An aerial rope is a surprisingly diverse prop. Accompanied onstage by only two plain white folding chairs, some sheets, and a small blue ball, the aerial rope ascends into the rafters, drawing the eye up and revealing a terrifying mass of negative space. In CLIMB, Esther de Monteflores commands that space with ease, twisting the aerial rope to her every need. De Monteflores’s range of expression with a singular rope is both impressive and stunningly beautiful, bringing meaning to the constant coiling and uncoiling of the rope. At times a cradle, a crutch, and at others a restraint, its tail end thumps against the stage like a unifying heartbeat.
De Monteflores’s acrobatics are accompanied by Meredith Hambrock’s brilliant writing in the form of voice over, bringing five different moments to life through movement, sound, and story. Hambrock’s vignettes are equal parts poetic, profound, and tragically hilarious. The decision to alternate narrators was refreshing for such a visual performance, though it did impede slightly on the cohesion of the different stories. Nonetheless, each narrative was compelling in its content and its interpretation by de Monteflores.
While the story for Adolescence was my personal favourite (it’s too good to be spoiled here), de Monteflores’s treatment of Old Age was nuanced, a delicate balance of vulnerability, delicacy, and grace. The choice to switch from aerial rope to slack rope here was apt. The switch over made for a fitting conclusion, though it would have been nice to have seen more slack rope throughout the performance, considering de Monteflores’s mastery of it.
De Monteflores’s physical performance and Hambrock’s story are strung together beautifully by Aaron Read’s score; the tension and drama of the string instruments function as a perfect parallel to de Monteflores’s use of the aerial and slack rope.
Another unexpected delight was the decision to keep de Monteflores on stage during costume changes. The choice makes sense from a practical standpoint, but also brought an intimacy to the actions. These moments turned audience members into voyeurs, enhanced by Hambrock’s eerie narration: “at any given moment you are being watched.”
For both veterans of acrobatics, and newcomers like myself, CLIMB offers a compelling, intimate, and lovably weird alternative to the way we normally experience stories and will certainly be a standout at this year’s Fringe.
CLIMB is part of the 2015 Vancouver Fringe Festival and can be seen at the Cultch Historic Theatre until September 20. Tickets are available online. For more on the Fringe, check out the festival website.