21 February 2023

Air Play: World-renowned circus comes to Canberra

| Emma Batchelor
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acrobats flying a kite

Air Play is coming to Canberra Theatre Centre on 24 to 26 February. Photo: Florence Montmare.

Making its way to Canberra this month is Air Play – an exhilarating visual poem that blends comedy, sculpture and circus. Created in collaboration with sculptor Daniel Wurtzel, Air Play is performed by Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone, who take audiences on a journey through a surreal land of air. Umbrellas fly high, fabrics soar from the stage and balloons swallow people whole.

Seth and Christina met at a circus in Afghanistan, became engaged while street performing in Scotland, married in China, and occasionally go home to New York City when their busy touring schedule allows.

“We are excited to come back to Australia,” Christina tells Region. “There is such a rich history of contemporary and traditional circus. Every time we come, we get to see loads of friends and loads of great work.”

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It turns out that some of those friends are cast members of Backbone, a circus work by Gravity and Other Myths that Canberra audiences were recently treated to. Air Play has been booked alongside Backbone at several of the same festivals and Seth and Christina know the work well.

It makes sense that these two works are programmed together; they both share a strength of blending multiple artforms.

“There is a long history of artists in different mediums working together,” Seth explains. “Martha Graham the choreographer used to collaborate with the sculptor Isamu Noguchi who was a mentor of Daniel [Wurtzel]. He had been looking for someone to collaborate with and so had we.

“He was especially interested in us being clowns,” Christina adds with a smile. “That was a surprise for him.”

Air Play

Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone describe Air Play as a visual poem. Photo: Canberra Theatre Centre.

This collaboration has led to the creation of a different kind of circus, one where aerialists and jugglers are transformed into kinetic sculptures and the clowns are siblings on a journey to growing up.

“We always describe Air Play as a visual poem because it doesn’t have a hard narrative,” Seth said. “People can enter it at any point and they can make up the story that they see. We work without words and that is so the show can be performed in any country without there being a language barrier. But it also means that the story could be happening anywhere at any time in any way.”

Christina elaborates: “All these layers make this an immensely satisfying piece of theatre for an audience. You can see all these different concepts of what air is, how it matters inside our bodies, how it matters outside of our bodies. This invisible thing becomes incredibly gorgeous and meaningful.”

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How do Seth and Christina continue to find something new within the work, having performed it over three hundred times?

It turns out there are two secrets. The first Seth shares is that he and Christina are clowns. They end up following their props off stage, climbing over the audience and then wrangling them back. The sense of play that they cultivate with the audience is always new.

“The second is that our air is never the same. We have a general idea of what Daniel’s sculptures will do, how our props will move, but we never know exactly and that also keeps us alive as performers. No audience is the same, no venue is the same. It’s almost as if you are surfing – you know how to ride a wave, but every wave is different.”

With the very air the audience breathes forming part of the work, Air Play is a quintessential live performance.

Christina agrees. “I love this show because you have to see it. You have to be there. The sculptures are so big that you have to lift your head to see them. They are bigger than you are. It is captivating and immersive and has to be experienced in real life.”

Air Play
Canberra Theatre Centre
24-26 February 2023
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Original Article published by Emma Batchelor on Riotact.

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