At first glance, L’Apres-Midi d’un Foehn has an ominous quality to it. The piece is set in the round and, as the audience enter, a woman draped in a black hooded cloak sits astride the black stage. The entire set and surroundings are black except the silver fans that frame the set. The colour black almost seems to ricochet off the surroundings – if the atmosphere could be a colour, I’m sure it would be black too. The lights dim, the sound of a soft bell rises and the woman reveals a pair of scissors from her cloak. With meticulous precision, she begins to cut up a pink plastic carrier bag, sticking parts together with sellotape.

L'Apres-Midi D'un Foehn © Jean-Luc Beaujault
L'Apres-Midi D'un Foehn
© Jean-Luc Beaujault

It’s difficult to imagine that a flurry of plastic bags could engage an audience for 40 minutes, but that is exactly what Compagnie Non Nova’s artistic director Phia Ménard does with her skilled piece. An assortment of different coloured carrier bags take centre stage, manipulated by streams of flowing air. The title of the work alludes to the renowned 1912 ballet L’Apres-Midi d’un Faune, in which choreographer Nijinsky famously reformed choreography. However, Ménard’s play on words – foehn meaning a down slope wind – takes this piece in a new direction and assimilates the fans, which assist in creating the performance. It seems fitting to have these two pieces closely titled, because – similar to the way Nijinsky’s work revolutionised ballet – Ménard’s work revolutionises the modern form of performance art.

Regarding the piece, Ménard declares that she "decided to introduce life in an unexpected form", and she certainly achieves this in the opening piece of the London International Mime Festival. Ménard literally breathes life into these inanimate everyday objects, transforming them from rudimentary shopping necessities to life-like characters. It seems absurd to think that there could be such humour and beauty instilled in plastic bags. Each bag seems to take on a personality of its own. The pink bag takes on an effeminate quality with her graceful spins and ascents, whilst the green bag exhibits a sense of mischief, always soaring the highest and ensuring he grabs everyone’s attention as he goes. As silly as it sounds, each plastic bag puts on a striking performance, each one seemingly employing its own movement quality. This is a show where faults could occur constantly due to the unpredictability of the bags. However, the opening performance ran effortlessly.

L'Apres-Midi D'un Foehn © Jean-Luc Beaujault
L'Apres-Midi D'un Foehn
© Jean-Luc Beaujault

The piece begs the question, does dance have to be performed by people for it to be considered dance? The only live performer on stage is Cecile Briand, who seems to have a reserved control over the bags. Briand barely dances. Her role lies in facilitating the progress of the piece, and she plays her role remarkably. She has her own personal and funny relationship with her plastic companions, making them seem even more human than they actually are.

L’Apres-Midi d’un Foehn is a true depiction of art. The bags surge and spin to the accompaniment that includes excerpts of Claude Debussy’s L’Apres-Midi d’un Faune. The bags cleverly move in time to the music, making a visual version of the famous flutes of Debussy. The bags assume the role of an established dance company, with solos, duets and a grand corps de ballet littering the piece, so I answer my earlier question with an affirmative no. Dance doesn’t have to be performed solely by people, and Ménard’s piece proves as much.

The ominous quality which dominates the opening of L’Apres-Midi d’un Foehn quickly dissipates and makes way for mesmerising wonder. Giggles and gasps of astonishment pervade the Platform Theatre from children and adults alike, thus proving that Ménard’s first piece is accessible to all ages. These lifeless objects suddenly stir and awaken to produce a performance that will have you looking at bags in an entirely different way. 

Read our review of Compagnie Non Nova's Vortex.

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