It is a rare occasion to not only be invited, but given permission, during a performance to laugh, play, interact, and simply be yourself. Often enough, we are so wrapped up in our work, our kids’ schedules, duties, and responsibilities that we don’t take the time needed to soak in our brain’s imagination. In Acrobuffos’ Air Play at BroadStage last Thursday, July 21st we were not only given an hour to let go and enjoy entertainment for entertainment’s sake, but we were allowed to feel big, to feel expansive, to feel unreserved in a world of small and simple joys.
As the curtain lifted, performers Christina Gelsone and Seth Bloom were sitting in red and yellow jumpsuits center stage holding large red and yellow iridescent sheer cloth nearly twenty feet above their heads. With their hands holding the corners, and wide circular fans blowing beneath their feet, we see an inanimate object take on a life of its own, as it danced into the rafters begging for flight. And just like that, both Gelsone and Bloom let go, as the pieces of cloth continued to climb into the invisible darkness and out of sight. We were left wondering “where did it go?” as the performers kept their gaze lifted up, with a gentle smile on their face. I was immediately brought back to childlike wonder, imagining the many places the cloth would be, and looking to the performers to give me answers. It was this simple characterization that set the tone and mood of the evening, and I knew I would be grabbing tight and letting go and make believing from start to finish.
The use of air as a prop of its own on stage was the kind of genius you look for in reinventing the old profession of acrobatics and clownery. With kinetic sculptor Daniel Wurtzel collaborating with Gelsone and Bloom, we saw a myriad of otherwise motionless objects take flight. Several circular fans sat next to one another creating an oval center stage, and once turned on, a current of air centralized in the middle keeping anything able to catch air continually floating. In our first real introduction to the air pod, we see Bloom bring out a giant red latex balloon more than twice the size of himself, as the fans turned on, and the balloon remained mid-air. Gelsone holding a fishing net full of tiny red balloons released them into the air pod as we saw swirls of dancing dots go up and down and back up again. Fish net after fish net was released until the whole stage seemed to be filled with playful balloons. That feeling when you jump into a large ball pit? It was like watching the performers jump into a vertical swarm of excitement and wonder. And when glitter was released and added to the mix, everything became magical and otherworldly.
Within this arena of air and amazement, you have the brilliance of physical comedy between Gelsone and Bloom on stage. What might be considered a bit of a lost art, was revisited and rewired for an audience with all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, and ages. In a clever act of interaction, the performers bounced a balloon into the audience, and making sure it never touches the ground is an age-old game that never tires. You always hope it comes to you, so you get the chance to gently tap the balloon with the tops of your fingers into the ether. But taking on the child-like notion of “mine, mine, mine” when you’re given a toy, both performers crawled over audience members in chairs, standing on arm rests, and sitting on laps in order to get to the balloon before it reached anyone else. With finger points, hands on hips, and gibberish yelling, and shouting, Acrobuffos incorporated an innocent and humorous spectacle of disappointment when an audience member got to a balloon before they did. This effortless game brought a sense of nostalgia, memory, and sentimentality to the atmosphere.
The audience can also make what it wants out of the connection between Gelsone and Bloom, who’s relationship remains almost sibling-like in their silent theatrics. We see jealousy, competition, and dare I say tantrums. But we also see love, sharing, and pride in one another. In a note from the creators, Acrobuffo’s writes, “Is Air Play theater, comedy, sculpture, or circus? Yes!” But I would like to add dance to this list. It is the relationship in physical movement that is built on stage and open to interpretation that also makes this a dance performance. We are free to build our own story, insert our own memories, and delight in the in between that makes this an imaginatively designed pattern of choreography. We see movement in the display of umbrellas catching the wind, in the white packing peanuts they throw at each other, in the cloth they manipulate in real time as it moves in relation to the elements on stage. Above all, we see the awe, the “wow!” the questioning, the “how did they do that?!” when Acrobuffos make something seemingly impossible…possible. It’s in that release that we find the magic of dance; the ability to share in our human connections and memories together in a shared space. The Acrobuffos are an act to watch, remember, and honor the child in all of us.
Acrobuffos’ Air Play continues at the BroadStage in Santa Monica through July 31, 2022. To purchase tickets, please visit the BroadStage website.
To learn more about Acrobuffos, please visit their website.
Written by Grace Courvoisier for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Acrobuffos – Air Play – Photo by Nikola Milatovic