Not In A Million Years

“…a strong piece that will linger in the mind.”
Jill Sykes, Sydney Morning Herald – Read more…


Extraordinary moments captured in snow

A paraglider is propelled higher than Mount Everest and gets back to earth with minor frostbite. A man goes into a coma for 10 years, wakes up and talks for 16 hours – then slips back into unconsciousness. An athlete breaks a world record so convincingly that he is shunned by fellow competitors. A flight attendant survives a midair explosion that kills everyone else on board. A single mum wins a lottery and it ruins her life.

Kate Champion has chosen extraordinary happenings as the basis for the latest dance theatre work by her company, Force Majeure. To a certain extent, we glimpse them but it is more the idea of unlikely “lucky” survival set against “unlucky” success, with a constant background of human stress and unimaginable endeavour.

They are great subjects, treated with inventive skill, and at the end of an hour I found myself very moved by their combined impact. Sarah Jayne Howard’s athletic efforts under the dictatorial command of her coach are thrilling and chilling, the most interesting movement in the piece. Elizabeth Ryan is poignantly convincing as the wife of the man in a coma.

Vincent Crowley and Joshua Tyler are funny, dramatic and tear-inducing in their unseen dialogue as the Beaconsfield miners Todd Russell and Brant Webb, who were found alive after six days and pulled out two weeks after the cave-in that trapped them in a tiny space.

Designer Geoff Cobham has piled the performing area with deep “snow” that can be seen to cushion the fall of people to earth, as the earth that buried the miners or simply as an element that comes from nowhere, builds up and provides an impediment in people’s lives. Just watch these strong performers push through it and imagine yourself in soft sand.

In retrospect, mentally sharing the effort probably contributed to the final impact. As it happened, though, there seemed to be a little too much struggling through the “snow”, at a very slow pace, allowing time to worry about all the heavy lifting the performers had to do and whether they were breathing in fragments of the packing material.

But with Cobham’s lighting effects and the help of a large electric fan, it looked great and Max Lyandvert’s subtle music added enormously to the emotional weight of the storytelling. It is a strong piece that will linger in the mind.

Jill Sykes, Sydney Morning Herald

“…a thoughtful and often disturbing creation that conveys the unbearable lightness of unconsciousness.”
Keith Gallasch, Realtime – Read more…


The Unbearable Lightness of Unconsciousness

A man stands high up in the distance, spot-lit, about to jump, his voiceover spelling out the tension generated between the impulses of his reptilian brain and the rationality of its evolved form, alternating between sheer terror and the attractions of risk. One, two, three, he leans…blackout. We don’t know if he actually jumps, but one thing’s clear, he wants to and he has knowledge and choice. But Force Majeure’s Not In A Million Years builds its pervasive sense of physical and emotional crisis not from these evolutionary advantages but from incidents of powerlessness and unconsciousness, where circumstances have sucked away the physical capacity or will to act.

Some of the figures in Not In A Million Years—an airline attendant, a paraglider and a pair of miners—engage in jobs or activities that are inherently risky. The miners endure the collapse of a mine while the airline attendant suffers something unique: she is the lone survivor—found on the ground—of an aircraft that exploded at 33,000 feet. The paraglider is sucked up “higher than Everest” into the upper atmosphere, unconscious throughout and almost frozen, but miraculously survives (perhaps ‘preserved’ by the cold). Other figures haven’t taken the risks of employment or sport but the will to act is likewise denied them: a man in a comatose state for 10 years suddenly wakes to a world with which he is unable to engage. A woman wins a huge lottery prize but is rendered incapable of using it, fearing public attention and the risk her son might be kidnapped. Another character is a sporting champion (inspired by the story of an astonishing long-jumper), abused and shamed by her coach into mindlessly and dangerously excelling.

The horrors of these conditions are made palpable, played out on shifting clouds, fields and dunes of soft, snow-like sparkling crystals through which people wade fitfully—or, like the athlete, forcefully, as if battling sand or heavy surf—or in which they are buried. A man unearths the airline attendant in the first of a series of duets, cradling, lifting, helping her stand before an inevitable, sad collapse. The challenge of helping is further writ large in the frustrations of the wife of the comatose man as she struggles to clothe him while begging for his affection, trying to make him jealous, or in the mutual assistance enacted between the trapped miners, from time-filling chat to shared songs to the slightest of physical shifts to ease pain. Later the wife will drag her comatose husband through the ‘snow,’ unable to make him stand unassisted, amplifying the sense of helplessness experienced by carers as much as the victims of fate.

Max Lyandvert’s emphatic score moodily underlines the action—melancholy piano for the airline attendant, electronic pinging and pulsing for the athlete, ominous rumblings for the miners. Spatial transformations are also effected with the ‘snowscape’ swept away, replaced by mobile walls that frame the entrapment of the wife of the comatose man and the reclusive lottery winner, while the paraglider flies in the distance, often seemingly helpless, an almost constant reminder of the beauty and risk of human flight.

The instability of these aural and visual shifts resonates with emotional complexities as the interwoven tales unfold, some more detailed than others. Survivors like the airline attendant and the formerly comatose man cannot comprehend why they are treated like heroes. The man is bitter over the loss of time and love: “Where’s the miracle?” He cannot relate to his son or understand why his wife just didn’t give up on him—” Why did she keep me…like a piece of nostalgia?” Only a mate’s ironic “Guess what, stupid, you stopped smoking” cheers him.

These ‘accidents’ variously yield humour and fortitude, or reveal the strengths and weaknesses of relationships or result in uncomprehending despair and infinite frustration—the athlete is literally driven up the wall, repeatedly rushing at and bounding up CarriageWorks’ craggy stonework. Amidst such indeterminacy it’s odd that the figure who opened the performance, pondering a leap, returns to muse over a famous tightrope walk between skyscrapers in New York, picking over its meanings — sublime or absurd, inspirational? “Could I ever risk that? Am I ever that alive?” The victims of strange and not so strange accidents in Not In A Million Years have not taken undue risks (you might not like to paraglide, but many thousands do) and in several cases they certainly feel less than alive after their ‘accidents,’ and certainly neither adventurous nor heroic—their will-power had been suspended.

As if to underline a swing to a more optimistic view of the effects of extreme happenstance, the athlete, seemingly freed of her coach, spins and sweeps through the expanse in the first palpably choreographed movements. She draws the other performers with her into a collective dance in silence, cutting neatly through the ‘snow,’ hands pushing back over heads, fingers pointing, legs weakening at the knees (reminiscent of those characters who earlier collapsed into the ‘snow’) but rising up, looking up, suppliant even, asking not “Could I ever risk that?” but “How could I endure those states of being, of suspended will and self, with their all too existential consequences?”

I’m not certain that Not In A Million Years is conceptually consistent or that it fully exploits the potential of its ‘snowscape’ design—visually or sonically—while the deployment of the ungainly mobile walls functionally detracts from the overall eeriness and the soundscore occasionally verges on the melodramatic. But it’s a thoughtful and often disturbing creation that conveys the unbearable lightness of unconsciousness. For a dance theatre work, curiously it’s the naturalism of the affecting performances from Elizabeth Ryan and Joshua Tyler (not least as the wife and erstwhile comatose husband) that provide Not In A Million Years with its emotional centre of gravity, as their world and others around them spin out of control. I’m looking forward, anxiously, to experiencing Not In A Million Years again at Dance Massive in Melbourne in March.

Keith Gallasch, RealTime

“…Force Majeure…have created a bold, beautiful, thought-provoking work that defies the boundaries of dance, theatre and the barriers between.”
Diana Simmonds, Stage Noise – Read more…


Force Majeure is back with a bang

KATE CHAMPION’S new work opens with a pas de deux so subtle, inventive and heartstoppingly beautiful it takes your breath away and replaces oxygen with tears and wonder. Not In A Million Years was created by Champion, Roz Hervey and Geoff Cobham and the title refers to the kinds of things that can happen to a person, otherwise ordinarily going about their lives, that you wouldn’t – couldn’t – ever imagine.

So, the opening features Vincent Crowley and Elizabeth Ryan enacting the longest few minutes during which flight attendant Vesna Vulovic went from serving tea and coffee on a mundane flight across Europe to being not only the sole survivor of the terrorist bomb that exploded her plane, but also enduring the 10,000m fall back to earth. She was found, broken but alive, in snow-covered, rural Czechoslovakia and her life thereafter was Same, same But Different.

Dressed in her neat blue uniform with a perky red kerchief around her throat, Ryan epitomizes the way Champion’s Force Majeure company can fashion indelible images and ideas out of the apparently mundane acts and people of the everyday. In this instance the outstanding indelible image is a huge heap of white polystyrene “snow” in which the show’s creators and four dancers perform acts of alchemy. The banks and dunes of tiny white beads are formed and re-formed by the movement of the dancers, a powerful, well-aimed fan and by scoops wielded by the dancers. Each change in its contours allows the material to become something else in the eyes and imagination of the audience: the Czech winter landscape is the most obvious and immediately physical; others are far more rarefied and inspired.

Flanked by two irregular, swooping, oversize flats that transform Bay 20 at CarriageWorks into a dark, funnel-shaped space, the dancers and their white material are almost spilled into the laps of the audience. It also means that when parts of the action take place outside the enclosed area – such as when the statuesque Sarah Jayne Howard morphs into American long-jumper Bob Beamon – and literally climbs the walls in her efforts to train for Olympic gold, the alienation he experienced is tangible. The same goes for the woman who begins to relate the horror story of living with a husband who’s been in a coma for more than a decade. It happens behind the jail-like bars of light thrown by louvered hospital windows; his movements – another astonishing pas de deux – as the comatose, barely living man are at once frightening and graceful and when he tells of coming back to life and its aftermath, the feeling turns to shock.

Possibly the most effective use of the dense white setting is in the way it suggests the suffocating subterranean world where miners Todd Russell and Brant Webb (Crowley and Joshua Tyler) were trapped. The two disappear into it and the audience is left to contemplate invisibility, the unknown, the white blindness of total dark – and other sensations the two endured for so long with their jokes, songs, and inconceivable fears and will to live. The awful serendipity of this particular story choice – post the Chilean happy ending and during the tragedy of Greymouth – made it particularly poignant on the night.

The collaborators of Force Majeure, with Max Lyandvert’s music and soundscape, have created a bold, beautiful, thought-provoking work that defies the boundaries of dance, theatre and the barriers between. It might not suit those who like their dancers to dance in conventional ways; it might be a bit obtuse for those who like their theatre with a beginning, a middle and an end. But, if you enjoy the experience of skyrocketing imagination and flair, the courage of convictions and ingenuity beyond the bounds of the everyday, there’s every chance you’ll come out Not In A Million Years on a high of exhilaration and uncommon joy.

Diana Simmond, Stage Noise

“This is an extraordinary hour of mesmerizing theatre…a strong, haunting piece about life, death and fate. Force Majeure have produced a…mini masterpiece. See it.”

Photos: Heidrun Löhr, Lisa Tomasetti