Groupe F: The Breath of the Volcano - Review
Groupe F, France
Auckland Domain, March 7-9.
Reviewed by Frances Morton. Photographs by Michael Duignan.
Much more than a wham bam fireworks spectacular, French pyrotechnical whizzes Groupe F have created an explosive love letter to Auckland.
Organisers couldn’t have prayed for better conditions on a still, cloudless, warm summer’s night. Thousands packed into the upper field of the Domain seated on blankets. Before sundown the Tongan Adventist Brass Band belted out entertainment. Then as the sky darkened and the Southern Cross brightened, pointing directly towards the great hulk of the museum, Nga Tumanako kapa haka group swished on to stage in piupius to perform an electrifying set that provided a fitting curtain raiser.
Shortly after 9pm, a projection transformed the museum into a giant seismograph and red fireworks streaked skyward, like lava. Exploding in synch with American composer Scott Gibbons rousing orchestral score the fireworks build to a frenzied eruption.
With a name like The Breath of the Volcano, and a swag load of firecrackers under the control of foreigners, it would have been understandable for the creators to get wrapped up in the natural wonders of our volcanic environment. Yet Groupe F have conceived a refreshingly contemporary interpretation of Auckland. There’s so much more to the city than lapping waves and bird song – although those are well presented too.
Creative director Christophe Berthonneau left space for the audience to wonder, as well as marvel, as the performance shifted through different imagery: Fluffy yellow chicks projected beneath futuristic skyscrapers (our fledgling place in international business?). The all too recognisable red fence that divides downtown from our waterfront and stacks of containers that seemed to crumple and melt down the museum wall (industrial disputes? environment?).
One of the clearest messages of the night was a comical portrayal of dastardly cartoon frogs in scuba gear blowing apart a rainbow. It came across as a very public acknowledgement of the crimes of Groupe F’s countrymen and a bold apology to the people of Auckland for the Rainbow Warrior bombing.
The slope in front of the museum made a natural stage for performers dressed in light suits – a mix of Groupe F and local Red Leap Theatre actors. The figures looked larger than life as they moved around in their flashing suits providing a very human element to the fiery landscape. At one point sparks twirled from their backs, and sprayed from fire pois swung around their heads. A fire-winged figure even magically flew off the museum roof.
An arts festival needs a grand event – something that gets singed into people’s memories as the show of 2013. The Breath of the Volcano fulfils that, making Aucklanders lift their faces to the heavens with astonishment and deep delight.