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When the way down isn't the same as way up

From ancient Greek mythology's attempts to conquer the sky to our modern ventures into space, humans can't help but be obsessed with this vast expanse.

From ancient Greek mythology's attempts to conquer the sky to our modern ventures into space, humans can't help but be obsessed with this vast expanse.

And the more we find out, the starker the realization of our limitations and the greater the desire to overcome them.

So what happens when things go wrong? When we do fly too close to the sun? Creators David van Belle (performer) and Eric Rose (director), of Calgarybased production company Ghost River Theatre, tackle this question in their one-man show The Highest Step in the World, premiering at Gateway Theatre tonight (Oct. 11) and running until Oct. 26.

A fully integrated and multi-media production, the play not only tells an enduring narrative, pondering questions of human striving, it does this using harnesses, projections and haunting sound effects.

"They knew that if they were going to do a play about flying, there better be actual flying," said Amy Strilchuk, communications associate at Gateway. "Ghost River always does brand new, innovative work. These guys will never pick up a plain script and stage it."

Van Belle, in plain clothes sitting on a white chair, begins by sharing his own obsession with flight and his experience watching the Challenger as a 14-year-old.

He then dons a white suit and the play takes off with him assuming the role of Joseph Kittinger, who in 1960, jumped 102,800 feet from a high-altitude weather balloon to test a new parachute system.

Van Belle also assumes the role of Vesna Vulovic - a Serbian flight attendant who was the only survivor of an in-flight bomb and as a result became the world record holder for the highest fall without a parachute - as well as, a modern-day Daedalus and Icarus.

His flight through the theatre on harness is supported by projections on a screen behind him.

Costume changes come in the form of further projections on his white suit, making for what looks " to be a visually stunning piece.

"Amy knows these guys from Calgary, so when she showed me the archival footage, I was just knocked out by it," said Jovanni Sy, Gateway artistic director.

"It's so different from anything we've done here and it's such an engaging story."

Staging the show was about a two-week process, which included the installation of a frame hanging from the ceiling to hook up van Belle's harness, making it more technical than the average Gateway play.

"Everything's hyper-choreographed, like where David stands for the projects," said Strilchuk. "It's called devised theatre and strongly integrates video with story." Both humourous and tragic, as van Belle states, it's a play about leaping and falling, reminding us that in the midst of technological advances, the human body stays a vulnerable combination of blood, muscle and bone.

The Gateway show is part of the production's larger movement into bigger studios. This will be the second time van Belle and Rose produce the play in a venue the size of Gateway. For more information, visit