The unbearable lightness
Local couple's balloons are huge in Japan
By Michel Cicero 04/26/2012
There is a simple and universal pleasure derived from the sight of a balloon filled with air. Though he has yet to figure out what it is exactly that humans find so delightful about it, David Brenion has built a solid career around balloon twisting. The self-described world-class balloon artist and his significant other/face painter, Shana, who together own Nifty Balloons, are routinely flown around the world to share their coveted skills.
Cuter than two peas in a pod, the couple has a natural affinity for all things retro, and their aesthetic is decidedly mid-century (20th), but nostalgia is not necessarily what drives them or their fans. Recently, at Coco’s Restaurant in Ventura — where they twist and paint away for diners every Thursday evening —the happiness was palpable, and it wasn’t just emanating from the little kids gleefully clustered around David aka Mr. Dave Twister; there were as many supersize smiles on the adults in attendance. One elderly woman casually ate her dinner with a pink and white balloon “crown” perched atop her head while the hostess spoke enthusiastically about the vast collection of balloon animals she’s amassed. Not even the occasional “Pop!” could disturb the wonderment that surrounds David’s mobile balloon cart.
He didn’t run away and join the circus, but at 16 years old David found himself under the tutelage of a veteran big-top entertainer. “I was always interested in theater and performing so I started working with him as a summer job,” he remembers. Though he received a well-rounded schooling in all the clown arts — juggling, face painting, stilt walking, etc.— it was balloon twisting that most captured his interest.
From that point forward, he immersed himself, learning all he could and practicing every day while attending university to assure himself a career, should entertaining prove fruitless.
As he worked toward his degree in music theory, he met Shana and the two decided to make future plans. They figured that if they combined their abilities (she has background in art and graphic design) they had a good shot at running a business. “We took it 100 percent seriously and never looked back,” he said. “For the last five years it’s been great.”
Photo by Ajah photography
Currently they’re preparing for a trip to Japan to teach and perform at a convention there, and it’s not unusual for them to be hired by celebrities for their kids’ birthday parties. Last year they did a tour in Europe, where they lectured to other balloon artists in four countries. David says that when performing at corporate events for adults, their entertainment serves as a “social lubricant” for people who may have a difficult time socializing and loosening up, especially among strangers. “You make a flower corsage for one woman, and then another, and they have something in common.”
Animals and mouse ears continue to be popular requests but the possibilities are virtually endless, and David and Shana are continually evolving the form. From elaborate masks and Japanese umbrellas to a Volkswagen Bug, it seems there’s nothing that can’t be fashioned from balloons and air. Most recently they’ve been attempting wearable art — specifically dresses — to great effect.
“The technique is to use the long skinny balloons almost like thread and weave them into a fabric,” he explains. “We make them on a dress form and leave a seam up the back which you can twist closed.” They’ve also been experimenting with building an actual zipper into the dresses. If you think a balloon dress sounds awkward or even risky, David says they’re surprisingly comfortable. (So he’s been told). One can even sit in them. “Your weight gets distributed across all these bubbles,” he said. Last year at a convention in Belgium, they used Little Red Riding Hood for inspiration and created a fairly elaborat dress, cape and wolf headdress.
If there’s one drawback to the art of balloon twisting — besides the ever-looming threat of the “Pop!” which has become akin to white noise for David — it would have to be the impermanence of it. Where many artists leave a tangible body of work in their wake, David and Shana’s indelible mark is only on the hearts of those who’ve enjoyed their work (and in photos, of course).
“What I’ve come to terms with is, you can’t expect your balloon [to last] forever,” says David, whether it’s just popping in my hands, or I spent minutes to make it perfect, hand it to a kid and they drop it on the floor and step on it.”
But it’s all gravy when a little girl runs up to him with a creation he made for her that evening, a slightly damaged Day-Glo-green Hulk fist that she’s spent the past half-hour wielding maniacally, and he hands it back to her good as new. Her joy illuminates the room and Mr. Dave Twister smiles ear to ear. “That’s the best part of this job.”
David and Shana Brenion can be seen every Thursday at Coco’s Restaurant in Ventura, 5:30-7:30 and every Tuesday at Carrow’s in Ojai at the same time. They will also be performing at a number of Ventura County libraries during the month of June. For more information and a full schedule, visit www.niftyballoons.com.