Interview: Ibelisse Guardia Ferragutti and Meryl Tankard on Zizanie and Blaas

Artist Ibelisse Guardia Ferragutti and dancer Meryl Tankard talk about uniting joy and play

feature (adelaide) | Read in About 4 minutes
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Photo by Karin Jonkers
Published 07 Mar 2019

Adelaide Festival hosts two very different shows which both offer families and younger audiences insight about the impact of boundaries, fences and walls at a time of increasing intolerance.

From piles of inconspicuous white fabric, a structure is created in Blaas. With life breathed into it an immersive playful boundary between the performers and the audience forms. For artist Ibelisse Guardia Ferragutti the interactive structure makes “the poetry that such [an] abstract object provides”. She says that for each project, with designer Cocky Eek, they try to “consider everything that is possible, even if sometimes it’s completely silly”.

A sense of play is also important to Zizanie. Set to premiere at the Festival, it's a collaboration between Australian dance luminary Meryl Tankard and local company Restless Dance Theatre. "I’ve always loved choreographing chaos," Tankard says. "'Zizanie' means discord, mischief, chaos and messing about. I’ve used the word as a starting point."

Restless Dance Theatre works with young people to create beautiful, memorable shows. Their previous work, Intimate Space, won multiple awards and was a true highlight of 2017’s Festival. Tankard speaks of her excitement to work with the company, that “Restless' artists may not fit the stereotypical dancer image but it is in their difference that you will see their beauty and creativity.”

Blaas finds its success in challenging assumptions too. Ferragutti says that the show uses “both image and sound storytelling and yet it is so abstract.” The sound, created by composer Jochem van Tol, helps to create a dialogue. “All the disciplines melt in equal importance in order to allow for people to slowly leave their thoughts behind and get closer to their physical intelligence.”

Both shows come from a place of joy but carry a clear message of celebrating difference. "The best way for children to understand something is to experience it first hand," Tankard says. “Diversity ignites curiosity and understanding of those around us. The arts can influence and expand a child’s view of the world. By seeing Restless' dancers on stage, it will allow them to question their own beliefs and diminish judgement and stereotyping.”

For the creators of Blaas, the intent was not a driving force from the start. “We never had the idea to make a work that speaks on a political level, but that is inevitable,” says Ferragutti. “This piece touches the fine yet complicated illusion of borders and [also in] the ability to open them.”

The work remains subtle in how it addresses its audience. “I think children don’t [always] have the baggage yet to see all [these] layers, lucky them!” What Blaas does seek to do is give them an extraordinary encounter. “They are often enchanted by the experience or overwhelmed. [It is like] a bath for the senses, where there is nothing to do except give yourself away to a sensorial experience.”

Ferragutti says she finds the strength of Blaas in that “you are not obliged to join hands and sing, but there you are in a situation where you are inevitably reminded of the pack of human beings we are. I think [the structure] reminds us [of] our human size in things, and with luck it reminds us about humility and the finite beauty in our experiences.”

After touring Europe since 2013, Blaas makes its Australian debut here in Adelaide. “It is a great honour to be [coming] to your country with this piece that is so dear to us," says Ferragutti. “It gives us joy to know that such evocative work speaks to so many people and goes beyond the borders of language and cultural background.”

For Tankard the importance of Zizanie is in representation.

Having built "a close rapport with the dancers," Tankard says she “realised the importance of showcasing the Restless artists’ unique bodies on stage, their striking personalities and their perspectives of the world.” By celebrating joy and childlike wonder, Tankard hopes Zizanie will help to celebrate difference. “We are not born with hate," she says. "Racism and intolerance is created by adults."