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BWW Review: ITHACA at Central Energy Trust Arena, Palmerston North


Jaw-dropping, Spellbinding Stadium Spectacular

BWW Review: ITHACA at Central Energy Trust Arena, Palmerston North

Ithaca by Dust Palace
Directed by Adam Rohe, Mike Edward & Eve Gordon
Choreography Ellyce Bisson and Jay Clement

Trust Arena, Palmerston North
Saturday, December 5, 2020

Reviewed by Richard Mays

Never let a great story get in the way of showcasing astonishing physical strength, skill and endurance, effortless athleticism and agility, uncompromising skill and coordination or outstanding virtuosity.

And how about the accompanying light show, projections and lighting; the pulsing pounding music track, the pageantry and tableaux; the costumes, the props, the ropes, ribbons, silks, hoops, chair stacks; suspended cages, ladders and frames. Oh my!

Inside the cavernous Fly Palmy Arena, Greek legend collides with space opera via Cirque de Soleil in the epic human-powered gravity and vertigo-defying Dust Palace sci-fi reset of Homer's Odyssey.

It's an audacious live mash-up featuring elements of Star Trek, Star Wars, Red Dwarf and Guardians of the Galaxy.

So what if a few details get changed, rearranged or condensed in the telling. This is outer space, man.

Homer's story - colossal though it is - is simply a means to frame Herculean feats of aerial artistry and dramatic beauty, while showcasing high-level production values on a grand theatrical scale.

Captaining the starship Argo - a vessel he has somehow managed to commandeer from Jason of Golden Fleece fame - Odysseus is hopping across the galaxy to his home-world of Ithaca and the arms of wife Penelope.

Nik Taz Davies' swaggering, easily distracted, gung-ho Odysseus can't help stopping off at planets along the way.

Nor can he turn down the temptation to steal from the Lotus Eaters or from Polyphemus the giant cyclops; or resist the allure of interstellar sirens and the charms of beautiful bewitching alien sorceresses.

There's Xerse who has the power to turn men into goats - sorry, I first thought they were rabbits - pigs in the original, but goats did have far more appeal.

It was an unheralded bonus to have enchanting chanteuse Jackie Clarke add her formidable vocal range as Calypso, the mage who keeps Odysseus in lockdown for seven years.

In his absence, Eve Gordon's Penelope - the true star of the show - is in Ithaca fending off suitors on every three-dimensional spatial plane.

The petite Gordon's heroic jaw-dropping suspended ladder and trapezeless aerial routine with Geoff Gilson and André de Jong epitomise the outstanding commitment of this troupe to push boundaries - especially if they are high up near the vaulting roof beams.

Along the way, Paul Fagamalo overcame early mic problems to establish a physical and vocal presence as Antero, first mate to Odysseus.

The saga also shows off the improbable contortions of Rochelle Mangan as the krakenesque Scylla in the Deadlands Bar after Odysseus and his crew have been sucked through the Argo airlock and out into the weightless suspension of space.

High in a hanging cage, Edward Clendon as Tiresias the tortured seer delivers more seemingly impossible aerial gyrations, which are followed by a dizzying encounter with the whirlpool Charybdis.

The full cast-adagio leading to the finale provided a stunning choreographed display of physicality and timing.

Why use props when there are ensemble members who can be swung, dropped, caught, whirled, juggled, flipped and flung with such apparent ease.

The ambitious evolution of Ithaca into a big top stadium event from its 2015 origins has built on the 2018 Fly Palmy Arena experience of the company's Le Cirque Volé.

The irrepressible Gordon and fellow Dust Palace director Mike Edward were also performers that year for Club Cabaret at Palmy's Centrepoint Theatre, which truly provided an up-close aerial circus experience.

While the overall artistic vision, application, talent and technical sophistication and teamwork of Ithaca is worthy of acclaim, some areas of the auditorium were too far from the action for the scenes to be fully appreciated.

BWW Review: ITHACA at Central Energy Trust Arena, Palmerston North

Some of the on-the-ground exposition could also be clearer. An otherworldly voiceover narration would do it.

Thankfully, there was a glossy programme to link the spellbinding, breath-holding set-piece episodes and explain the whos, whys and wherefores of the narrative.

Still, as wow-factor stadium spectacular, Ithaca offers a magnificent way to celebrate our post-covid freedoms, with Homer's Odyssey a fitting metaphor for the journey so far.

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