Tuesday August 21, 2012
Ode to female aviators
By SHARMILLA GANESAN
Suitcases, helium balloons and paper planes help a theatre production on female aviators take off.
IT certainly sounds like a flight of fancy to put on a theatre production revolving around female pioneers of aviation; how do you capture the sheer thrill and majesty of soaring through the skies on a down-to-earth stage? For UK theatre ensemble company Idle Motion, however, it was this challenge that drew them to the idea, resulting in a unique physical theatre piece called The Vanishing Horizon.
“We like to devise about subject matters that we find exciting and interesting, and that have great capacity for visual and inventive imagery,” says Ellie Simpson, the company’s co-producer, actor and funding co-ordinator in an e-mail interview. “We are very playful in our initial approach to devising, and find this is a great way of creating bold, fresh and beautiful images.”
The staging of the production is anything, but ordinary. Using battered suitcases, helium balloons, puppets, maps and paper aeroplanes to give life to the production, visual elements are very much part of the narrative.
Presented locally by British Council Malaysia this year as tribute to the 115th birthday of famed American aviator Amelia Earhart, The Vanishing Horizon employs inventive, captivating imagery to tell the tale of Anna, a modern-day young woman who travels to discover the story of her estranged grandmother, who fled the constraints of post-war Britain to settle in South Africa. Interwoven with Anna’s story are those of the various courageous aviatrices, who defied convention to take to the skies. Building on the themes of travel and flight, the production pays tribute to the spirit of adventure that inspired each of these remarkable women. Despite its thought-provoking subtexts, however, the show is a funny, whimsical and accessible experience that is likely to appeal to audiences of all ages and backgrounds.
The critically-acclaimed Idle Motion, whose core members have been working together since their teens, are well-known for their highly visual theatre style and are already making waves in the UK fringe theatre scene. Comprising Simpson, Grace Chapman, Sophie Cullen, Nick Pitt, Kate Stanley and artistic director Paul Slater, the company shares a closeness and unity of vision that has grown over the years.
“I think what sets us apart from many other theatre companies is that we’ve actually been working together from school. We have been close friends and making theatre together since 14, thanks to the inspiration of our (then) teacher Paul (Slater). He introduced us to physical theatre at a young age and we have continued to practise it since,” explains Simpson.
The inspiration for The Vanishing Horizon came from their fascination with the early female aviators, who stepped beyond traditional female roles and pushed the boundaries by crossing oceans and continents. Simpson says they started off by reading West With The Night, the memoir of Beryl Markham, one of the first British female aviators. This led them to look at other aviators, as well as women whose flights pre-dated planes, such as Aida De-Acosta, who piloted an airship by bicycle. By learning more about these women,
Simpson says, they got a clearer idea of their characters.
“There is an ephemeral sense about these women who took to the skies, therefore we didn’t want one woman in particular to play a certain aviator. Cullen and Chapman take on the roles of the aviatrices, whilst the character of the grandmother conveys the sense of strength these women had,” she adds.
The troupe was also excited by the various visual possibilities of undertaking such a production, especially the piles of suitcases that function both as sets and props.
“The set is comprised entirely of suitcases. We were drawn to the motif of suitcases to convey travel, and were inspired by the many things we could turn them into throughout the show,” says Simpson. “We spent a few days with our suitcases, thinking of all the exciting things we could turn them into.”
Such unique approaches are a crucial part of Idle Motion’s theatre language.
“We knew we wanted to convey the concept of travel not only through language and narrative, but very visually, hence we have a stage littered with suitcases that transform into different things throughout the show. We place boundaries upon ourselves to make better work. If you limit yourself with your use of props, it increases your flow of ideas.
“The show is incredibly visual and playful, and we hope to take our audiences to the skies and back to earth,” she says.
> The Vanishing Horizon will be staged at 8.30pm from Aug 23-25, and 3pm on Aug 26, at Black Box, MAP@Publika, Solaris Dutamas, Kuala Lumpur. Tickets are priced at RM23 and can be purchased at kakiseni.com or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.