- NiX: An Apocalyptic Fairytale for Adults
"Mon pays, c'est l'hiver" doesn't really resonate here in Metro Vancouver the way it does in the rest of The Great White North. Here on BC's "wet" coast, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme continued to bloom (as did, no doubt, BC bud) all through this past December, January, and February. But some of us actually like a little snow with our winter. So it was a real adventure to travel up the scenic Sea to Sky Highway to Whistler where there's always loads of the white stuff and where Kendra Fanconi, co-founder of The Only Animal theatre company, was staging NiX, an outdoor, site-specific fairytale for adults.
Fanconi and Eric Rhys Miller, Fanconi's life partner and co-founder of the company, are no strangers to site-specific work. In 2002, The Only Animal (with Electric Company Theatre) staged The One That Got Away, about a girl who had a fish instead of a heart, in the aquamarine water of the Jewish Community Centre indoor pool. Three years later Other Freds, set on Vancouver's Granville Island and the False Creek waterway, explored by canoe, rowboat, kayak, speedboat, unicycle, yacht, and sundry other floating and wheeled conveyances, the possible parallel lives of down-in-the-dumps Fred.
Written and directed by Fanconi and developed with Alberta Theatre Projects and Ghost River Theatre, NiX was first performed in 2009 under a tent on Calgary's Olympic Plaza skating rink. An obvious choice for the 2010 Cultural Olympiad (the bonanza of cultural events during the 2010 Winter Olympics held in Vancouver and Whistler), NiX was remounted from late January through February at Lost Lake, a ten-minute drive out of Whistler Village.
Picture it: a snow-blanketed lake, the moon peeking through dark, towering evergreens and lots of crisp and crunchy snow underfoot. Following music down a moonlit trail to two large white tents that glowed brightly in the dark, we entered the first tent—the Ice Bar. Created out of huge blocks of snow that were then sculpted into smoothly curving freeform elements, set designer Carl Schlichting's Ice Bar functioned as a lobby with a packed snow floor, box office and concession. Recessed into one snowy wall and illuminated with tiny LED lights were Fanconi's notes and company bios.
Suddenly, as we sipped a pre-show drink, a frostbitten character with red-rimmed eyes popped up from behind the bar and introduced himself as The Arsonist (actor Rylan [End Page 89] Wilkie). The world had come to an end, he said, not in his character's fervently desired firestorm, but in a catastrophic ice age. He urged us to follow him and two musicians whose tuba and trumpet snorted huge yellow flames (designed and built by ie creative) into a larger, adjacent, white geodesic dome. Here, one hundred and thirty folding chairs firmly set into the snow faced Schlichting's stage—a large, elevated, cutaway igloo. An icy slide that characters careened down into the set curved from upstage left. And it was here that we met The Pregnant Woman (Natascha Girgis), ten and a half months pregnant with no relief in sight, and The Girl (Jennie Esdale) who, along with The Arsonist, were the last survivors of Snowmageddon. Costumed by Deneen McArthur, all three characters were dressed in layer upon layer of frosty grey, Edwardian-looking clothing. Like The Arsonist, The Girl and The Pregnant Woman had frozen hair, ashen skin, and red-rimmed eyes.
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One of the perils of producing in situ works is the possibility that the staging will eclipse the storytelling—and this was a factor here. The sculpted set, William Hales' cosmic lighting, Mark Sylvester's celestial soundscape and the explosion of projected stars or birds falling from the sky were stunning. Portions of snowy walls were torn or kicked...