Brighton Festival 2018
Created by Dutch theatre-maker Boukje Schweigman with visual artist Cocky Eek and performers Ibelisse Guardia Ferragutti, Jochem van Rijsingen, Barnaby Savage and Sanne de Wit, Blaas is a weird and wonderful white sheet of abstract configurations.
Playing with the boundaries of physical space, this wordless piece of visual theatre creates a mysterious and disorientating world for the spectator – offering a new perspective on everyday reality. In the words of Schweigman:
‘Blaas is a game with the space around us. In Blaas, we play with the inside and outside world. Where does our inner world stop and where does the outside world begin? There is continuous interaction between ourselves and our environment. Outside is inside and inside is outside. The question ‘where am I’ is therefore perhaps more important than the question ‘who am I’…’
Schweigman& is a Utrecht-based theatre company that produces wordless, visual and musical theatre, in which the senses are sharpened and a game played with expectations. Its productions have won numerous prizes and are presented internationally. Schweigman& produces at least one new theatrical or site specific production each year and tours regularly to international festivals.
It’s hard to know where to begin with this tender, otherworldly, explorative and extraordinary show, so I’ll begin at the beginning, with the venue.
The performance really benefitted from its location in a slightly down at heel 1980’s leisure centre, the very last place where you’d expect to encounter a magical experience. Unfortunately, its location outside the main drag of the Festival and Fringe meant there wasn’t a full house at the performance I watched, however this is an exquisite show that is more than worth the trip out to Moulsecoomb Leisure Centre.
The performance had a sense of being out-of-the-box even before we entered the sports hall where it took place. The audience removed their shoes and stored valuables in a locker, donned white over-socks and lined up outside the hall, expectant and curious and we stood at the threshold of a new experience. Once inside, we sat on low white benches set out in a curve on a white floor facing a long pile of what look like white sheets. Slowly, imperceptibly, life was breathed into a section of the fabric and the show began.
Over the course of the next 70 minutes, the living fabric grew and developed, forming a close relationship with itself and with us. It became a living entity – curious, inquisitive, shy, conflicted, afraid, playful and welcoming – opening itself to us with extreme vulnerability. The performance led us deep into its voluminous world of colour, darkness, contemplation, movement and sound before inviting us to return to the sounds and sights of our own world like a new birth. That’s all I’m going to say – to describe it in detail would destroy the magic.
Blaas means ‘blow’ or ‘bubble’ in Dutch and is the result of a conceptual collaboration between Boukje Schweigman, who is interested in space and time; Cocky Eek, a fashion designer turned visual artist, who is fascinated by wind and air; and performer, Ibelisse Guardia Ferragutti, who, with her co-performers, makes the whole thing move. Together they have conceived magic.
The show very literally turns norms inside out and upside down – the performers’ brilliance lies in their skill in making themselves invisible, Jochem van Tol’s music and Hugo Hendrickx lighting provide such a natural soundscape and lightscape for the life form and its experiences that I hardly remember them, but know they were a crucial part of the performance.
I walked out of Blaas in a state of wonder. The world I’d left behind when I entered the show was the same, but I found that my relationship with it had changed. Blaas left me feeling inspired to keep a closer eye on life’s thresholds and the choices they reveal: take a new route, explore more and reveal more. This is the first time I have seen any of Schweigman&’s projects and I’ll be looking out for more.