“…the boy began to delight in his daring flight, and abandoning his guide, drawn by desire for the heavens, soared higher. His nearness to the devouring sun softened the fragrant wax that held the wings: and the wax melted: he flailed with bare arms, but losing his oar-like wings, could not ride the air. Even as his mouth was crying his father’s name, it vanished into the dark blue sea, the Icarian Sea, called after him.”
– Ovid, Metamorphoses Book VIII
I don’t ever stop to think about how incredible our ability to fly is. Giant metal tubes soaring through the sky, propelled by fuel, engines, and hope. Every flight we take is a modern-day Icarus story – we are Deadalus, longing to travel from where we stand – the airplane standing in for a proverbial set of wings to carry us.
Third Rail Projects’ Ikaros premiered at the 2019 San Diego WOW Festival, an abstract interpretation of the classic myth of Icarus and Deadalus. Icarus, the boy who’s joy in flight took him too close to the sun and his demise, and Daedalus, the father and inventor who’s desire to escape his exile doomed him to lose the thing he loved most. Ikaros is an hour-long experiential journey through this myth, updated to the invention of airplane flight. Styled as a walking proscenium, wherein groups of twenty or so guests merely follow the performers and observe the show, Ikaros is something to be visually experienced more than directly interacted with. The performers seamlessly move through an outdoor space that’s splayed across a garden path as airplanes cut the air and boom overhead.
Ikaros is part dance, part song, part some unnameable thing, but it overall intrigues its viewers with stunning, human visuals. Performers Andrew Broaddus, Justin Lynch, and Mary Madsen use their bodies to tell a story of captivity, hope, and release, pausing reverently every time a real airplane soars overhead to stare up at the mechanical giant. These themes are reinforced by impeccable design from Bennett C. Taylor, who creates magnificent sets of metal wings, deftly combining the ancient myth with the industrial age that gave us flight.
The production itself is an innovation; guests wear headphones that play an ongoing soundtrack with some short dialogue as they’re guided to follow the three performers representing Icarus and his parents, all dressed cleverly in flight suits. Broaddus, Lynch, and Madsen silently move throughout the vast, open space, beautifully choreographed by writer and director Tom Pearson.
The dialogue is minimal, but what we do hear through the headphones demonstrates the vulnerability of Icarus as he discusses his father, a man afraid to fly, trapped in a labyrinth. Late in the show, the escape Icarus and Deadalus long for is artfully expressed, as audiences are asked to remove their headphones, and Broaddus’ voice soars out, mixing with the keening engines in the air, free at last.
This labyrinth itself is brought to life throughout the show by Broaddus and Madsen – a physical representation of a human struggle. It takes the form of a curling rope that Lynch gently traverses – and once he reaches the center, it begins to unwind around him. It’s a particularly affecting moment in a broadly interpretive performance. This structure, as well as the infamous wings that form the base of the original myth, are modernized for effect, and are easily one of the most affecting elements of the production.
Ikaros is highly experimental, and not necessarily easy to grasp. The concept itself is strong – mythology is the basis of many, many good stories, after all – but Ikaros feels somewhat weighty, like staring at a too-large abstract painting, just waiting for meaning to come. At nearly an hour’s run-time, the show struggles somewhat midway, scenes repeating in an almost intentional absurdity that seems to lose the attention of some of the participants.
Ikaros provokes fascinating thoughts about family, escape, and coming-of-age in a rapidly changing world. Human beings will always long to take flight, to escape the trappings of their lives; and Ikaros is a set of wings, impossible yet strong, and representative of mankind’s need to escape itself, to take to the sky and join the chorus of engines, ever reaching for the end of a long, slow maze.
Ikaros has concluded its run. Find out more information on Third Rail Projects on their website, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook page. Make sure to subscribe to our Event Calendar for more immersive entertainment throughout the year.