A quest. A love story. A search for meaning and connection. In the sweetly uplifting Flight, three performers from the California-based company Curbside pay homage to Antoine De Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince. In this sequel of sorts to the classic but still timely fable, the Prince is a girl -- why not? -- cleverly evoked through a sleight of hand, and human bodies transcend the limitations of the physical universe, becoming zebras, cacti, airplanes, and the embodiment of past memory and future potential.
The trio's muscular yet graceful collaboration marries wordless acrobatics with chatty storytelling, philosophical inquiry with playful comedy. If it's a challenge to describe Flight in a way that captures its unique qualities, its creation was equally mystical for its participants.
Writer-director-performer Ezra LeBank was in Mexico several years ago when a friend introduced him to the odd and innocent character of Saint-Exupéry's Prince: "In a way she became my prince, and Flight became a way of of telling her story," he says. "Each moment of the show seems to come into its own in mysterious ways," says performer Cynthia Price. "It's like we'll land on ideas more than coming up with them." Price recalls how "the magic of using acrobatics to tell stories with the heart of The Little Prince literally took flight -- we had to hold on." Or as performer Taylor Casas puts it, "I didn’t know I could fall in love so much with a cactus."
The piece reinvents itself from night to night. "Each audience has its own personality," says LeBank. "Because so much of the story is told directly to the audience, it feels very much like a conversation. We discover the show that it will be, that day, as we go along." Happily, "it becomes more and more fun the more we do it," says Casas.
Audiences bring their own perspective. "The way people connect their lives to the story always surprises me," says LeBank. "The themes are simple, but they seem to be themes that we never stop having to face." Those themes -- "learning to see with the heart and finding the courage to fly" -- work both as metaphor and engaging drama. And though Flight explores elevated ideas, it's also sheer entertainment. "I didn’t know it was such a funny show until we started performing," says Price. "I have to hold it together to keep from laughing, myself, sometimes."
Audiences may be surprised by the ways these charismatic performers transform gender-expanded ideas into motion. They're not alone: "This piece is magic to me on so many levels,” says Price. "Flight has taken me to places on the globe and inside myself I'm not sure I would have explored on my own." And playing the character has “evolved significantly during the year and a half I have been exploring her. She is both innocence and strength, full of questions and yet so very self-assured. She has grown up while remaining childlike, and I have grown through playing in her world."
Beyond pleasure, what can audiences take away from seeing Flight? When we consider "how easily we can get lost in this mechanized world...overrun with war and business and economics," says LeBank, Flight and the story from which it took its inspiration remind us that "none of those things are real. They are only abstractions that take us away from what really matters." These days, says Price, "we get lost in all the haze, in the politics -- but there is hope": we need only hearken back to the purity and ferocity of our feelings and experiences as children, remembering what affected us most. LeBank could be referring to his collaborators on both sides of the stage when he says: "It is the simple beauty of the people we meet that makes life amazing."
For those who missed (or want to relive) the magic of the show's acclaimed Edinburgh or New York Fringe Festival runs, Flight is about to have a brief new life.
Photo by Shannon Schnittker