Skydive's story flies high above its devices

Combination of aerial dance and physical theatre harnessed to get script off the ground

An East Side warehouse houses two curious instruments shrouded in darkness. Mounted on gyroscopic pivots, they’re long poles, one topped with a curious harness, the other with a bicycle seat. And on these contraptions two men are learning to fly.

Skydive, a PuSh International Performing Arts Festival feature that runs at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre from tonight to next Sunday (January 25 to February 4, except January 29), is a daring combination of aerial dance and physical theatre, and these instruments are the devices that let Kevin Kerr’s script get off the ground. In use, says actor James Sanders, they’re invisible; only the performers will be seen, arrayed in ways that would be impossible on a conventional stage.

“We’re able to create moments that are very beautiful and flowing, and we’re also redefining the space on the stage and the expectations of the audience. The challenge has been to create a story that’s even better than those instruments, because if we don’t people will say, ”˜Yeah, Skydive; those instruments were fantastic,’ and we want them to come and say, ”˜What an incredible story!’ ”

To build that story, Kerr, Sanders, and fellow actor Bob Frazer have had the luxury of time. Frazer and Sanders are old friends who’ve wanted to do something together for years; Kerr worked with Frazer on the original 2001 production of his breakthrough play, Unity (1918).

“Kevin and Bob and I spent weeks together, just talking,” Sanders explains. “Then one session over a couple of beers at the Ivanhoe, Bob said, ”˜Wouldn’t it be great if we could just fall from the grid? The image of falling just seems so exhilarating.’ So then we got together a few days later and Kevin said, ”˜I can’t get that image out of my head.’ And I reluctantly said, ”˜I know this guy, Sven Johansson, who has these dance instruments that I’ve seen at the kickstART Festival [of Disability Arts and Culture]. Maybe we could give him a try.’ So we started with a workshop in 2004 with the instruments, creating text around this ability to fly, to skydive.”

With the instruments and the central image in place, the three collaborators eventually settled on the tale of two brothers, one an extrovert musician, the other an agoraphobe, who try to repair a relationship broken, years back, by their different experiences of a traumatic event. Their decision to try skydiving is an opportunity to strengthen their fragile bond, a metaphor for trust, and a way of using weightlessness to strip focus from the fact that Sanders, a quadriplegic, normally performs in a wheelchair.

“What we’re trying to do with this piece is remove the image of disability,” Sanders says. “Not because we’re trying to hide it, but because we just want to play characters.

“The press often wants to pick up on the fact that I’ve got this disability,” he adds. “So they’ll say ”˜Skydive features an able-bodied actor and a quadriplegic actor,’ but that’s not what we’re about. We’re just artists, and we want to tell a story.”