As with so many current theatre going opportunities, Extant’s Flight Path started life as a performance piece on a “real stage” but has since been migrated to the virtual world online. Both of these quite different versions are available. The first is a straightforward filmed version of the show as staged and the second is a radical reimagining for an online audience; I opted for the latter and all comments pertain to this iteration. This new version has had a major overhaul and is presented in a very different way though, at the core, there still sits the original concept that informed the staged version. I’d previously enjoyed the company’s version of Ionesco’s The Chairs so knew I had to be ready for an unusual approach and clever solutions to bring an often visually inspired medium to life for those with sight impairment. The company has, once again, made sure that its product is all inclusive.
The framing narrative is that we are on a journey guided by Taki – a Goze, a blind iterant performer and storyteller. We get to choose whether to travel north, south, east or west which adds a simple interactive element (though, truth be told, I don’t think it matters which direction you choose in reality as there is a clear sequencing to what follows). In each direction we encounter a number of “lessons” which fills us in on the history and background of the Goze performers and helps us to understand how their lives and work were structured. Pretty rigidly it seems; if, after five years training you did not pass the final test you had to start again at the very beginning and train for a further five. The animation sections which bind these elements together are delicately designed by animator Dave Packer and illustrator Inko Ai Takita and form an interesting way to link the main filmed sections together.
These excerpts, taken from the live show, develop the ideas of rules, conventions and lifelong learning even further. This is done as two aerialists develop and practice a routine using hanging silks – ultimately, they perform the whole short piece. It might initially seem that such a visually inspired art form would not be suitable for the target audience but the performers, a sight-impaired Amelia Cavallo and ex-Paralympian Sarah Houbolt, seamlessly integrate audio description into their dialogue to a point where it is barely evident that this is what they are doing; they are, of course, gymnastically proficient and graceful with it.
There’s a storyline, of sorts, constructed by writer Glen Neath. We hear the performers discuss their attempts to get visas to remain in the country despite the many obstacles that are placed in their way. It isn’t immediately clear whether this is an invention or taken from true life testimony, though I suspect the latter. In any event it provides a clear parallel to the struggles of the Goze performers as they encountered suspicion and prejudice as they moved from place to place.
Thus, the past and the present are brought together in a piece which can, at first, seem disjointed but staying with it reveals its intricate design and some clever paralleling. Extant has put together a piece that sets out to inform and entertain. It certainly does the former and I can say I learned a lot about an aspect of Japanese culture which was entirely new to me. It also takes an interesting stab at the latter particularly if you enjoy gymnastics and structured movement. The company name is defined as being the opposite of “extinct” and with this piece they certainly prove that they are alive and kicking.