LONDON, United Kingdom — Arbonauts is a young multidisciplinary collective recently founded by Dimitri Launder and Helen Galliano to find new ways of bringing diverse theatre and art forms together for new audiences. Their latest production, Biped’s Monitor 2013, recently created a surreal, intriguing and magnetic work in the beautiful setting of Nunhead’s Victorian Cemetery.
Inspired by Italo Calvino’s novel “The Baron in the Trees”, Helen and Dimitri brought to life some of the more atmospheric themes of the novel, renouncing any attempts at a linear rendition of the text in favour of an immersive theatre experience. Taking full advantage of the beautiful and slightly eerie quality of the long-abandoned cemetery at dusk, Biped’s Monitor 2013 drew in the audience with a unique combination of physical theatre, operatic music and a very limited yet careful use of the spoken word.
Accompanied by a man-made chorus of birdsong, members of the audience were invited to transition into the world created by the performance and journey through it alone, in contemplative silence, in order to be able to fully immerse themselves in the spirit of the evening.
Music and sound played a crucial role, with pieces especially composed by Louise Drewett and Alex Nikiporenko, so that the chorus and instruments would mark the crescendo of the piece until the audience was gathered together for the final scene inside the disused chapel. Costumes were also vital and milliner Katia Wengraf created suggestive masks that added an eerie touch to the majestic evening.
As you chose how to engage with this world and which character you wanted to follow, you had to let your preconceptions and daily concerns go as you were surrounded by the sound and movement slowly weaving together this surreal world. For those who successfully embraced these emotions and created their own interpretation of the fragments brought to them, certainly left with a wonderful feeling of having witnessed a play where they reflected and partook in it.
Arbonauts are keen to explore new, less formal ways of making theatre – joining a growing number of companies that work outside the usual confines of the stage. Dimitri and Helen are looking to address what they see as a thirst for less formal theatre environments among audiences and performers alike.
Both co-founders are deeply interested on how culture develops outside more traditional institutional spaces without criticising more traditional theatre forms, but rather exploring other possibilities, alternative ways of engaging with source materials and remedying what they sometimes feel is the ‘disempowerment’ of the audience in the face of the disconnection within a traditional theatre space.
They also want audiences to be more involved in the creative element, rather than just being passive spectators – and to engage with the world around them.
This is why they seek out experiential spaces, taking unused sites in cities and aiming to harmonise their initial, text-based inspiration with the chosen site in order to create sustainable theatre in spaces that become themselves characters in the story.
Their future projects include “The Desire Machine”, which they are currently in the process of developing, an installation piece that they hope will be flexible enough to be presented and altered to suit different environments.
This upcoming production is also inspired by the text of a novel – Helen, who is the theatre maker of the duo, sees the text as an open art form, one that opens up your imagination in a subjective experience that she feels suits Arbonauts‘ conception particularly well. Dimitri, with a background in fine arts and an interest in nature, gardening and sustainability are looking forward to new projects and partnerships, for future productions that will aim to bridge art forms and attract new audiences willing to push their own boundaries.