Like the sky projected on the screen at the back of the stage, I on the Sky, the latest production at Manitoba Theatre for Young People, is sometimes tempestuous, sometimes lyrically beautiful, sometimes calm and reflective.
And how much you’ll engage with the show probably depends largely on how fascinating you find contemplating the changing moods of the sky.
' There are some flashy acrobatics - the play opens with cartwheels and backflips, and the choreography makes use of a hidden trampoline to achieve some impressive acrobatic feats.' - Joff Schmidt
The production, courtesy of the Montreal company DynamO Théâtre, is performed entirely without words - relying on acrobatics, dance, and mime, underscored by Christian Légaré’s haunting piano music, to tell its story.
It centres around a young woman tossed about by the storm of war, and haunted by the tragedy of her past. She finds herself alone on a park bench, trying to connect with the host of characters who pass by her - a businessman with a bevy of cellphones, a self-absorbed starlet, a sanitation worker who periodically bursts into dance, and many others. She succeeds in engaging only with her music, and another young woman who is literally pulled in all directions by her feuding parents - another exile alone in the park.
Through the interactions between these characters, and others we see in flashbacks, the play explores heavy themes of loss, isolation, and the aftermath of violence.
That’s a lot for young audiences to take in. (The first question from the crowd during the Q&A at the school performance I saw was “What was the story?” It didn’t seem to be a universal confusion, though, as several of the young audience members were able to offer their own interpretations.) The “ages 10 and up” recommendation is wisely heeded - in many respects, this is a piece better suited to older kids and adults than to younger audiences.
Much of that is because of the pacing of playwright/director Yves Simard’s production, which is best described as deliberate. It’s often slow - intentionally so, but slow nonetheless.
This allows for time to reflect on the story of the main character, and the often stunning physical work of the five-person cast. There are some flashy acrobatics - the play opens with cartwheels and backflips, and the choreography makes use of a hidden trampoline to achieve some impressive acrobatic feats.
But those are spread out judiciously in Simard’s production. Overall, the tone here is melancholy, and the physical approach graceful - which may equate to “tedious” for some younger (and older) theatregoers. There seemed to be a pretty even mix of rapt attention and fidgeting in the audience during the hour-long performance I saw, and I found my own focus wandering from “absolute” to “peeking at my watch.”
It’s a thoughtful, and often beautiful, piece. But unless you have a particular interest in physical theatre, you may find your eye, and attention, occasionally wandering beyond the sky.
I on the Sky has public performances at Manitoba Theatre for Young People from March 14 - 16.