Light as Air

Review of Air Play, International Festival of Arts & Ideas

Yellow and red fabrics that float like flames, undulating in fascinating patterns as they move on the eddies of air blowing from a circle of fans. That’s how Air Play, a two-person show featuring a mix of aerodynamics and clowning begins. Unlike some recent years at New Haven’s International Festival of Arts & Ideas, the aerodynamics here are not about humans flying through the air, but rather a more gentle and charming use of materials that float. Air Play reminds us that air is a substance and makes us feel how expressive that substance can be, under certain conditions.

Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone—she in yellow, he in red, both with blue hair—are a couple of clowns adept at dumbshow, mime, and interaction with the audience. Their skits tend to revolve around props that can float—feathers, balloons, very thin umbrellas—and those that can’t: suitcases, clothes, shoes. The ongoing tone of their interaction is of like-minded individuals who might be rivals, might become friends, maybe even lovers (there’s a suggestive breaking of an “egg” to release tens of balloons swirling like spermatozoa at the show’s close), but whose major bond is their fascination with sending things aloft.

 Christina Gelsone, Seth Bloom

Christina Gelsone, Seth Bloom

Bloom goes into the audience to follow errant balloons, and calls up participants from the audience. When I saw the show, the volunteers where a small girl and a full-grown adult. The contrast in their size was a nice visual jolt, but the childlike wonder inspired by how things can float or soar or drop makes us all kids to some extent. And the show is best at working its magic when the laughter and surprise of children in the audience is audible. There’s something about the vulnerability of a balloon that inspires identification in small fry, and the show maintains a certain pathos simply by keeping us a little worried about how fragile some of the props and effects are.

Apart from the superb air sculptures and tableaux, there’s also some notable clowning when Bloom and Gelsone insert themselves into huge balloons and then turn into heads protruding from spheres. It’s not every day that kids can see adults transform themselves into cartoons and it’s a notable effect, with Gelsone eventually shrinking in a comically disconcerting manner. And there are some wonderful effects that, in an era of CGI-dominated entertainments, are reassuring in their manipulation of physical properties to achieve moments of enthralling beauty. Everything here is on a very human scale that capitalizes on our capacity to control inanimate objects in surprising and graceful ways. In a time when so much entertainment comes via screens, the show offers the spectacle of poetry and humor happening in real time.

Air Play makes for a relaxing and visually interesting hour, and should delight the young, no matter how old.

 

The International Festival of Arts & Ideas
presents
Air Play
Conceived and created by Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone
Performed by Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone
Air Sculptures in collaboration with Daniel Wurtzel
Directed by West Hyler

Technical Director: Todd Alan Little; Stage Manager: Flora Vassar; Lighting Design: Jeanne Koenig; Costumes: Ashley Dunn Gatterdam; Sound Design: Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone; Additional Sound Design: Phil Ingle; Props: Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone

June 21-22 at 12 p.m. and 7 p.m.
June 23-25 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
University Theatre