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sábado, 5 de março de 2016

There's Nose Business Like Show Business: Fragrance in the Performing Arts, Part III

by: Luis E. Alipaz L.

Missed the first two installmentsRead Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
As the attempts of making scent a feasible medium in cinema faded during the late 1970´s and early 1980´s, the art of scent design started to come full circle and returned to its theatrical roots. The world of ballet started embracing the possibilities that smell could provide a unique bridge created between the dramatic world and the audience. Pioneering German choreographer Pina Bausch, a consummate groundbreaker in the use of different media in her dance theater productions, decided to use the aroma of carnations in her now classic production of “Nelken” (Carnations). She repeated this device in further productions that also included onstage water ponds and video projections.
Excerpt from the movie "Pina". "Llilies of the Valley" segment. Music by Jun Miyake
Three years later, Moses Pendleton transported his audience to a baseball match by enveloping them in the smell of fried onions and marijuana for his ballet “Baseball.” Finally a 1988 production of the opera “The love for Three Oranges” by Sergei Prokoviev, staged by Richard Jones for the English National Opera had its audience endure the smells of gunpowder, cleaning solution, human methane (yes, fart!), meat and citrus through the use of scratch and sniff cards. These cards are always used as a safe and cheaper alternative but to me they seem like a really distracting option. Don't you think that the performance of a play or opera requires enough of one's attention that scratching away on a card would be a bother? What if you scratch the wrong bit and the glorious poppy field scene in Prince Igor ends up smelling like steak or cabbage? I much rather have the scents be delivered through a more reliable method.

But how are those smells achieved nowadays? There are actually two distinctive categories of scent effects production and design.
A still from "Baseball" by Moses Pedleton
One is an ambient smell or scent, which is perfuming the theatre or the performance space even before the curtain rises. It’s part of the initial impression, more like an installation, a way to immediately transport the arriving audience into the world of the directors choosing. This design element is usually achieved by making a concentrated tea, with a few drops of essential oils in it. All this is put in a humidifier - of course it has to be a cold-mist humidifier, because hot-mist would burn off most of the scent. 
The humidifying is set in motion about 15 to 20 minutes before the house opens, depending on the size of the theatre.
And the mist will smell like whatever the designer wants it to smell like. Maybe that’s the other reason why ambient scents are far more used than scent cues, it’s a lot easier to make and use. An added bonus is that the mist also diffuses the lights. It makes the shafts of light visible in the way that directors and lightning designers often like.

The second type is more like scent cues. Rather than scenting the space when you walk in, it’s the introduction of aromas to coincide with the action on stage. Far more difficult. Cues require oils for the scents. A strong aromatic base is created, either with essential oils or synthetic aromas or perfumes. Once the desired scents are created they are then diluted into a solution of alcohol and poured into spray bottles, and usually sprayed through a fan. A far more easy solution than the complicated contraptions of Rimmel and Laube. A testing process to see the time between the spraying and the “smell-abiltiy” usually precedes the rehearsal periods. 

Poppy field scene from the opera "Prince Igor" by Borodin. Metropolitan Opera 2014
Scents can bring the dramatic world to the audience, they can unify the space towards the aims of the performers. You can’t get any more immersive than inside the body of the spectator. That’s where the smells is being experienced after all. The director is making a very clear and a full transformation of their perception of the space that they’re walking into, something a set can’t do, that lighting can’t do...that nothing else can do. That’s the most positive effect it can have on the audience. It’s the most immersive experience one can have.
Until the Fat Lady Smells
There have been so many trials and so many tribulations for the scent designers! Through this series of articles we´ve explored the beginnings of the use of scent in the performing arts with Rimmel´s vaporizers, Laube´s scent machines and the infamous scratch and sniff cards. Some of these attempts were ahead of their time and were hindered by the insufficient technology. Other more recent attempts had perfected the technology but were for the most part not specifically created to be accompanied by scent. But finally, success!
Stewart Matthew and
Christophe Laudamiel
Nico Muhly

Valgeir Sigurdsson
Green Aria, a ScentOpera, made its debut on May 31, 2009 at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, it was conceived by Stewart Matthew with some help from perfume designer Christophe Laudamiel, up and coming composer Nico Muhly and Björk collaborator Valgeir Sigurdsson. Green Aria was an experimental performance piece performed entirely in the dark to allow fragrances to takes center stage. Twenty-four fragrances were pumped out of a “scent organ” and into “scent microphones” attached to the museum’s theater seats and synchronized to precisely timed music. A story told using a sequence of smells in conjunction with instrumental music. A plot told through music and opera where the scents do the singing.
Probably the most poetic ending for this journey...


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