Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Exploring Icarus and Learning How to Fly

One of many pieces of Icarus art...

When I was younger (I would say much younger, but it would be a lie) I used to search for walls, tree stumps, large rocks… anything I could test myself on by jumping off of.   I loved everything about my strange habit, the nervousness leading up to leaping off an eight-foot retaining wall at my grandmother’s condo complex, the excitement of doing something any reasonable adult would probably not approve, and that crystal clear moment of free-fall before scrambling to land.  Now that I am an adult, and one without a great deal of free time/living in an urban neighborhood (parkour, anyone?), I’ve been remarkably grounded.  I’ve come to terms with this, there are plenty of other ways to get an adrenaline fix, but I think it is a valid link to my interest in the myth of Icarus, and translating that story into a new work for Mythos:Pathos.

Icarus, to seriously summarize, was the son of Daedalus, a craftsman.  Trapped on the island of Crete by King Minos, Daedalus constructed wings of wax and feathers so the two could fly to freedom.  Despite his father’s warnings to follow him and not fly too close to the sun, Icarus breaks from the plan, inevitably flies too close to the sun, and falls to the sea.  Most retellings and discussions of this tale attribute Icarus’ fall to over-ambition or hubris, but I don’t think I agree, at least not with the connotation behind ‘hubris’, or being overly ambitious!  As a storyteller it is my responsibility to represent the myth accurately, but in relating to this character I am opting to present the story (especially causes of Icarus’ extended flight) from my own perspective.  I am very lucky to approach this work as a choreographer, since the tale is indeed movement-based, but more on my movement research in a bit.

Adrenaline Amnesia.  I’m sure this isn’t an original phrase, so I won’t take credit for it, however, it is catchy and concisely sums up my thoughts on and personal connections to Icarus.  It is something, I would hope, most everyone has experienced at one point or another, and often as the result of unheeded advice.  A physical action or not, one does something contrary to advice or a mandate from an authority-figure, experiences the rush, and is much more apt to continue the action and have the advice vanish from the mind.  The obvious examples; sneaking out of high school to do [non-academic activity of choice about town] against parent/teacher rules, a taboo relationship, or physical examples; driving too fast, swimming too deep in the ocean, jumping off high objects (!), various other semi-risky and addictive activities.   It is possible that flight just feels so wonderful and freeing that Icarus keeps flying and flying, not to prove that he can, but because that authoritarian warning has simply dissolved from his mind in the euphoria of the moment?  My dislike of authority decrees is simply a coincidence here, since while I approve of the disregard, it wouldn’t be a conscious choice in this situation, now would it?

I was fortunate enough to get to experiment with both adrenaline amnesia and the physical feel of flying in an indoor skydiving session at SkyVenture NH.  Mark (Icarus performer/fellow adrenaline connoisseur) and I suited up, complete with kneepads, goggles, earplugs and of course a one-piece flight suit and made our way to the flight chamber.  My personal goals were to see if, in fact, I would fall into the 100 mph winds and experience some sort of thought-erasing euphoria, and also to experience how a body suspended in the air actually feels as movement research.  The results varied.  I was very interested to discover how whole-body the physical flying experience was.  As movers, I can say we approached learning how to fly from a different perspective and understanding than the others in our group.  Every slight shift in working muscle groups had the potential to shoot you high into the air, or bring you plummeting down to the metal grid below.  If it was allowed, I could have easily spent an hour playing with the varying effects of slight body movements in the vertical space, I could probably write an entirely separate blog post on this topic. 

Mentally, while there was no magically activated euphoria, there was a huge sense of calm.  As an individual with a mind that’s typically thinking about 5+ different things at once, and also probably 3 irrelevant distracting things in addition to that (attention defi-what?) I found this strange peaceful nothingness that was really quite lovely.  Perhaps it was caused by serious wind rushing past my ears, but also it was the first occurrence in an indefinite amount of time that I was completely separate from the rest of the world.  No verbal communication was possible in the wind tunnel, no iPhones or electronics to use, the wind blocked my ears… I wasn’t even connected to the ground.  For 6 minutes, I was a completely independent-free-floating body suspended in air, and while I didn’t have that stomach-twisting, blood-pumping, heart-racing thrill, I found a sort of break from the world.

Phew!  Does this prove anything I set out to investigate?  Not fully.  However, I’m satisfied with my own Icarus story, as we approach performance, and I am completely content to think about this myth for months to come.  I hope my artistic liberty with Icarus serves to let viewers feel free enough to question the myth, my retelling, and of course to enjoy the piece as a whole.


PS:  Think this post is interesting?  Come see and discuss Mythos:Pathos.  This week's show is at the Armory (Somervile) and will take place Friday (Aug 3) and Saturday (Aug 4) at 8pm.  Tickets can be purchased at www.LuminariumDance.org/buy-tickets, or at the door.

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