Lift Off is a story of a girl, a journey through a curious exhibition of tiny flying machines. A fairy tale of aspiration, a promenade performance in shades of light and dark, from French company L'Insolite Mécanique.
Lift Off is narrated and brought to life by maker Magali Rousseau, whose story Lift Off very much is. We begin with some of her earliest machinery and move through the range of her inventions.
We follow Rousseau as she tells us of her childhood memories and lifelong dreams of flying. Along the way we read some writing off the wall and meet flapping and squeaking stick figures, and crawlers owing to Theo Jansen's Strandbeests. We witness steam power and the spectacle of natural parachuting.
There is much to see, some beautiful visuals for the child and grown up alike. There are swirling gliders bathed in light and puffs of steam dancing in the air. The youngest ones almost found the shadows and mechanical breaths to be too much excitement. Definitely not written or watered down. On the other hand the text doesn't really punch with depth or emotion.
Rousseau's story is a fairly poetic one, probably losing some nuance in translation. Getting all of the story is not essential. The show is more of an exhibition with a narrative woven on top. A poem, a dream, more than a story form. The mechanical creatures are not breathtaking feats of engineering, more charming and humane in their construction.
Stéphane Diskus's clarinet provides the soundscape for the story, after Julien Joubert's strong sound designs. Joubert is behind the lighting as well. The sound and space work beautifully together and provide a cohesive, enveloping ambience for the exhibition. The travelling audience, just slightly too large for the space, is well immersed in the story for its fairly brief duration.
L'Insolite Mécanique have created in Lift Off a dynamic, immersive work with great visual moments and atmosphere. The exhibition doesn't gain all that much from the narrative, but gives a good reason to focus on each exhibit in turn.
Rousseau's invitation to fly is beguiling, but doesn't quite feed the imagination enough for take off. Of course, longing for flight is the real story here, and one to which all of us earthbound dreamers can relate.