I on the Sky proves again that words are not necessary to tell a meaningful story with intense emotions.
Instead, the vocabulary of the captivating touring production by Montreal's DynamO Theatre is movement, acrobatics, striking video projections, lighting, acting, costumes and atmospheric music. How they are precisely combined by writer/director Yves Simard and his five-member troupe fires the imagination, even for 10-year-old schoolkids who took in a performance earlier this week ahead of I On the Sky's public opening Friday at Manitoba Theatre for Young People.
The francophone company displays a healthy respect for the maturity of its young audience by introducing menacing characters and death, just as it did when it was last here in 2009, staging Thrice Upon a Time. Although the immigrant story is serious, the 60-minute telling of it is fluid and relatively easy to follow.
The setting is a park bench in front of a large video screen, on which is projected an ever-changing skyscape that reflects the scene's mood. A storm, accompanied by nasty winds of change -- suggested by people being tossed all over the stage, trying to control their umbrellas -- leaves a solitary, unnamed woman, clutching a small suitcase containing all her worldly possessions.
She appears sad and hesitant as the sky clears. She's on edge and startles at the sound of a flock of birds taking flight. The waif-like woman watches the park denizens with curiosity -- a bored city worker, a jogger, a businessman talking on multiple cellphones and an old lady feeding the birds.
She also witnesses a couple arguing and ignoring their daughter, who then runs away. The girl and the woman, each escaping conflict, forge a bond that will eventually reinforce their will to go on and start over.
Teenage bullies harass the woman and steal her beloved sheet music, a reminder of long-ago days, when she was a budding pianist with a loving family in some faraway country.
With her present uncertain, she retreats into happy memories of her past that are abruptly interrupted by a military conflict, into which her boyfriend is conscripted. He refuses to serve and is arrested by three ominous-looking, faceless military officers in beige greatcoats, after which he is hooded and presumably executed.
The actors silently use their bodies to create character, emotions, atmosphere and pace. A trampoline hidden behind the park bench allows thugs to menace the woman by leaping high over her. There are many splendid examples of physical theatre, but one in particular speaks beautifully about the way the woman's memories of her lost family are her foundation. The woman is raised high above the ground; each step she takes in the air is supported by a different parent or sibling.
I On the Sky is a visual treat thanks to superb ensemble work, led by Andréanne Joubert as the woman in exile. Laurianne Brabant, Frédéric Nadeau, Hugues Sarra-Bournet and Marie-Eve Lafontaine all impress with their athleticism, versatility and commitment.
Although it is wordless, the universal appeal of I on the Sky speaks to anyone from anywhere.