'Vortex' – Company Non Nova | London International Mime Festival
Company Non Nova’s ‘Vortex’ stems from the same experiments with air currents that spawned its twin, ‘L’aprés-midi d’un Foehn’ (and baby sister ‘L’aprés-midi d’un Foehn - Version 1’). Anyone who sees both shows will immediately be struck by the doppelgänger opening sequence.
Seated in tiers around the circular stage and its enclosing ring of electric fans, the audience are able to watch each other as much as the concentrated construction taking place in the ring. With scissors, sellotape and a couple of precisely laid out carrier bags, a small human figure is being built; it’s creator is styled as a lumpen, oversized Invisible Man, with sunglasses and white swaddled face, who rustles when he moves.
We are treated to the same delightful whimsy of carrier bag children, dancing in choreographed air currents, that characterise ‘L’aprés-midi d’un Foehn’, but ‘Vortex’ takes its story in a darker, sadder, and more personal direction. As much as we wonder at our natural propensity to imbue inanimate objects with projected humanity, we are impressed with how performer and artistic director Phia Ménard ceases to be one of us, and reveals another anthropomorphised plastic creature, desperately striving to become something else.
The soundscape, composed by Ivan Roussel, and at times incorporating the music of Debussy, becomes more ominous as the creature tears away layer after layer of its polyethylene body, presenting us with glistening images in the changing winds and dimming lights. A trash monster, come to exact revenge for being bought, unasked, into existence; an oil slick animal victim struggling to free itself; a human being, romantically clinging to the past; a wrestling ring where we, in our encircling seats are reminded again of our voyeurism; ribbons of plastic innards curling up to the ceiling like smoke.
The sounds of indistinct playground distress add to this non-verbal story of isolation and dissatisfaction. Under a red light, we see the shimmering beauty of a vile spirit, as the disowned plastic body becomes a beast; a kraken that even the stage-hands, scrabbling on hands and knees around the outer fans, can’t contain.
Knowing something of the artist’s personal history of transformations, it is impossible for me not to read those elements into the performance, but the continual rediscovery of new selves is universal, as is the perpetual struggle to be something other than we are. As we watch this earthbound creature’s attempts to float as one with its elegant, translucent jellyfish skin, we are helpless in the face of inevitable failure. Hoping without faith, we watch its chilling and inexorable self-destruction, aware of our passive witness.
For a moment, the creature finds itself in human form, and we are abandoned into booming darkness, isolated from the circle of complicity that has protected us until now.
As the lights return, a redemption – a moment of pause in the loss of layers – seems less a satisfactory destination, and more an uneasy compromise. There is helpless, hopeless, impotence here, but presented with such grace, lightness of touch and visual richness, that we leave the theatre feeling pummelled by a skilled masseuse, not a back-alley thug.
Performed by: Phia Ménard
Dramaturgy: Jean-Luc Beaujault
Artistic direction, choreography, scenography: Phia Ménard
Soundtrack: Ivan Roussel, with music by Claude Debussy
Lighting design: Alice Ruest
Wind design and stage management: Pierre Blanchet
Costumes and props: Fabrice Ilia Leroy
Set construction: Philippe Ragot, assisted by Rodolphe Thibaud and Samuel Danilo