A photo of the show in progress, featuring a wide shot of the black stage space, scattered with small white objects and with a small human figure half-lit with white, holding a ball in a snowstorm

‘Materia’ by Andrea Salustri

Review from: Jackson’s Lane, London International Mime Festival; 19th January 2023

Materia features the creator, Andrea Salustri (an Italian now resident in Germany with an academic background in philosophy and in dance and choreography), plus a quantity of polystyrene balls, sheets and beads and several fans in a classic black box theatre. In around 50 minutes, several ephemeral kinetic sculptures are formed and dispersed by Salustri who, dressed in black, is more animator than performer.

The show starts with a fan blowing upwards over which Salustri places polystyrene balls. It is reminiscent (though bigger) of the classic trick of suspending a ping pong ball over a hairdryer. Salustri uses his hands to take the trick further, guiding the fanned air to make grapefruit size balls bounce, jump, swirl and, even, vault, to the accompaniment of an almost droning electronic soundscape.

In a subsequent vignette, Salustri places a polystyrene sheet between two fans facing each other. The upright sheet is buffeted back and forth, seeming attracted and repelled by the fans. Placing other sheets in front of the fans alters the air flow and the way the central sheet reacts. It’s gently pleasing.

There are, though, vignettes that really capture us. Perhaps the finest is when Salustri drops polystyrene beads, at first a few and then exponentially more, over a fan. Caught between the fan and an overhead spotlight, the mind delightedly envisages the beads as something else – a snow flurry, flitting fireflies, blazing embers, or wiggling sperm.

The evening crescendos with a visual polyphony of polystyrene kinetic shapes, played over seven fans, enhanced with strobe lighting and with microphones carefully placed to help form a live soundscape.

The moments of delight within the piece, which had its full premiere in 2021 and is a Laureate of the circusnext European Circus Label, feel shackled at times to the working title used at the beginning of the creation in April 2017, ‘Polystyrene Research’. There is a measured pace throughout and some vignettes veer towards an earnest attempt at fun in a science presentation, though the sound design by Federico Coderoni (featuring original music by Ah! Kosmos) and lighting design by Michele Piazzi work hard to prevent this.

Overall, however, Materia is easily digestible by the audience, while the polystyrene used during the performances is collected and transported back to Berlin, where the company is based, to be composted by Zophobas Morio worms whose bacterial enzymes biodegrade polystyrene enabling it, too, to be digested.

Creation & performance: Andrea Salustri

Lighting design & technical direction: Michele Piazzi

Technical team: Andrea Parolin, Andreas Harder

Sound design: Federico Coderoni

Original Music: Ah! Kosmos, Federico Coderoni

Creative advisors: Kalle Nio, Roman Müller, Darragh McLoughlin, Alex Lempert, Benjamin Richter, Matthias Buhrow, Mariagiulia Serantoni

Mime Festival programme note for Materia

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