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Review: Foehn at AC Arts Main Theatre

By Lisa Lanzi

We enter reverently into a quiet, dark space, audience seating on three sides. Eighteen small fans are placed at ground level around an intimate circular performance space overhung by a draped circular ‘roof’ mounted quite high. Almost immediately a hooded figure in dark robes move forward to kneel. This mysterious being tends to a plastic bag with scissors and sticky tape in a ritualistic, calm and tender manner accompanied only by distant, intermittent chiming sounds. He then paces the circle switching on each fan… slowly the inanimate plastic inflates, takes on form, swirls on the spot then becomes airborne - a new lifeform seizing the moment.

It is not a straightforward task to put words on the page about a wordless, enchanting, improvised performance that is genius in its visual simplicity but obviously has such depth in the preparation and development of the concept.

Part of the joy here, featuring a compelling performance by Silvano Nogueira as the sole human presence, is to be aware of the reactions of audience members who ranged from six months to adult at the Festival premiere. I spoke to a four year old afterward who kindly told me how much she liked the “floaty bits” and that it was “lovely and fun”. During the forty minutes there were delighted, child-like and non-verbal exclamations around the perimeter, myself included. It is lovely to immerse yourself in that sense of wonder as an adult!

Foehn refers to a warm, dry southerly wind developing in the lee of any mountain range. It is also nick-named the ‘murder wind’. Mountaineers REALLY don’t want to encounter this phenomenon as it can cause avalanches as the snow softens. As Director Phia Ménard states : As invisible as our imagination, when air moves, it is felt: when it draws patterns in the sand, rearranges the geography around us and transforms our world into a sphere in perpetual transformation. There are stages in this performance where the plastic ‘corps de ballet’ take on different emotions so that we experience delight through to chaos. The plastic bags also shift from white to black with some other colours making an appearance, like the innocent pink one birthed at the start.

The atmosphere of Foehn is shaped by sound as much as by the corporeal elements. The journey is accompanied by a mysterious soundtrack woven around music by Claude Debussy, including his 1894 Prélude à L'après-midi d'un Faune, and created by Ivan Roussel. There is also lighting design by Alice Rüest and wind design from Pierre Blanchet. The ‘magic’ of the wind design, with variations in angle and velocity is what choreographs the plastic bags as well as Nogueira’s various manoeuvres to block or shape the wind currents with his clothing or umbrella and walking stick props.

French group Compagnie Non Nova’s founding precept is Non nova, sed nove – ‘Not new things, but in a new way’. Foehn certainly leads you to perceive and wonder with fresh eyes and leaves you with an energised heart.

Photo Credit: Jean Luc Beaujault

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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