When the opportunity to attend the inaugural acrobatic season of Ithaca arose at What’s Good, I was undoubtedly intrigued and interested. However, based on my minimal experience with co-ordination, I quickly ruled myself out. Weeks later, the chance came up again, curiosity soon overcame apprehension, and I quickly put my name forward. Upon further research, I discovered Ithaca intended to present a cirque cabaret, based on the epic that is Homer’s Odyssey. Armed with this knowledge, I felt slightly more qualified to assess the Q Theatre show, mentally arguing that my dramatic studies would outshine my lacking (thus impressionable) dance experience.
In regard to the often illusive ‘wow-factor’, Ithaca does not disappoint. Attendees are greeted by a beautiful cabaret scene, tables of six look both down on and around the space-like set. At $115 per ticket ($107.50 if booking a table), The Dust Palace act does not come at a cheap price; however, complimentary champagne and canapés help justify this extravagance.
With such enticing extras, it’s easy to almost write off the show itself – bubbly always leaves a good impression. Yet, it would be unfair to claim that the intoxicating nature of Ithaca rests solely on these additions. A show filled with impressive and questionably unsafe acrobatic feats, Ithaca immediately enthrals and inspires. The performance opens with two ‘Lotus Eaters’ (Rochelle Mangan and Edward Clendon), who instantly set the physical and exotic vibe of the show. The story of Odysseus (Mike Edward), who journeys for 10 years to reunite with his love Penelope (Eve Gordon), is set within this sensual landscape. Short theatrical scenes are punctured with dance and acrobatic moments, with new characters and events often emerging through this format. Canapés are also handed out during these parts of the production, though slightly distracting, they do function to create the ultimate viewing experience. An interesting concept, this construction works for the first half of the show; all the acrobatics perform impressive feats that guide the storyline (helped along by the handy plot in the programme). Clendon is a standout performer, completely transforming into the manipulative sorceress Xerxe, a stark contrast from his previous gentle representation.
As the second half of Ithaca starts, I expect a continuation of these themes. The structure works effectively for the first half of the play, therefore it’s a fair prediction that the next scenes should continue on this same path and wrap up the few loose ends. While the latter half of Ithaca undoubtedly features the now expected amazing acrobatics, with the Hydra (Mangan) providing a dark, slightly uncomfortable, yet astounding, performance, this is unfortunately where the show falters. The breaking of the two halves also breaks the magic of the show, with the later acrobatics failing to recapture the previous passion of the space story. This could be forgiven, and likely forgotten, if the finale finished on a high note, highlighting the acrobatics we as an audience have grown to not just enjoy, but expect. A song from Odysseus functions as the final staging. While enjoyable, it does not match the energy or feats we have come to require. Post-performance insight revealed a possible mishap in these movements, with the real finale scene being cut for safety issues. While this is rather understandable, the plot was never resolved as a result.
A show devised by its own performers, The Dust Palace’s original piece works amazingly as a display of acrobatic prowess. Despite my lack of dance or movement knowledge, the talent and expertise backing this group is undeniable. The theatre behind Ithaca is resolutely secondary, cementing this position in its final moments. However, this does not prove as too much of a hindrance, with the cabaret still providing an intensely enjoyable and other-worldly night out. Theatre connoisseurs might want to give this one a miss, however, for the general crowd, Ithaca is undeniably a worthy crowd pleaser.
Ithaca is running at Auckland’s Q Theatre from now until December 11th. Tickets are available here.