The theatre company Laika and the music ensemble Zefiro Torna have created their very first show together. BALSAM is a sensory and musical performance. An alchemistic concert. A seductive laboratory in which live music mingles with intoxicating aromas and tastes and with visual and physical experiences.
The music is a collection of vocal and instrumental compositions with titles like ‘Artemisia absinthium’ and ‘Les Roses de Saadi’, referencing the healing, stimulating and tantalizing effect of plants and herbs. Drawing on the Bible’s Songs of Songs, on verses by Virgil and Horace and on the poetry of Baudelaire and Verhaeren, the lyrics tell of the game of love, of longing and heartbreak, of the sweet fragrance of jasmine and the beauty of a tree. Above all, they celebrate nature, which is breathtaking and unfathomable. Traditional songs from Portugal, Greece and Iceland, the mystical sounds of Hildegard Von Bingen and fifteenth-century polyphony have been adapted and supplemented with specially written compositions. It is music for daydreaming, both spiritual and sensuous, worldly and celestial – as an ode to life and its mysteries.
Inspired by this music, theatre-makers Peter De Bie and Sara Sampelayo created an alchemistic laboratory. The audience sits in a pentagram with the musicians around them. This ancient form refers to the theory of the quintessenses or five elements which make up all living things. Alchemists believed that the fifth substance can only be attained through a life-long search – hence their experiments to find the ‘ultimate gold’.
Against a background of music, the audience witnesses all kinds of experiments, whereby ingredients are transformed into something else using an alchemistic process of dissolution, fermentation, distillation and so forth. Liquid turns to solid; wet to dry; cold to hot, and vice versa. Oil solidifies to form edible pearls, a bud produces an electrical sensation, a mineral turns out to be a sweet treat…
The result of this visual spectacle is a sensory experience of balsams, powders, drinks and canapés of every smell, colour and taste, served to the audience by the performers and shared with those seated next to you. Conviviality as consolation, because the question remains: will the ‘ultimate gold’ ever be found?