Review: The Psychedelic Theatre’s Picnic On Fire

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Picnic on Fire at the TaalmonumentI stood at the top of a mountain reserve, the stars and moon shining down on me, the city lights glistening around me, the looming architecture of the Afrikaans language monument behind me and in front of me a group of professional fire dancers.  It was the last Saturday of March and time for the fifth annual event of Earth Hour.

Hundreds of millions of people, businesses and governments around the world unite each year to support the largest environmental event in history.  One hour, no lights. For some it would be a conscious hardship, but for us on the mountain it had a real sense of celebration behind it: we had the Psychedelic Theatre providing entertainment for that whole hour.

Due to the growing demand for psychotropic entertainment at trance festivals in particular, the Psychedelic Theatre was formed in 2010 by actors, dancers and fire entertainers Lanél Van Der Kolff and Marvin-Lee Beukes. Through mixing puppet and magic shows, juggling, physical theatre and fire dancing, they present shows that are a thrilling deviation from traditional performance art. They set alight and play with poi, hula-hoops, rhythm sticks, swords, ropes and staffs, and breathe fire comfortably too. And when their pyromania needs to be kept under control they use LED and UV lights instead.

Not only was this my first time seeing them but my first time at the Taalmonument as well. Erected in 1975 the monument celebrates the development of the Afrikaans language, as was explained during the pre-show tour. It has since become a popular picnic spot and hosts frequent star gazing events as well as occasional live music performances. Apart from the jungle gym and kids area, more entertainment was provided by the Psychedelic Theatre as they demonstrated the basics of poi and hula-hooping to the kids before the picnic. For the rest of the early evening excited kids were running around with glowing merchandise, and practicing their hula-hooping skills.

In the build up to the main fire performance, the sun had set, the air was distinctly chilly, and the minimally dressed performers could be seen warming up (in more ways than one). For the first half hour of the show, poi dancing, hula hooping, fire breathing and devil sticking took place to various styles of easy-to-dance-to music.

When 8.30pm struck, the power was switched off and the fun really began. It began quietly with Mike Blake walking onto stage.  He began to drum on a djembe drum whilst waving a shaker and playing a pitch-adjustable didgeridoo, all at once. The range of sounds and timbres that he was able to produce whilst playing the didgeridoo, let alone play percussion at the same time with his hands, was a real delight. The crowd sat in awed contemplation as slowly the fire dancers emerged again, each taking to the stage in turn, building to a crescendo until Earth Hour was officially over.

The Hula Hoop act was the most popular, and after the show people shouted for more. With the exception of a few glitches – a devil stick falling to the ground, the hula hoop slipping off the artist’s shoulder and the fire poi hitting each other in mid air – the performance was smooth and entertaining. Nobody died, and no mountain fires were started. We were even graced with an encore, which featured five fire artists freestyling on stage. The show finished off with a choreographed line routine, which gave the impression of flowers being painted in the air with fire.

The whole evening was magnificent – well organised, a great vibe, and massively impressive performers. With lovely attention to detail, even the path back to the parking lot was lit with cocktail candles sheltered in glass jars. It was a superbly memorable evening, and I look forward to more.

by Maike Gevers

The Psychedelic Theatre performed at the Taalmonument on 31 March during Earth Hour 2012. For more info visit www.psychedelictheatre.com.

 

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