Review: Fire Gardens, Melbourne International Arts Festival

Thuy On

A multimedia extravaganza: a magical vision of light with ambient tunes that further underscore the eerieness of the night.
Review: Fire Gardens, Melbourne International Arts Festival

Photo credit: Sarah Walker.

The two words don’t seem like they should go together; sound positively dangerous up close… all those flames nudging against manicured green but this production of Fire Gardens by Campagnie Carabosse is a controlled burning, not a wild, haphazard affair.

Set in the Botanic Gardens after night fall, it’s a multimedia extravangaza: a magical vision of light with ambient tunes that further underscore the eerieness of the night. This French company has created transient installations in public sites all over the world (Hue bridge in Vietnam, Pont du Gard in France, Kremlin Square in Moscow) as well as several on Australian sites but now it is the Botanic Gardens’ turn to burn.


Some 5000 flaming pots have been used for the event; quite a few marking the pathways to lead the hordes towards larger-scale works. Cycling skeletal forms also frame the pathways for guidance. Among various metal installations, Campagnie Carabosse has set up rows of lit-up arches that you walk under and there are gently waving white singlets that have been used as lanterns in fern gullies as well as bobbing displays in the water that look like oversized roast marshmallows. Yet perhaps the most impressive creations are the sculptural forms and massive balls that slowly float across the still lake.

There is a definite sense of having wandered into a (dark) fairytale, particularly when a pair of figures on a rowboat can be seen in silhouette slowing making their way across the large pool of water. Who are they? What do they represent?

Make of them what you will; this is a show that sparks the imagination. And all the while piped music is played from small ground-based speakers, and solo performers with various instruments are also scattered about the expanse of lawn. Their offerings compete with the natural noises of the creatures nestled in and above the gardens.

And in the air? A sweet, perfumed scent wafts about. It further tingles your senses; and heady with emotion, you are already sensitive to the sights and sounds around you.

Fire Gardens delivers a primal experience, a respectful celebration of the beauty and power of the elements: there is fire of course, but also air and water. It’s a truly beautiful sight to behold this holy trinity. 

Five stars: ★★★★★

Fire Gardens
Compagnie Carabosse
Presented with Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria
10-13 October 2018

Melbourne International Arts Festival
3-21 October 2018

About the author

Thuy On is a freelance literary journalist and critic and the books editor of The Big Issue.