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Expedition 6

September 26, 2007

Bill Pullman's Expedition 6 at The Magic Theatre in San Francisco

Bill Pullman's ensemble docudrama Expedition 6 was born out of a desire to make sense of the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster of 2003. "I was interested in the contrast between what was happening in space and issues on the ground as the US prepared to invade Iraq," says Pullman, who is best known for his roles in the films Independence Day and Lost Highway and on Broadway in Edward Albee's The Goat. The result, a nebulous nexus of texts culled from such sources as Nasa space logs and Osama bin Laden's speeches, low-flying trapeze, live and recorded music and dozens of props, suggests that the director may still be struggling to make sense of his topic, even after three years of developmental workshops.

Focusing not on the Shuttle disaster itself but on the three crew members of Nasa Expedition 6, who found themselves trapped aboard the International Space Station for six months following the Columbia's flame-out, the production bombards audiences with a meteor shower of half-sketched ideas. A chipper CNN reporter turns the astronauts' rescue into a soap opera; an Islamic fundamentalist sees the US's misfortunes as a sign from Allah; a psychologist asks the space explorers what kind of animal they'd most like to return as in the next life. These concepts, although wide-ranging, don't quite fuse. What thesis there might be gets lost in the mêlée of unfurling trapezes, flying bodies, whizzing office chairs and - perplexingly - pizza trays adorned with miniature plastic fighter aircraft and tanks.

Yet at moments, Expedition 6 crystallises into poetry, offering us a glimpse into life at zero gravity that is sharp and bright. The choreographer Robert Davidson's balletic-sculptural trapeze sequences lift the viewer into an emotional realm. Casting long shadows under cold blue lights, the dangling human forms do more to express the idea of a planet in free fall, of humanity lost in space, than all the robotically delivered Nasa statistics and bland media interviews. Ultimately, Expedition 6 is like the surface of the moon: strewn with random debris, short on gravity, yet capable - from certain angles - of providing mesmerising views of the Earth.



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