By Lynne Lancaster
‘Everything seems rewritten, another kind of awake.’
This is an extraordinary hour of mesmerizing theatre. Powerful, hypnotic and lyrically moving, it leaves you gasping for more. Award winning, internationally acclaimed dance-theatre company Force Majeure under the direction of Kate Champion bring to CarriageWorks, the world premiere season of their astonishing work Not in a Million Years. It interleaves the true, yet almost unbelievable stories of people who have somehow survived, endured and created extraordinary events during their lifetime.
Incorporating Force Majeure’s trademark blending of images, movement and speech, Not in a Million Years is an intense, deeply probing and visually stunning exploration of extreme odds and the resultant ultimately life changing aftermath.
The set as designed by Geoff Cobham is basically a huge mound of polystyrene packing ‘flakes’ that can become ice, snow, ash or grass for example, or the mine rockfall. The crunching sound they sometimes make is important. A fan is sometimes used to shift the undulating swirls, or large boards. Sometimes it is as if the cast are struggling underwater. Projections are used to distinguish each story and the lighting is ravishing. Max Lyandvert’s score impressed immensely.
There is the story of flight attendant Vesna Vulovic (Elizabeth Ryan) who survived a plane explosion over Czechoslovakia. Her rescue, a fragile shattered hand being pulled from the ash is a haunting pas de deux.
The amazing story of the Beaconsfield miners Todd Russell and Brant Webb discovered alive after six days after a mining accident: they were trapped 900m below ground and in a space just 4.5 m – at times the performers, Vincent Crowley and Joshua Tyler, are ‘buried alive’. Their survival is told in voice over dialogue with bleak humour, their rescue (with the use of miners’ lights) almost like Lazarus rising.
How would you cope if you won £37 million? We see how Angela Kelly’s win actually ruined her life and made her a recluse.
We follow the incredible story of Ewa Wisnierska, a leading hang-glider, who was tossed into a massive thunderstorm and propelled to a height equivalent to a metre above Everest and yet survived with minimal frostbite. Dangling injured in a helmet, she is rescued seemingly in boneless freefall.
Donny Herbert’s very sad story of being in a coma for ten years, waking up for a day and talking to his family and friends is also brilliantly told, There is an extraordinary ‘unconscious partnering’ pas de deux where Donny’s wife (played by Elizabeth Ryan) manoeuvres him around her, the floppy weight of hand or arm for support being very important – all the time he is in a coma yet she begs him to “say something.” This is contrasted by the astounded, confused monologue for Donny (Joshua Tyler) when he is out of the coma, trying to comprehend and make up for lost time.
Bob Beamon, who broke the Olympic long jump record in 1968, is represented by fast and furious pas de deux between a coach and a female athlete, sort of break dancing at times, and at others Sarah Jayne Howard throws herself up the wall in efforts to reach higher.
And finally the stunt story of Phillipe Petit high wire walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre is included as a most excited monologue.
Champion’s choreography is magnificent – contemporary dance with at times, a touch of Butoh and Tankard, with some possible Robert Le Page influences overall. Sometimes it is angular, folded and enclosed (e.g. Angela Kelly, trapped inside the folding screens) yet at others lyrical, poetic and flying. The amazing cast of four play multiple roles and cross genders (e.g. Beamon played by a woman, Kelly by a man).
A strong, haunting piece about life, death and fate. Force Majeure have produced a short major work that is a mini masterpiece. See it.