Foehn is the name given to a warm, dry wind that occasionally blows down from the Alps. The word was also used in the show’s original title, L’Après-Midi d’un Foehn, a pun on the title of Debussy’s orchestral piece, which interweaves here around an atmospheric soundtrack composed by Ivan Roussel.
Compagnie Non Nova’s founding precept is Non nova, sed nove (“Not new things, but in a new way”). The props and the Debussy score are nothing new, yet through masterful manipulation of air, this performance creates pure magic out of an item that has become banal in its ubiquity, and much-maligned for its eco-vandalism: the single-use plastic bag.
As the lights go down at the start of the performance, Nogueira, dressed in a dark hooded cloak, is crouched over a pink plastic bag, carefully tearing strips off a roll of sticky tape and using them to create a humanoid shape.
The portentous soundtrack builds, punctuated with sounds of animals and birds, as he makes a parcel of the pink bag and places it in the centre of the round stage. He paces around the circle of fans, switching them on one by one. As the flow of wind builds, the bag begins to twitch and twist, before lifting into the air to the bewitching strains of Debussy’s Prélude à l’aprés-midi d’un faune.
There’s an intake of breath in the audience — the magic of seeing this piece of plastic transformed into something so beautifully animated is immediate and palpable.
Not many shows can boast a wind designer (Pierre Blanchet) and wind manager (Manuel Menes), but these are the alchemists who turn the inanimate into living, spirited beings; there are echoes here of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice scene from Disney’s animation movie Fantasia.
As the pink bag dances, rising and falling, Nogueira introduces more, multi-coloured plastic-bag-dancers and, with strategically deployed pulses of air from the fans, they embrace, leap and pirouette, before landing precisely on the shoulders of the Jedi-like performer.
The invisible strings of air create puppets out of the bags, transforming them in turns into endearing, graceful dancers, a magnificent golden dragon, or threatening ghost-spirits.
Conceived by French performance artist and company founder Phia Ménard, this is an enchanting, intimate show. There were several young children in the theatre, and all seemed utterly transfixed with the performance that neither they, nor the adults in the audience, are likely to forget.
Foehn is being presented as part of Adelaide Festival at AC Arts Main Theatre until March 17. See more Adelaide Festival stories and reviews here.