When Fire Gardens was last in Adelaide, the concept of fire reaching into the city was fraught.

It was March of 2020 and although the haze of smoke from the Black Summer bushfires a couple of months earlier had lifted, it was still firmly in our minds.

Not a great moment, then, to light a thousand or so pots of flame within the Adelaide Botanic Garden – or so it may have seemed. But Fire Gardens, at that time here as part of the Adelaide Festival, appeared to suffer no loss in popularity due to the devastation the flickering fires called to mind.

It proved what French artistic collective Compagnie Carabosse has learned from its more than 20 years working with flame as a creative medium: fire always draws a crowd.

In 2024, our relationship with fire is less affected, and Compagnie Carabosse is once again bringing its spectacle of music, aroma and dancing light to the verdant grounds of the Adelaide Botanic Garden, this time as part of winter arts festival Illuminate Adelaide.

“We are happy to come back in this place and to discover Botanic Garden in winter, because we don’t know Australia in winter,” says Christian Cuomo, co-artistic director of Compagnie Carabosse.

“Each time we came, it’s summer or spring. It’s pleasant weather. We’re going to discover another way of Australia.”

Music is part of the Fire Gardens experience. Photo: Sylvie Monier

There will be small changes made to the Carabosse encampment this time around – such as warm benches, and chairs “with hot water inside” – to make things a little more comfortable for Adelaideans coming out in the wet.

And for the first time in an Australian installation, Fire Gardens will include a fountain that incorporates both fire and water.

“We build two new structures,” Cuomo says.

“Some people in the company [have] never seen this new fountain… And we’ll bring a lot of new things – old things for the company, but new things for the audience in Australia.

“All the people in the world know the fire, but we try to make some surprise.”

Compagnie Carabosse has presented its fiery spectacle all over the world. Photo: Sylvie Monier

Fire Gardens will be on display for 12 nights during Illuminate Adelaide – its longest ever stint in one spot – and each night will see one tonne of charcoal burned and more than 1300 individual flames ignited.

The shape of the Adelaide Botanic Garden installation will change this time, too, incorporating the Bicentennial Conservatory and Palm House as indoor spaces.

In some places within the artwork, musicians (a guitarist and a bass clarinet) will accompany the flames, and with the candles made using a scented wax, Fire Gardens will be an enveloping, all-senses experience.

Fire Gardens aims to ignite the senses. Photo: Sylvie Monier

What Cuomo hopes audiences take away from the artwork, though, is a reignited notion of the breadth of emotion and experience that fire stirs in us.

In truth, its capacity for devastation is never far from the news. In a global climate crisis, there is always another wildfire to report, more destructive than the last. And although locally Kangaroo Island and the Adelaide Hills have done well in their economic recovery, we are still learning of the nuanced, and possibly irreversible, ecological changes that occurred in our Black Summer.

Fire Gardens, to Cuomo, is a celebration of why, still, we’re drawn to the flame.

“Fire, it’s a hypnotic material and warm and [poetic],” he says.

“It can be a disaster, too. In Australia, you have bushfire, things like that. But with fire we can also cook, we can warm.

“There is different way to imagine and to try to work with fire.”

Fire Gardens will be in the Adelaide Botanic Garden on Thursdays through to Sundays from July 4 to 21 July as part of Illuminate Adelaide. Sessions will run from 5.45pm to 8.15pm.

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