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Science and Myth: The North West Premiere of 'Icarus at the Edge of Time'

09/02/2016 13:36 | Updated 08 February 2017

There are some great things happening in Manchester right now. Recently I went to see Barbarians: A Trilogy, a new piece by choreographer, Hofesh Shechter. It was a slick and introspective piece of contemporary dance, full of modern electro vibrations and intimidating drones that underpinned delicate Baroque melodies. The inventive fusion pieces continued on Saturday night when I went to see Icarus at the Edge of Time at the RNCM, Manchester. Icarus was an accumulative piece built up from physicist Brian Greene's short tale of the same name.

Greene's narrative, a take on the old Icarus myth, depicts a boy on a journey through space. Rather than flying too close to the sun, this new Icarus defies his father's warning and flies too close to a black hole instead. The consequences are partly disastrous and partly wonderful. The new Icarus doesn't die, he survives... in a way. Retuning from the edge of the black hole he discovers that 10,000 years have past.

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The reworking of the Icarus myth began as Greene's way of explaining relativity to his young son. But the tale didn't stop as a bedtime story. Greene, who attended the premiere to introduce and narrate the piece, approached Manchester based filmmakers AL and AL to create a film to accompany his original narrative. And that, as they say, is history. AL and AL created an immense piece of moving imagery, stunningly embellished by CGI techniques. The result for Greene's story was magical. Icarus, played by a young actor, is the only face seen in the film. His father is a faceless man, presented always with his back to the audience. The 'aliens' (some new race encountered by humans while Icarus is exploring the black hole), are blurred shimmering entities, with the slightest of humanoid shaping. All of this is embedded by AL and AL within the swirling expanse of space, which they splash with blue, pink, and white brilliance.

But, like I said, this piece is accumulative. And every story needs music (I'm biased of course), and this one is no exception. Add one Philip Glass score and the BBC Philharmonic, conducted by Duncan Ward and the retelling becomes a modern masterpiece. My memories of the score are all percussive. The full timpani set adding the rumbling precursors to danger; blocky natural wooden sounds adding an unsettling trot that dislodges the senses, moving the audience away from the fabrication of AL and AL's scintillating space. AL and AL's surrealist computer generated film stands in relief against the acoustic clonk of Glass's score. The combination is jarring and charming in all the right ways.

It is clear to see why Manchester is the European City of Science 2016. The combination of scientific reworking of myth, live narrative, engrossing imagery, spectacular use of technology, and an inventive, jaunting score make the hour long piece feel like a ten minute whirlwind. I didn't only learn a little bit about the concept of Relativity (curtesy of Greene's humorous opening speech), but I've also seen what can be achieved by mixing and accumulating art forms, and by blending science and myth. The lineage of a myth never really ends and that's a wonderful thing. Myths are always there to be revised, reworked and retold. As technology and human knowledge expand, old tales take on new meaning. I'm pleased I was able to see the results of this cross-genre, cross-pollinating effort.

Icarus at the Edge of Time was presented by HOMEmcr and performed live at the RNCM. I hope there will be more shows elsewhere because it is a truly special live event. For information on performances past and future, here's a link: http://www.worldsciencefestival.com/icarus-edge-time/

AL and AL's exhibition: Incidents of Travel in the Multiverse is now on at HOME, Manchester, and runs until 10th April, 2016. For more information on the exhibition: http://homemcr.org/exhibition/al-al-incidents-of-travel-in-the-multiverse/