Extant and Yellow Earth Theatre present a UK tour of Flight Paths

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Extant and Yellow Earth theatre companies have joined forces to present an ambitious new play which involves innovative approaches to writing, choreography and technology to integrate access into aerial silk performance. At the culmination of a five-year process of research and development, DAO hears from Maria Oshodi, Kumiko Mendl, Glen Neath and Vicki Amedume reflecting on this remarkable partnership.

Flight Paths will tour the UK in spring 2019, from Tuesday 5 February starting at Harlow Playhouse Theatre and ending on Tuesday 5 March at The Arena, Wolverhampton. Featuring four blind performers the show is inspired by the tradition of the Japanese Goze – where blind female performers travelled around medieval Japan making a living from telling epic tales.

Moving between tradition and modernity the blind performers weave together personal stories of themselves as artists from Japan, Nigeria, USA and Australia. Flight Paths is a multi-media, story-telling circus production that combines aerial, music, narrative and creative audio description that uses new sound technology.

A medium shot of a white woman with thin fair hair hanging horizontally left to right from a black aerial silk.

Sarah Houbolt. Image © Chris-Andreou

Maria Oshodi, Artistic Director Extant and Co-Director of Flight Paths talks about how the partners came together on the project:

“I’ve always aimed to define Extant by artistically integrating access for visually impaired audiences into its live shows. However, it was while I was directing Sheer in 2012 with visually impaired dramaturge Alex Bulmer and visually impaired aerialist Amelia Cavallo that I first identified and was excited by the creative possibilities of making aerial performance accessible to visually impaired audiences.

Together, we became the first people to explore applying live access to aerial performance, and it is to these early conversations that Flight Paths can trace its genesis.

A year later I met Kumiko Mendle and Vicki Amedume through The Sustain Theatre London Hub which aimed to unite leading BAME artists, and invited them to come and explore further how aerial performance could be made more accessible through the use of song, music and the poetic use of description delivered by its performers.

I also brought blind soprano Victoria Oruari and blind viola player Takashi Kikuchi to get on board with Amelia and the rest of us for this thrilling flight.

I’ve been keen for the team to always keep the ‘amplification question’ in our minds, that is, how do we amplify the voices of the performers from the position of their bodies, rather than coming from a static speaker which confuses location for a visually impaired audience. Crew member Tarim has brought us a brilliant solution to this access conundrum in the shape of ‘spatialised tracking’ which I am very excited about artistically integrating into the show.”

Kumiko Mendl, Artistic Director Yellow Earth Theatre and Co-Director of Flight Paths reflects on the research process for the production.

“The Japanese traditions of Biwa Hoshi and more lately the Goze have been a true inspiration for us all. As we researched further into the centuries old traditions of blind artists in Japan we discovered how Goze would live together and support each other, teaching each other the ropes so to speak on their journey to become a professional Goze and make ones living.

The lifestyle, the journeys they made, the stories they told and their musicianship present many parallels and echoes with the contemporary stories of migration we are telling and continue to act as a great source of inspiration as we move into the final stages of bringing Flight Paths on to the runway ready for take-off.

Glen Neath, Writer shares his thoughts on the integration of audio-description into the aerial performance.

What initially drew me to the Flight Paths project was an interest in the use of audio description to explore the ascribing of authorship. Who owns the words that describe the action? I was attracted to the idea of the audio described person as a character on the stage, whose efforts at understanding the action might be disputed by the performers. By framing this as a discussion I hoped the performance would be opened up to the audience.

As with all my work I am interested in the ‘position’ of the audience, and in Flight Paths we are working to move them through and around the performance area, via the use of ‘tracking’ sound, exploring the level of their immersion in the story versus acknowledging that they are in a theatre.

The job of combining narrative with aerial work, with music, with song, with sound, with image and with audio description has proved challenging and Flight Paths is a true reflection of how we have all worked collaboratively together, across all these different artistic forms, to tell these amazing stories.”

Vicki Amedume, Artistic Director of Upswing has worked on the movement and aerial performances for this production.

“I knew very little about audio description when we first came together in 2013 for the first R&D. I quickly realised how much my work has always favoured exploration of stories through the structuring of visual images; primarily working with circus bodies to create a emotional or symbolic resonance.

Flight Paths has made me a better artist. I now find myself working with a different sensibilities; how does the timber of the voice in the air or the direction of sound or the order of things being told support or detract from understanding of what was taking place and the story it told.

Working with this team has been a challenge, a pleasure and an education I am excited how the many ideas we are holding will enrich and consolidate as we come closer to meeting an audience and above all each rehearsal day I am reminded how cultural and artistic practice can in small and large ways influence vital social transformation.”

A medium shot from below of a white woman with dark cropped hair suspended from aerial silks and laughing

Amelia Cavallo. Image © Chris Andreou

In the preview below, Tom Walker talks to partially sighted aerialists Amelia Cavallo and Sarah Houbolt, co-directors Maria Oshodi (Artistic Director, Extant) and Kumiko Mendl (Artistic Director, Yellow Earth), and writer Glen Neath. Featuring original music by blind classical singer Victoria Oruwari and blind viola player Takashi Kikuchi.

UK TOUR 2019
Harlow Playhouse Theatre Tuesday 5 February, 7.30pm, Playhouse Square, Box Office: 01279-431945

Stratford Circus, Friday 8, 7pm & Saturday 9, 2pm & 7pm February, Theatre Square, London E15 1BX Box office: 020 8279 1080

The Lowry, Wednesday 13 February, 8pm, Pier 8, The Quays, Salford, M50 3AZ, Box Office: 0843 208 6000

Theater Clwyd, Friday 15 February, 7.45pm, Sat 16 February, 2.45 & 7.45pm, Raikes Lane, Mold, CH7 1YA Box Office: 01352 701521

The Curve, Wednesday 19 & 20 February, 7.45pm, Rutland Street, Leicester, LE1 1SB Box office 0116 242 3595

The Albany, Friday 1, 7.30pm, 2 March, 2pm & 7.30pm, Douglas Way, Deptford, Box office 020 8692 4446, London SE8 4AG,

The Arena, Wolverhampton Tuesday 5 March, 7.30pm, Wulfruna Street ,West Midlands, WV1 1SE Box Office 01902 321 321