[FRANCE ~ AUSTRALIAN EXCLUSIVE]
Space Theatre, Sat 11 Jan.
L’Après-Midi d’Un Foehn put me in mind of children’s theatre by way of Samuel Beckett, a strange, wordless dance conducted by a severe-looking man and performed by his army of air sprites, like Prospery and a multitude of Ariels. Jean-Louis Ouvrard sits in the middle of a circle of large floor fans wearing a large vintage military-style great coat, knitted hat, and a large colourful cravat, deftly and carefully cutting and taping a pink single-use plastic bag until it takes a filmy, pillowy humanoid shape while a soundtrack of bird calls and animal grows plays.
When the fans were turned on, the audience watched silently as the little puppet slowly caught the air currents that cut across the circle. Slowly, the puppet takes shape, a kind of flimsy Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, and pirouettes in the circle, eventually leaping into the air and spinning above the heads of the children in the audience. Ouvrard, sitting at a table, stoically tosses more plastic bag puppets into the circle where they dance together while a wrought, twisted version of Debussy’s Afternoon Of A Faun plays.
L’Après-Midi d’Un Foehn is obviously aimed at children, although I was concerned that it might be too meditative for the younger audience to engage with. But there is something truly transportive and magical about the way that Ouvrard very delicately conducts and leads his puppet dancers. He engages with them, through his gestures and expressions, in a way that made me forget from moment to moment that the twirling shapes were mere plastic bags, not actually ghostly little attendants. This verisimilitude is so captivating that I was legitimately disturbed at the climax of the performance when Ouvrard took out a pair of scissors and began shredding the puppets in a wild fury. I wasn’t alone being unsettled, either – I saw one little girl sitting across from me get more and more furious as the puppet massacre continued.
L’Après-Midi d’Un Foehn isn’t Playschool, or a more straightforward puppet show. It was delicate and melancholy and the shapes of the plastic bag puppets were both cheery and haunting in their bright primary colours and ghostly pirouettes. There wasn’t a single word spoken on stage, but the narrative arc was so clear and gripping. It was whimsical yet heavy, as the Debussy in the background rose and crashed, was distorted, layered over the sounds of animals growling. It felt like how fairy tales feel to children, when they’re not taken as entertainment but as a warning.
L’Après-Midi d’Un Foehn continues at Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, at various times, until Sun 13 Jan.
Book at BASS on 131 246 and bass.net.au. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.
Cover Image: Jean-Luc Beaujault
Artistic Director: Phia Menard
Assisted by: Jean-Luc Beaujault
Performed by: Jean-Louis Ouvrard
Soundtrack Composition: Ivan Roussel
Claude Debussy’s Afternoon Of A Faun
Stage Manager: Olivier Gicquiaud
Sound Master Alternately: Olivier Gicquiaud, Claire Fesselier, Ivan Roussel, Mateo Provost
Puppet Design: Phia Menard
Puppet Manufacturing: Claire Rigaud