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A new world, where only the sky is the same

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From left, Marie-Éve Lafontaine, Hugues Sarra-Bournet, Andréanne Joubert, Laurianne Brabant and Frédéric Nadeau in I On the Sky.

ROBERT ETCHEVERRY Enlarge Image

From left, Marie-Éve Lafontaine, Hugues Sarra-Bournet, Andréanne Joubert, Laurianne Brabant and Frédéric Nadeau in I On the Sky.

When Yves Simard was a globe-trotting performer with Montreal's DynamO Théatre, he would get to know a new city by heading to a nearby park to watch people.

"It's the first thing I always do when I arrive in a city or country," says Simard, co-artistic director of the 33-year-old troupe.

"In a park, people are always relaxed, taking a break. They are open to strangers. Sometimes I end up talking with them, asking them questions."

So when he was promoted at DynamO six years ago after a couple of decades as an actor, he wanted to write and direct his first show. All he knew for sure was that he wanted it to tell a story without words and tap into the essence of his theatre of acrobatic movement.

The setting came to him while he was between performances in New York City. He was sitting on a park bench, feeling a little lonely but enjoying the bright blue sky. The park bench soon became the central image -- a place where you encounter people you don't know -- of I On the Sky, which DynamO is presenting at Manitoba Theatre for Young People beginning Friday.

Through movement, dance and images, I on the Sky tells the story of a newcomer who takes refuge on a park bench. She is an immigrant woman gazing into the sky looking for something familiar while remembering her former life in an unidentified country she was forced to flee.

"It's about exile, about people who have to move from their home country to another," says Simard, whose company has presented two other shows at MTYP, Mur-Mur and Thrice Upon a Time. "The big message is to be open to the other. It's about inclusiveness."

He says families all over the world are on the move, attempting to avoid civil war in places like Syria or searching for freedom and a better economic future. They face daunting challenges, leading Simard to explore the resilience immigrants must possess to start again in an unfamiliar new world, where only the sky is the same.

Despite the serious issues that it addresses, I On the Sky is recommended for children 10 and up.

"I wanted to tell children a story about adults," says Simard. "They both need to hear that story. It will make kids ask questions of their parents.

"Kids don't judge new people. At 10, they begin to judge each other. It's important to get that message to them."

Winnipeg is the first stop on DynamO's lengthy cross-Canada tour of I On the Sky, which continues to Saskatoon, Calgary, Vancouver and Ottawa. Since it was founded in 1981, the company has created 20 stage shows that have been performed more than 4,200 times in 27 countries on four continents for 1.4 million spectators.

A Quebec company dedicated to acrobatic theatre will bring to mind Cirque du soleil, another renowned, albeit considerably larger, company from la belle province.

"It's very strange to be compared with Cirque du soleil," says Simard, who was the dramaturge of the Cirque's production of Wintuk in New York City. "They create huge productions. They are based on the performer's numbers (circus acts), which are put together into a story. We start with an idea or theme and use movement to tell it."

Public performances of I on the Sky are set for 1 and 7:30 p.m. Friday as well as 1 and 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

kevin.prokosh@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 12, 2014 C3

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Updated on Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 7:16 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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