Bright Abyss

Westpac St James, Wellington

02/03/2006 - 06/03/2006

New Zealand International Arts Festival

Production Details

The follow-up to the hugely successful sold-out season of The Junebug Symphony at the 2004 Festival, Bright Abyss is physical Theatre at its most extraordinary. Opening in the middle of a storm where gale force winds batter a surreal landscape, Bright Abyss takes us to a dark and dreamlike world where anything is possible.

Niklas Ek,

Thiago Martins

Raphaelle Boitel

Uma Ysamat

James Thierree

Circus , Dance , Mask , Theatre , Comedy ,

1 hr 10 mins, no interval

A joyous experience

Review by Deirdre Tarrant 31st Mar 2006

This is a stand out of this Festival.

Deceptively simple, enigmatic, effortless skills, elusive dreams, from the billowing silk and windswept landscape of the opening to the descending and disintegrating chandelier here was theatrical escapism at its best.

Above all Bright Abyss was a jubilant and joyous experience for everyone in the theatre and the happiness literally buzzed from the elated audience as the doors opened and we spilled back into our own lives. The audience were entranced and the journey flowed from player to player and through vignettes that built wonderful scenarios on simple everyday activities.

Sitting at a table, reading the newspaper, sharing space on a plush red sofa with friends, sitting on a chair, opening a suitcase, scaling intricate wrought iron gates that let imagination run both in and out, swinging high above the stage or tumbling close to the ground this was a work of celebration and collaborative creative genius.

I recall Thierree’s The Junebug Symphony in 2004 as full of unexpected pleasures and went to Bright Abyss with high anticipation. The surprises and impeccable sense of timing of the five very talented performers exceeded all expectation.

Niklas Ek, Thiago Martins, Raphaelle Boitel and Uma Ysamat join James Thierree himself and use a range of circus and dance skills as well as acting and opera singing to articulate their ideas and moods in a physical accumulation of treats and thoughts that is both serious as well as humorous.

The set presented a glorious disarray of opportunity as objects were used with meticulous precision and ideas were as likely to be deconstructed as constructed. There was a lot that connected to our lives and personal recognition of many moments and situations clearly coloured responses as the cobwebs were literally blown away and for an hour and a half we all lived in another world.


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Comedy with plenty of buzz

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 30th Mar 2006

SOMEWHERE near the beginning of Bright Abyss I thought I heard swarming bees. Afterwards I discovered that the marvellously playful flights of fancy in this amalgam of circus, acrobatics, comedy, mime and dance were inspired by The Flight of Bees, by Belgian dramatist Maurice Maeterlinck.

If there were other bee sounds or references to bees or to Maeterlinck I missed them. I was caught up in the pleasure of watching five lissom performers take us on a journey in which the survivors of a storm learn to live with one another and cope in a surreal world where sofas swallow people, a newspaper has a life of its own, a large round table becomes a cartwheel, and an opera singer gets packed up with the piano she has destroyed in a fit of temperament.

Bright Abyss begins with a storm of billowing, all-engulfing white silk and ends with another storm. However, this time the five performers _ instead of fighting back – are clinging triumphantly to a vast suspended wheel, which Thiérrée had scaled earlier when it was high above the stage as if he were in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

There’s a childlike simplicity in the way Thiérrée, contortionist/acrobat Raphaelle Boitel, dancer/actor Niklas Ek, acrobat/dancer Thiago Martins and soprano/actress Uma Ysamat compete with each other and show off their amazing abilities in the mischievous but gentle comedy.

Thiérrée displays a delicacy of movement and an acute sense of the comic potential in the most ordinary of things that he must have inherited from his grandfather, Charlie Chaplin. His fight with himself and his struggles with a newspaper are delightful comic miniatures.

There was a buzz too at the end – from a delighted audience.


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Random but very accessible

Review by John Smythe 28th Mar 2006

Traditional circus is all about spectacle, technique and defying death. The New Circus movement seeks to use circus skills to explore something more. The human condition, perhaps.

As with his memorable The Junebug Symphony (NZIAF 2004), James Thiérrée eschews a narrative through-line for a structure made of seemingly random incidents – make of them what we will. The result owes more to his being the grandson of Charlie Chaplin than the grandson of Eugene O’Neill (although both believed in narrative structure). Whereas Junebug achieved some degree of cohesion by taking sleeplessness as its starting point, Bright Abyss starts and ends with a huge wind storm against which mere mortals rail. And to make matters more interesting, the missiles they throw at the storm look like giant spermatozoa. Then a billowing ovum dances back into their lives. Literally, this is conceptual theatre!

What makes the bits between the storms work is that each sequence hooks us with a readily recognised state of being. Anyone can empathise with the individual v the group; maintaining one’s balance or finding a niche as the big bobbin of life rolls inexorably on; wanting to address the world but being unable to find the words; losing control of a newspaper; seeking entry through the ornate gates … to what? Trying to stand; trying to sit; feeling consumed by ennui; taking yourself in hand; wanting intimacy only to be slapped down; enduring a verbal tirade; seeking solitude away from the family; smashing the very instrument of your art in frustration; waiting so long you atrophy; overcoming the elements in triumphant survival to face a whole new future … Nothing is obtuse, no matter how stylised or symbolic.

Thus engaging, the extraordinary physicality of the performers – sometimes utilising vast billows of fabric, the aforementioned gates, a microphone, a large metal roof ring, a pendulous swing, a piano, furniture, a suitcase – renders the sketches extremely entertaining. Humour with pathos enriches all. To take just one example – as proof that the audience is tuned right in – while others go though ridiculous contortions to gain entry past the sentry, a woman simply slips through the gate’s vertical bars and wins spontaneous applause.

Thiérrée himself is so relaxed that his feats of dexterity, balance and apparent imbalance seem almost accidental. Raphaëlle Boitel’s extraordinary acrobatic contortions are positively poetic at times. Her reptilian gate-dwelling creature could be Gollum’s beautiful sister. Surrealist soprano and actress Uma Ysamat completes the trio who also performed in The Junebug Symphony while Niklas Ek (dancer and actor) and Thiago Martins (acrobat, capoeira and dancer) enhance the tireless ensemble work with their stunning skills.

I could rave on even more but Bright Abyss has to be seen to be believed and you need to be free to conjure with it as you will.


John Smythe March 6th, 2006

I'd have liked a narrative structure but found myself hooked all the same, so I had to ask myself why. I don't think a more intimate space would have got me even more engaged. The idea of small beings in a large universe seemed very much part of it all.

quidam March 4th, 2006

Was really interested to read your review on Bright Abyss. When I saw the show I was personally not convinced and couldn't understand the overall concept beyond five performers doing funny things onstage and attempting to look conceptual by using various props - as critical and scathing as that may sound. But I think I had very high expectations, especially being a fan of this sort of performance. The review helped me to understand where the creators were coming from in terms of what each of the sequences meant, but I'm just confused as to why I reacted the way that I did. One thought I did have was that perhaps this performance may have functioned better in a smaller theatre? I was sitting right up in the gods in the Grand Circle which undoubtedly effected how I received the show. I can't help but wonder that maybe it would have been more effective to have the audience in closer proximity to the performers in terms of really setting up a sense of play and seeing visual expression clearly. Any thoughts?

Michael S March 3rd, 2006

Some of the sequences made me think of Leunig cartoons - wimsical takes on mundane moments - finding poetry in the prosaic. I also saw it as reflecting on chaos theory - stuff happens, we interact with it intuitively, moments of equilibrium are experienced. Lovely stuff!

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