Auckland’s contemporary cirque troupe The Dust Palace are occupying the rafters of Q Theatre’s Loft for the next month with Ithaca, a futuristic retelling of Homer’s classical poem The Odyssey, set in space. Odysseus is captain of The Argo, a space vehicle travelling homeward to planet Ithaca. In transit for ten years, Odysseus and his crew are eager to return home, but not before a series of galactic encounters obscure their way.
Ithaca opens on a peaceful planet, a popular stop off for weary travellers. Home of the Lotus-Eaters, the first performance is a duet from a hanging beam. The female performer using her male partner as pliable scaffolding to climb, arch and extend from. Finishing with swinging acrobatics above the audience, the lotus-eaters are frightened off by Odysseus and his crew. Decked out like an Indiana Jones from the future, Odysseus is pleased to know they finally can gain video feed of their home planet, and hopefully catch a glimpse of his wife Penelope.
As the classical story goes, the chaste wife patiently awaits the return of her husband, despite being surrounded by potential suitors - not so on Planet Ithaca. In fact Penelope looks quite pleased, tantalising three suitors and the audience in a series of breath-taking tricks from a rope strung from the ceiling. The soundtrack throughout the show is far from classical, with Beyonce, Grimes, and Azealia Banks fitting the bill perfectly. Mirroring Homer’s telling of the epic return journey home, Ithaca models performances on each wave of misfortune. Highlights include the enslavement of Odysseus by the witch Xerxe – a knock out drag performance bookended with a commanding routine using strap apparatus by a performer whose physique looks cut from the same cloth as the Vitruvian man. Similarly, a balancing and flexible – nearing on contortionist – act portraying the ship-wrecking Hydra stuns for the gobsmacking potential of the human body.
Karaoke-esque performances by Odysseus lend humorous B-grade sci-fi vibes, no doubt while costume changes occur back of house. Ithaca certainly puts the performers through their paces, with the cirque artists tackling numerous characters and taking on solo work with ropes, nets and hoops or using their partners as living apparatus to be gripped and swung from. The production cleverly utilises the Loft space and a minimalist set results in eyes firmly on the cirque acts. Cabaret seating makes the most of the intimate atmosphere, with the audience close enough to touch the action and some hilarious audiences interaction from the more colourful characters.
A welcoming glass of champagne and oysters, followed by delicious canapés served to the table throughout the night lifted this cirque cabaret experience into a veritable feast for the senses and something quite unforgettable.