After a short but very hot trek across Wayville Showgrounds to the venue, we’re greeted with a smile and seated in a cool waiting area. So far, so good.

There’s a short delay (a couple of ticketholders got lost) before we’re instructed to take off our shoes and place them, along with our bags and other personal belongings, into large, secure trunks. We slip plastic coverings onto our feet then enter the performance space.

The room is large, its floor completely covered in white vinyl. Several rows of white benches are arranged close together. At the far end of the room lie tangled piles of white fabric, resembling just-landed parachutes. It’s a minimal, unremarkable environment. We sit and wait, ready to surrender to whatever will follow.

A small section of the fabric stirs. We hear faint glitches and clicks – the noises shifting, coming from around and behind us. Paying close attention now, we notice the ambient soundscape becoming more complex and see bubbles beginning to form within the piles of cloth.

Soon we meet them; two massive, balloon-like “creatures”. The significance of the show’s name now gains clarity (“blaas” is the Dutch word for “blow”, “breath”, “bubble” and “bladder”).

It’s not possible to describe in detail everything that happens next without spoiling things for those who haven’t participated yet. I can say I found the experience restorative and, at times, awe-inspiring.

Is it art? Puppetry? Theatre? It’s all that and much more.

Blaas prods us to question our relationship with the world around us. It provokes wonder and gives us the opportunity to sit with feelings of discomfort and uncertainty.

There’s a tenderness to our interactions. We feel drawn to the abstract creations, our curiosity vying with apprehension. We know they’re nothing more than floating sacs of air yet we feel a strange connection. We’re reminded of the unpredictability of nature as the fascinating organic forms advance, retreat and envelop us.

Adelaide is lucky to host the exclusive Australian season of this show which has toured constantly since its creation in 2013. Director Boukje Schweigman is known for works that create “visual, poetic, sensory spaces”. With designer Cocky Eek and performer Ibelisse Guardia Ferragutti, she has conceived a work of theatre that invites physical as well as mental engagement from the audience (a small group, due to the nature of the performance).

Lighting, by Hugo Hendrickx, is used to startling effect in the later stages of the piece. Jochem van Tol’s aural composition hums in perfect harmony with the rest of the performance; the crackles and droning building and subsiding in concert with the flapping of the fabric as the forms take shape and move around the space.

Ibelisse Guardia Ferragutti and co-performers Jochem van Rijsingen, Barnaby Savage and Eva Kijlstra work magic with their giant inflatable creations, wrangling air and conjuring a world that is truly immersive.

As we emerge from this weird but delightful journey, we have fun working out how we can describe the show to others. Birth, clouds, whales, aliens and storms all get a mention. One thing we agree on is that we’re happy we’ve had the Blaas experience.

For some, there may have been moments of hesitation and perhaps fear. As individuals and as a group we’ve been prompted, ever so delicately, to consider our boundaries, make choices and take time to be in the moment.

Blaas is a trip through space and time. Enter with an open mind, allow yourself to be coaxed out of your comfort zone and go with the flow.

Blaas can be seen at the Thomas Edmonds Opera Studio, Adelaide Showgrounds, until March 10. See more Festival stories and reviews here.

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