When it was advertised that the New York based Acrobuffos was coming to the BroadStage Mainstage for 12 performances of the company’s evening-length work AIR PLAY July 21 to 31, 2022, I had to do my research to find out more about this group. I thought that they must be very special to get a run of 12 performances here in the Los Angeles area. So, thanks to Google, I found a 2 minute and 10 second trailer on YouTube and in just that little amount of time, my question was answered. With the help of Davidson & Choy Public Relations, I fortunately was able to set up an interview on Zoom with the two Co-founders Seth Bloom and Christina Christina Gelsone, both trained in dance, choreography, theater, acrobatics, juggling and circus. Tickets are on sale now.

LA Dance Chronicle generally reviews or writes about concert dance, commercial dance, and a diverse list of other dance forms. Acrobuffos is unique in that it fits in multiple categories that include, for this dance writer, well-choreographed movement. Gelsone describes Air Play as a visual poem and just from watching that very short trailer, I agree.

At the beginning of the interview we chatted about common interests we had, and because Gelsone and Bloom studied dance, they were very aware of the art form that I was and am involved in. One of Gelsone’s first questions to me was, “Are we your first Clowns?”  And indeed they were and I will elaborate to say that they were one of my most enjoyable.

Acrobuffos - Air Play - (L-R) Christina Gelsone, Seth Bloom - Photo ©FlorenceMontmare

Acrobuffos – AIR PLAY – (L-R) Christina Gelsone, Seth Bloom – Photo ©FlorenceMontmare

When I mentioned that what I saw on the trailer was more than circus, they both agreed. “Seth has a degree in dance,” Gelsone said, “and I was a dancer.” After a very brief pause, she caused me to laugh by adding, “You found our deep dark secret.”

She went on to explain that when they approach a new show that incorporates music, they do exactly what many choreographers do. “We visualize the music, and hopefully understand the music in a new and emotional way. And how to use all the different crafts and tools of choreography. To see it mathematically or see it emotionally, although the two are quite close. We throw in what we understand about the physics of theater and we throw in our craft of clowning – we’re still going for the same thing.”

Describing what she felt as a clown versus a dancer, Gelsone mentioned a waltz. As a clown the audience is not locked into a rhythm beginning on the right or left foot, but that she can keep the audience off kilter a bit by taking them in any direction she chooses and change their balance as they are viewing the performance.

Another connection to the dance world is that of working with visual artists. Merce Cunningham with Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Frank Stella and others, or Martha Graham who worked with Japanese-American artist and designer Isamu Noguchi  One of the artists that Acrobuffos collaborate with is Daniel Wurtzel who created the kinetic sculpture “Vortex of Fans” using red and yellow fabrics together and whose work is seen all over the world. One of Wurtzel’s mentors was Isamu Noguchi. “One of the things that he always wanted to do,” Gelsone said,00 “was find someone to collaborate with, to do that same thing of finding something new in both art forms by collaborating.”My next question was wanting to learn the genesis or inspiration for Air Play. “Our history of working together was street theater,” Bloom began. “working outdoor festivals all over the world, with a show that fit in a suitcase where we got guys like you to have a water balloon fight to opera music.” He and Gelsone were looking around for a place to perform indoors when they saw a video of Wurtzel’s Sculptural Air Work and decided that he would be someone interesting to collaborate with. This was in the year 2000. Bloom had attended the same university as Wurtzel, Wesleyan University, so he called him, explained that he and Gelsone really enjoyed his work and could they meet to discuss working together.

“We went to his studio,” Bloom said. “and that started the whole collaboration. It’s a long story, but we worked for five years figuring out how to make a show using his materials. Because we come from a circus background, we felt that we would make a series of bits – like in the circus; you have the clowns, you have the aerialists, you have the jugglers.” “Different acts,” Gelsone added.

Acrobuffos - Seth Bloom in Air Play - Photo ©FlorenceMontmare

Acrobuffos – Seth Bloom in AIR PLAY – Photo ©FlorenceMontmare

“We can juggle balloons. We can put helium in them and do a juggling act,” Bloom explained. “And then fabrics flying in the air will be the aerial in the circus. Then you need the clowns who do the funny bits and then you need something else. We structured the show like that all the while trying to pursue making new sculptures with Daniel [Wurtzel] that fit our world.”

According to Bloom, this process got them through a great part of creating the show, but when they set out to sell it, presenters said that they wanted a story. I immediately thought of the Canadian based Cirque du Soleil. “So Christina and I tried to figure out how to tell a non-narrative story about growing up,” Bloom said. As opposed to a calling Air Play a theater show, Gelsone explained that the term visual poem “helps to frame it in the way that we think about it.”

Bloom explained that the director that they were working with at the time told them “Make it a love story between the two of you!”  I’m sure that this is because in “real life” Bloom and Gelsone are husband and wife. They met while working in Afghanistan and married while in China. “Christina said no f…ing way,” said Bloom. She also refused to wear a dress for this show.

“Our experience touring all around the world is that love stories are different in different cultures,” Bloom said. “And one thing that’s true about growing up is that you either grow up with a brother or sister, or a friend. That is a universal story no matter where you go. So if we told the story loosely about friendship and growing up, we could hit most of the world and be as universal as possible.”

Although Acrobuffos was founded in 2005, this is their very first indoor show, and like many companies they presented work-in-progress showings of different sections to see how audiences responded. They have performed in black  box theater settings, but never on the scale that they do now which includes 2000 seat venues. “We thought we were making a little black box show,” Gelsone said. “And then it blew up,” They both said in unison, a pun on Air Play.

Some of what they learned during the shows-in-progress was how to deal with the physics of the space and how to really “nail down” the space while performing the same work in different venues. They discovered that the audience creates body heat that affected their props like balloons filled with helium. “We once sent a helium filled balloon over the audience’s heads and it didn’t come back down,” Gelsone explained. “Also with work-in-progress it’s really helpful to us as clowns to see what kind of comedy reads at that scale and what kind of scenes pull through.”

Acrobuffos - (L-R) Seth Bloom, Christina Gelsone in AIR PLAY - Photo by Nikola Milatovic

Acrobuffos – (L-R) Seth Bloom, Christina Gelsone in AIR PLAY – Photo by Nikola Milatovic

Bloom said that in outdoor comedy they say that you do not know if something really works until you have performed it a hundred times. Talking about Air Play, he added, “We spent an hour of notes after every single show. That didn’t work as a laugh. Let’s get a laugh there, that storytelling doesn’t quite work.” And while demonstrating, “let’s put my hand here instead of here. Let me put my head on your shoulder and look this way instead of that way, trying to iron the show out.”

“It was interesting with this show and these particular characters,” Gelsone said,“ and this came a lot from dance training, is how to erase – in comedy we call it spaghetti – where there’s excessive movement. But besides that, emotionally I had to find the most concise and evocative way with a single gesture as opposed to several gestures or an oversized gesture.”

She went on to explain how they have studied many different techniques while traveling around the world, and that this show has never become stagnant, that it continues to mature and shift with each space and with the reactions from different audiences. Following two years of not performing Air Play due to the pandemic, people who had seen the show prior to Covid said that it was different. They believe that during the pandemic they changed as well as the audiences. “Someone said that they didn’t remember it being so emotional,” Bloom said. “I’m like, well we’re all in different places. We’ve been through an emotional trauma.”

Acrobuffos travel by car, truck, bus or plane. Bloom said that because they come from a circus background, they load the cases into the theaters, set up the show, perform, strike the show and load it back into the vehicles and they drive them – all  themselves along with two technicians. “I don’t want to do it any other way,” Bloom said. “Because that is some of the pleasure.”

Because of the nature of this show, Acrobuffos travel with their own side legs (curtains) because they are 45 feet tall as opposed to the average 25 foot tall legs. They travel with one Technical Director, Jeanne Koenig, and one Stage Manager, Flora Vassar, who has been with them since 2015. So, this very large show with multiple props tours with only 4 people. The Stage Manager also focuses the lighting which takes 6 hours to accomplish. “We have to light the deck, we have to light all the air 45 feet above the deck,” Bloom explained. “We have to light the air above the audience and we have to light the audience. We want to keep it all within the same world.”

Bloom spoke about how because no one has lifts that go 45 feet into the air, the Technical Director learned to use trigonometry to bounce focus the second and third electric – part of the electrical system in theaters. Gelsone added that all the lighting is based off of dance lighting which uses a great deal of side lighting to help give shape to the people on stage. There is also what they called clown front light so that their facial expressions can be clearly seen.

“We always say that our Stage Manager, Flora Vassar, is the third performer or puppeteer,” Bloom said. “We never put her in a booth. We always place her somewhere in the back of the theater because her timing for the lighting cues and the fan cues relate to our timing with the audience.” It is Vassar who keeps the fabric from getting tangled up in the rigging, etc. “She says that she burns as many calories as we do,” Bloom added.

Bloom and Gelsone reiterated that because they are working with air, the balloons, umbrellas, and fabric, etc. respond differently to each venue, weather conditions and number of audience members. Gelsone talked about working a huge piece of white fabric during one section of Air Play. Gelsone said that because the show is about air, that is a large part of how she zeroed in on the choreography of the breath.

Acrobuffos - (L-R) Christina Gelsone, Seth Bloom in Air Play - Photo ©FlorenceMontmare

Acrobuffos – (L-R) Christina Gelsone, Seth Bloom in AIR PLAY – Photo ©FlorenceMontmare

“I feel like it is the perfect combination of what I do as a dancer, a juggler, and as a clown,” she said. “because I am working at the top end of my juggling abilities to be able to unfurl this 30 foot by 30 foot white fabric and the audience has no clue.” “We always call it our lion taming act because it can go very badly very quickly,” Bloom added.

The three of us talked for an entire hour and there is so much more to know about these two extraordinary artists who met in Afghanistan that will bring joy and laughter to thousands of people who had been and still are enduring endless wars. Gelsone and Bloom shared with me how it was less emotionally taxing working there because the Afghanistan people were some of the most welcoming and generous people that they have met. People who had very little to nothing would invite them into their homes to share a meal.

“There was a lot of hope and passion at the time,” Bloom said, along with destroyed buildings and tanks along the side of roads.

The two have not returned to Afghanistan since 2010 but noted that each time they went back there had been massive changes. “Not only had they been through 25 years of war but there had also been six years of drought,” Gelsone said. “Everything was dead and all the irrigation system was destroyed.” They have been to Afghanistan following the rains when everything was green again and there were trees where there had been none before. Even after the Taliban has taken over control, one of the centers that Bloom worked at teaching his skills is still in existence. The joy and happiness that they shared with the Afghanistan men and women, boys and girls is still alive and growing.

“There has been a lot of tragedy obviously,” Bloom said,” but while we were there we saw a lot of hope.” A perfect statement to on.

Air Play has been seen on 5 continents by over 150,000 people. I hope that you will get an opportunity to treat you and yours to an amazing show, experiencing the Acrobuffos at the BroadStage. What you take home with you will depend on how old you are and what your life experiences have been.


WHEN: July 21 – 31, 2022 |Mainstage, The Broad Stage
WHERE: BroadStage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica CA 90401. Parking is free
TICKETS:  Online — www.broadstage.org/
Phone — 310.434.3200
In Person — Box office at 1310 11th St. Santa Monica CA 90401
beginning two hours prior to performance.

To learn more about Acrobuffos, please visit their website.

To learn more about the BroadStage, please visit their website.

Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured Image: Acrobuffos – Air Play – Kites – Photo  ©FlorenceMontmare