Les Arts SautsReviewed by Alison Little
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Les Arts Sauts
24 Feb – 19th March
refer http://www.nzfestival.telecom.co.nz/theatre/les-arts-sauts.php for dates and times
Duration: approx 1 hour
Venue: Waitangi Park
Cost: GA $75.00, Friend $70.00, child $45.00
The 28 metre high inflatable dome where Les Arts Sauts are staging Ola Karla is an instant landmark on the Wellington waterfront.
Entrance to the unusual building is through hair-deranging ‘air lock’ buffer doors, and as you take your seat in a Brighton beach-style reclining deck chair, you are aware that this show will be a little different. Waiting for the start, the atmosphere is increasingly eerie, with people whooping and calling to friends, laughing at the strange acoustics. Lights and smoke simulate a flat grey ceiling a few metres above the audiences’ heads. Just faintly the gleam of industrial girders and struts, and strange trailing ladders, can be seen through the murk.
The excited murmur changes to enthused clapping; the performers arrive only to swarm up the support struts and vanish above the mist. The performance begins with a single man walking across the safety net, his foot falls distorting the plane of the ceiling and showing it for it is. Then, the lights shift, and the carefully posed performers began to move...
The show shifts through a number of sequences, both trapeze and wire work. At times the focus is on a single performer, twisting and tumbling between catchers, moving up and down through the space. For all that these are 'star turns', astonishing teamwork is required to coordinate those catches, and to make sure every trapeze swings to the right place at the right time. The large group sets are even more dazzling, when four or more are flung across the same airspace in tight sequence, a space that suddenly seems incredibly small and dangerously crowded.
It isn’t completely flawless - there are some misses and slips, some stumbled landings - but even these become part of the show, with the tumbled bowing as gracefully to the audience as if they had soared.
Shifts in mood and pace are marked by changes in the light and sound, which in another show would be a performance by themselves. Ola Kala (Greek for ''everything is going to be fine'') has a full-on musical score provided by a majestic singer, a string ensemble, and a keyboardist all performing from tiny platforms high among the beams. The costumes have a vaguely post-apocalyptic feel to them, variously fitted and trailing draperies revealing the lithe muscularity of the performers.
Finally one by one the artists dive into the net, each ooohed and aaahhed by the awestruck audience. The show takes only a little over an hour from when the performers enter to the last bow, but an amazing amount is packed in. Les Arts Sauts intend Ola Karla to be their last tour, so this visit will be their last to New Zealand.
Sitting on the bus home, I notice the faint dusting of white powder on my black trousers: a little residue from the clouds of griping chalk that performers had constantly recoated their hands and arms with. Surely magic dust.