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NiX setting the stage at Lost Lake

Site-specific theatre production to debut on the shores of Lost Lake Jan. 22

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Cross country skiers or snowshoers who follow the trail to the shores of Lost Lake Park in coming weeks shouldn't be alarmed by the sight of a 44-foot geodesic dome. It's not a top-secret VANOC laboratory or yet another security camp. Rather, it's the site of a unique theatre installation that will be taking place nightly from late January and throughout the Olympic Games.

Last spring VANOC announced that the Vancouver-based theatre society, The Only Animal, would be staging a site-specific production, NiX, in Whistler as one of almost 600 projects that are part of the 2010 Cultural Olympiad program.

Kendra Fanconi is the co-artistic director of the The Only Animal and the playwright and director of NiX. The theatre company's mission is to revitalize the role of theatre in society, creating new works of theatre that range from intimate solo shows to large-scale site-specific performances. The company is responsible for Other Freds, a production that took place on Granville Island docks and the waters of False Creek in 2005.

Developed in partnership with Alberta Theatre Projects and Ghost River Theatre, NiX made its premiere in Calgary last February, where it ran for about a month garnering critical praise and two Betty Mitchell Awards. Now, it's set to make its B.C. premiere on an elaborate stage made from almost 200 tonnes (20 dump trucks worth) of snow. The stage will be created by a longtime member of the Canadian Snow Sculpture team, Carl Schlicting.

"...Carl is more like an abstract sculptor, so he's working with the sort of practical theatrical things that I'm asking of him," Fanconi explained.

The cast and crew comes to Whistler on Jan. 4, and Schlicting and his team will immediately begin setting up the geodesic dome that protects the stage from the sun. That process takes about three days. Then, they set to work creating the stage of ice and snow, which takes another five or six days. Finally, the cast will begin rehearsing on-site.

"The vision that he developed was that it's actually a set that transforms," said Fanconi. "So it starts out and it's just one stylized snowdrift and then as the play goes along different things are excavated out of it and it completely transforms."

After the show an assistant spends four hours in the middle of the night recreating the site for the next evening's performance.

"There have been changes to the script, there's improvements to the design, that kind of thing. But the thing that's new in Whistler that we didn't do in the premiere in Calgary last year is that there's a whole second venue, which is an ice bar."

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