Light, shadow, and balloons in three by Philippe Saire

Mercat de les Flors, Barcelona
January 21 & 26, 2023

Continuing the season at Mercat de les Flors, Swiss choreographer Philippe Saire presented three shows. On January 21, Vittorio Bertolli and Philippe Chosson showed themselves to be remarkably expressive performers in Hocus Pocus and Vacuum, works that both play with ideas of appearance and disappearance.

Aimed at children aged 6-12, Hocus Pocus is set within a small frame created with two parallel strip lights. The effect is to create something that resembles a puppet theatre. Dressed in black trousers but with naked torsos, the performers produce a combination of funny moments and moral messages that induce adults and kids alike to laugh but also to think. At times poetic, at times emotional, the superbly executed performance brings to the fore values and important messages such as friendship and care, all expressed through the dancers’ bodily expression and movement.

Costumes and masks come together to resemble fights between knights, Pinocchio’s nose and a caring wise fairy with extremely long white hair. While the scenes may depict stories for children, they always speak to adults too, albeit mostly in different ways. It is always very effective.

It was delightful to see so many children in the theatre, and amusing to hear their reactions, their giggles and comments as the performance was taking place. Some shows effortlessly trigger emotions and reactions. Hocus Pocus is one of those.

Vacuum by Philippe Saire
Photo Philippe Weissbrodt

Vacuum is designed for adults. The stage setting is as for Hocus Pocus but now Bertolli and Chosson are naked, their sculpted bodies revealed, or part-revealed, in the combination of light, semi-darkness and darkness. Sometimes abstract body forms appear as unrecognisable objects, at other moments as deformed body fragments.

The intimacy and beauty created by the two male bodies moving in the contained magic box space absorbs and mesmerises completely. There is something simple yet profound in way the two figures and dislocated body parts appear and disappear in the scenic juxtaposition of light and darkness. Vacuum is brilliantly executed with its air of mystery and unveiling metamorphosis. It’s a dance which comes with a good dose of poetry and beguiling magic.

Five days later, on January 26, Saire presented Salle des Fêtes (Party Room). Danced by Neal Maxwell and David Zagari, masked as bank robbers and dressed all in white, it is again a semi-dark performance, in meaning and in design.

The fifth part of a series of choreographic works that relate to visual arts, the work runs around the fascination yet threatening aspect that balloons have for the choreographer. A circular stage becomes an arena of physical contact, and at times conflict, between the two dancers as they interact with the shiny balloons.

A sense of obscure and silly humour unfolds when the performers play and compete with one another trying to make the balloons move using only the shifting air produced through their own movement. They give some of the balloons to members of the audience and indicate silently that they should keep them. But what does having a balloon mean? Is it an invitation to play? It seems not as one is taken away from someone who laughs aloud repetitiously, seemingly too excited having received one.

Salle des Fêtes by Philippe Saire
Photo Philippe Weissbrodt

There is some other small interaction with the audience but the atmosphere suggests that, while the work wants to be amusing at times, not too much. Some viewers explode in laughs anyway, in particular when the two dancers play foolishly together with the balloons.

The contrasting irony in Salle des Fêtes left me impassive. The chosen movement didn’t transmit anything specific, nor did it take me anywhere. I didn’t perceive any story through them. Nevertheless, I appreciated the use of balloons as tools of metaphorical elevation, as something out of human control that flies away, as a colourful and airy message of celebration, as a transitory and bubbly object that resists gravity, and as something that seems to have a life of its own.

Wonder and poetry are perceivable in the most simple and unpretentious of things. Floating balloons are just one such. Indeed, in Saire’s works in general, I found that the most convincing and moving parts were the simpler, effortless ones.