The almost two-year survival story of Ernest Shackleton’s crew was performed by both dancers and puppets

Ryan Loredo

A&E Editor


“Men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor, recogninition in case of success.”

This is what was read in a newspaper when Ernest Shackleton was looking for men for an expedition to Antarctica.
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They made it to the ice, their ship sank, and for several months they survived the unimaginable cold which plagues the continent.

The crew members survived their arduous expedition with no casualties reported.

In remembrance of the odd-defying events, The Phantom Limb Company created a production to encapsulate the nearly two-year-long epic.

“69 Degrees South,” is the title of this marionette/dance production, and the Redfern Arts Center was the location of its Feb. 15 performance.

The theatre lights glistened on stage where white spread from the artificial snow set.

From the balcony, one could see audience members peering into their pamphlets, creating what seemed like a snowy landscape amongst them.

Sharon Fantl, the events manager at the Redfern Arts Center, said, “Mainly we were just really curious and really impressed by the scale of the show, the story was just compelling to us.”

She went on to say, “We’re just intrigued by all of the different layers of the piece, that it combined puppetry and film and photography and research and within it just the story about Ernest Shackleton, who is just such a figure in time. So we knew about the project, and we were just really excited about it from the start.”

Music from the early twentieth century played loudly on the speakers, the lights began to dim, and a film reel started to play on both the back wall and the floor.

Radio frequencies then overpowered the music and began to play with some slight interference.

As it grew the audio became indecipherable and white noise overtook the airwaves.

When the static ended the dancers slowly shifted on stage.

Dressed in all red, they arrived walking on one another as acrobats enter into a central ring.

The dancers flipped and circled around an off-center red rope hanging from the cat walks above.

It was here the dancers met with a grim figure, a black skeleton.

As the figure of death moved across the stage, ice mountains began to form when red ropes lifted rod-sewn curtains into cliffs and jagged spikes.

The music changed, and the skeleton left, leaving the scene open for a ship’s frame to ghostly appear from behind a cliff.

Behind the ship were several marionettes and puppeteers.

The marionettes were dressed in early pre-World War I Sherpa coats and attire, the subtle movements made the figures look life-like.

The lifeless puppets moved in small and large ways, from their chests to simulate breathing in the cold air to the shivering and self warming cold can give a person.

The puppeteers were hooded in white, angelic, robes with hoods covering their heads and faces.

They peered down at their puppets, providing them with life.

When they first appeared, the marionettes appeared happy and eager to explore.

They took photos and set up camp near the off-center red rope which now glowed with an orange light.

This was when disaster struck; the ice, simulated by a floor projector, cracked, setting loose a chain reaction where puppets fell down and the ship toppled over and sank into the frozen black depths.

The explorers then set about to finding a way home.

They “hiked” in a circle carrying rafts, water, and other equipment with them.

They then gathered into a raft and began to row on center stage.

When the rowing stopped, the puppets were lifted onto the stage and were dragged in line by the puppeteers.

One puppet then departed the stage waving his hand in departure.

The dancers begin to dance and images of the survivors played on the back wall with more dialogue on the radio.

This all ended when the skeleton came on stage and mimiced singing to an old dance song while dancing under the spotlight when the red off-center rope was ascending.

The audience applauded the dancers and puppeteers bowing before them.

After the performance the audience was invited to a Q&A session where they could address the entire performing company.

Carlton Ward, a company performer said, “We started rehearsal last January. We did four week, six days a week, rehearsals, then we took a couple months off and basically did the same thing again.”

The marionettes and set being used were all made out of recycled material.

The set itself, according to Jessica Windstaff who is the set designer for the production, is supposed to mimic “a topographical map.”

The set designer and the co-creator of the production, Erik Sanko, both went to the area where the events took place and put every element of the arctic from the loneliness to the surrounding silence and put it into the production.

In the pamphlet, there is a quote by Thomas Orde-Lees, one of the arctic explorers, stating, “No doubt the explorers of 2015, if there is anything left to explore, will not only carry their pocket wireless telephones fitted with wireless telescopes,  but will also receive their nourishment and warmth by wireless means, and also their power to drive their motor sledges, but of course there will be an aerial daily to both poles then, and it will be the bottom of the Atlantic, if not the centre of the earth, that will form the goal in those days.”


Ryan Loredo can be contacted at


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