The enchantment of pantomime and aerial ballet: Air Play by Acrobuffos

United StatesUnited States Various – Acrobuffos’ Air Play: Broadstage, Santa Monica, California, 24.7.2022. (JRo)

Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone in Air Play © Nikola Milatovic

Writers, creators, sound designers, props – Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone
Director – West Hyler
Kinetic sculpture – Daniel Wurtzel
Technical director – Todd Alan Little
Lighting – Jeanne Koenig
Costumes – Ashley Dunn Gatterdam
Additional sound design – Phil Ingle

Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone

Acrobuffos’ Air Play occupies that divine space where wonder, art and theatre live. Simple materials are set aloft by the performers and become characters in a clownish pantomime. Airborne silken fabric, massive balloons, flying umbrellas and snowstorms of packing peanuts fill the stage in a delightful aerial ballet.

Schooled in the art of clowning, dance and drama, Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone channel circus acrobats, commedia dell’arte clowns, performance art and the physics of air to create a sublimely simple yet wondrously complex hour-long entertainment.

Their collaborator, the kinetic sculptor Daniel Wurtzel, is known for his installations using air and lightweight materials. This isn’t his first foray into theatre – he has worked with other directors such as Julie Taymor and Robert Lepage. As presented by Bloom and Gelsone, the air sculptures become human participants in the show, dancing in the air, interacting with the duo and inserting their presence with dramatic force.

Air Play has a loose narrative. In a surreal landscape – a circle of massive fans against a dark backdrop – a sister and a brother bicker, compete and play with each other. The sister wears a yellow jumpsuit, carries a yellow suitcase and cavorts with yellow balloons. Her brother has the same accoutrements in red. When their balloons and silken fabric mix and blend, it reminded me of a classic children’s book, Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni, where colors take on a life of their own and seem to go to the heart of childhood. Sensitive lighting by Jeanne Koenig enhances color and creates suspense.

Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone in Air Play © Nikola Milatovic

The soundtrack, from klezmer to classical, mambo to movie music, heightens the atmosphere for the aeronautical ballet of moving objects: Satie, Holst, Hermann, Sonny Bono, Adrian Sical and Vinicio Capossela are just a handful of the composers on the extended playlist.

Humor is everywhere, more than enough of it to keep even my three-year-old granddaughter giggling. In one sequence, the siblings compete with balloons, each drawing bigger and bigger ones from their suitcases. Finally, giant balloons arrive and the pair is somehow magically swallowed up into the interiors – the sister in a huge yellow one and the brother in a red one. The balloons begin to quiver and shake until suddenly, like chicks hatching, their heads pop out.

I will defer from telling more in the hope that you can see Air Play the next time it is in your city. It has been touring the world since 2015 and is still going strong.

Jane Rosenberg

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