Friday, 9 July 2010

Glastonbury Festival Part 6: Architectural & Other Weirdness

Next up was a dodgy looking hotel, half ruined at the top, with actors as transvestites in the windows, a car half-sunk into the corner of the roof - which during the evening, had its wheels spinning and smoke coming out of it - a film set with a good dose of surreal. There was a queue for the dancefloor inside, and also for the larger venue nearby - a life-size smaller high rise block, ruined and jagged at the top, lit up...

In the Shangri La area, a tiny booth caught my eye which had a sign declaiming 'The Gamble', and one curtain led to a prison cell with newspaper sheets plastering the walls, and the other a genteel little room with gilded mirror, fancy velvet chair, candlesticks... and bars divided the two - which one will you end up in? A nice moment.
It was a little hot for the 'Slumberave' where one went in past hotel style check outs in red velvet, and through mock rooms with double beds, and walls that stopped long before the marquee roof, to enter a 'dance' area, with loud music and huge beds/sofas everywhere. But a great idea nonetheless.

Walkabouts included folks in LED rope-light style costumes, so they were sudden luminous sketches against the darkness...from skeleton to ballet dancer with butterfly wings. Best installations included a garden/'outdoor room' near the Leftfield stage, with white painted jagged fence enclosing a mantelpiece, sofa, fireplace, armchairs, surrealist suspended chair, doors, mirrors on overmantles, and generally a drawing room with Cocteauesque features and no roof, all drawn out in white. Excellent.

Was that everything? Undoubtedly not - one person can only see so much whether working there or not, and there was so much I have forgotten already... But this has been an attempt at cramming some of the crowd of impressions down, because - Glastonbury is billed as a Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts. And (aside from having got famous for popular music) that is what I took it for.

As I said to the Crew when asking them if they were up for this one - there's loads of visuals, and fireshows, theatre, searchlights and fireworks, lasers and circus arts, aerial dance, gardens, sculptures, walkabouts, sideshows, stalls, great coffee, a good variety of food, lights, political talks, crafts, skills workshops, oh yeah...and some bands.

Glastonbury Festival Part 5: The Unfair Ground

And there were plenty more arresting visuals. In the Greenfields by the Stone Circle was a large wooden dragon sculpture on a walk-on plinth/bandstand - by large I mean it was as tall as a low house. Another large dragon sculpture was set inside a pool lit up at night with red flower-like lanterns - very Oriental and like something from a pleasure garden. I hated to think how long it must have taken to dig such a large pool - it was the size of a medium sized circular swimming pool!

In the Unfair Ground, there were three metal dragons and wyverns wheeling about around one another in various guises. Not far from them was a giant mechanical triceratops, behind which was a giant spider illumined at night in blue and green, near the bridge where the trees were spotlit in viridian, and the bridge and river underneath in a grey lilac-blue. I stopped to photograph the bridge as many others rushed past, and also took the quiet side route where one could see the light on the water, and the trees reflected. I took Liz there, and she agreed with me that it was indeed worth seeing. I was glad to be able to pay part of my debt for being shown the Insect Circus Museum!
The triceratops also was part of a cavalcade that, during the day, drove around the site (causing people-jams, as dozens of folks stopped or ran to look, photograph or video it!). It drew a carriage with actors whipping up the the two rearing horse sculptures and lots of other detail. And the creature static was just as impressive. There were bizarre fairground 'stalls', one with giant heads, and beyond the dragons, a great little dance stage/nightclub, with floors on layers, lit from below, with large figures hanging from the ceiling of a sting ray, shark, and other sea creatures, the whole place shades of violets, blues, purples. The music was good trancy dance, and there was a giant old style model jukebox in front, and plenty of space to dance!

Glastonbury Festival Part 4: The Park

Ah the Ribbon Tower - changing from puce and orange to lilac and blue to shades of crimson and scarlet The Park. It looked like it was indeed made of ribbons - but very heavy duty ones, and it had a real air of carnival to it, providing an eyecatcher/landmark and an attraction, as every time I went past it, there was a queue to go and climb it to see the view from the top. The Park was a very tastefully done area, entered by going under temporary faux classical pillars and arches with a date of eighteen something written on them. It was a lovely way to come home of an evening (well - two or three in the morning) as one just made for the Ribbon Tower, then took the road to the left past the residential Tipi hire area, to the Tipi Field.

The Park had a multitude of lighting effects which included streetlamp size red tulips or similar, lighting up one area, and a glorious gazebo, large enough for around eight sofas set out by hexagonal/octagonal walls. It had as many doors as walls, and outside in parallel were other pleasant places to sit or lie - carved in wood in interesting sculptural shapes - whether a giant armchair or a curling chaise longue. It was lit up in purple and orange, and was full of plants, especially in the centre, which had a small waterfall and changing spotlights, above a large chandelier with many regency style birdcages. Many people had drinks from bars close by, and altogether it was a delicious piece of luxury and civilization to find in a field bordered by dusty tracks! A real sense of occasion attend it as a spellbinding place, despite not being a cafe or having a stage. It needed nothing - it was simply another beautiful space to come and relax in, absorbing the sounds of things going on around it.

When I went round The Park with Liz looking for The Rabbit Hole, we didn't find it, but I was glad ultimately of the detour, because I saw the Tree House Cafe...what a fantastic structure, set inside the trees, and with a fabulous view of the festival site (being at the start of the hill behind the Tipi Field). Made a mental note; must go there...but when? 3am on Sunday night, and it will all be taken down tomorrow...

The sheer number of bars and cafes with LED lighting of every description were unfortunately too numerous to properly describe or remember - and there were too many even to photograph. Even with a good/better camera, one would never have crossed the field in order to see x, meet y or go to bed, if one had stopped to take every vista and interesting detail. But incredibly, rather than complete overkill, it seemed to work, and instead create wonderful variety of visual interest and an ever-changing kaleidoscope of things to see even when nowhere near a stage (actually there were so many small and even tiny stages, that one was never more than a few metres from one, I suppose). Giant red lotuses seemed to light up one bar. In a dodgy cafe (the rest of the Crew insisted we go to!), the view was of a bare geodesic dome chill out zone opposite with dark blue icicle style lights draped over it, a fire in the centre, bordered by the cafe itself's multicoloured LED fairy lights, and with the place over the way and next to the zone having some lights in - green? turquoise? and it all could have been designed to go together, the way the shapes and colours contrasted like an electrified Kandinsky painting... Add that Moon, and you have a thousand views and moments which meant one wandered in endless wonder.

Glastonbury Festival Part 3: Lightshow

Then of course there were all the things to see... Spoilt by the last time I went to/performed at Glastonbury, I look (generally in vain) at other festivals for massive searchlights lighting up the night sky, arcing over the site, and generally adding an air of the atmospheric and spectacular, and complementing any other light or spectacle whether near or far. And finally, while chiefly an effect speaking of 'an event', when really beautiful, they are of course an event in their own right. My memory says that there was just one white searchlight/spotlight last time...but this time there was a huge light - not bright or intrusive enough either to take anything away from the starlight, nor to be a pest and take away one's awareness and enjoyment of the amazing full moon, but instead, just right. It swept over part of the site, visible from most places, and, like the lovely Ribbon Tower, a great way of getting one's bearings (as the site was so huge this time, that even the most seasoned an competent navigator, couldn't necessarily find the place with the best coffee twice!). Crossing the big white searchlight, which split into many beams, seemingly, were smaller spotlights, at least three, placed so as to cross it, and they were colour-changing. With incredibly pure, deep colours, I guessed they were most likely to be LED spots. One of the best views of the lightshow was in a garden/small outdoor stage space a few metres from where the white spot was reeling about. Not only because it was so near, but because at certain times in the evening, the torches around it were lit, and so began to smoke... What a beautiful sight it was, beams of white light sweeping and splitting overhead, seemingly brushing your head, and lighting up great swirling clouds of smoke, like sun through a fog in a dark storm, and then the cobalt blue beam turning to sky blue to turquoise and then forest green, crossing it, and rolling over the smoke and slight mist of temperature differential as night proper fell, and it lit up like stained glass, with the movement of a sea wave breaking, in a dynamic, hypnotic rainbow cascade of colour and light above...with on the other side, shafts of deep purple crossing by the silver gilt full moon...what could be finer? And of course, with lots of folks hurrying to catch this or that music, and the acts on the little outdoor stage having finished for the night, I had perfect peace to enjoy it in even with all the riot of events going on everywhere. A surreal and exquisite time and space.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Glastonbury Festival Part 2: The Circuses

Then of course there were all the other amazing things to see. In the Circus Tent, Circomedia (the Bristol circus school and international centre for Circus Arts) had their end of year graduate show, with a variety of accomplished circus folks - hoop, rope, hat juggling, and suchlike. The last time I saw them, there was a trapeze act involving catches (this time just one person swinging on the ropes), in costume telling a loose tale, and at one moment, the female artist missed the catch and fell - mercifully they were all wearing harnesses! but this time, there were no such hair-raising moments thankfully, and rather than something put all together, this time each act came on separately. Remarkably, probably the most striking was the lad with the hats - he rolled them about, caught them with his neck, and all in all, was highly professional and compelling. Next on were Wookey Hole Circus, seemingly a family concern with some very young performers who had, it looked like, been born into the circus. Most impressive were three aerial artists all on silk ropes of shimmering fabric, turning and twisting in unison.
The last time I went to/performed at Glastonbury, La Seda were doing the same kind of act with two performers on an outdoor stage - but while a spectacle, all in red, it was rather too glitzy, with emphasis on glamour rather than skill, and Wookey Hole Circus by contrast were definitely an event, but rather more engaging with the emphasis on co-ordination and prowess.
Something I saw a fair bit of was artists on single ropes, and they all did very good sets. But the last Festival, I saw someone that set the bar pretty high for a single aerial artist on a rope, and that was Persephone Watkins. Dressed simply, she was grace personified and did what I can only describe as aerial ballet. The skill and beauty of her performance were simply magical. And it was firmly in the category of 'art' rather than simply 'showbiz', and hence went down well with spectators like yours truly. Circus art can definitely be just that - art, but it does of course have its roots in spectacular entertainment for a mass audience.
Another type of act that's really taken off in the last few years is fire. Last time, Kirsten Poi (as in poi twirling, but hers were fire poi) was unusual as well as wonderful to watch, with her fans and fire, but this time there was fire everywhere.
Ms. Flames had a theatrical set, starting with a single burning flame in the centre of the stage, and going on (utilizing a good soundtrack and lighting) after various dance moves, to use not only fire poi, but then fire fans, and most memorably a fire parasol which opened and closed! Finally fire ropes (which looked pretty dangerous) and then involving two members of the audiences, with torches. (Though I couldn't decide whether especially the first was someone she knew or not - he certainly must have been a performer of some sort himself...he danced fluidly, following her movements and seemed even less phased by the fire than the other one chosen.)

But had I been a fire artist with a late night slot, it would have put me out (no joke intended) to be just over the way from the Temple of Fire on the Blazing Saddles outdoor stage, as each night they provided the - main? - fire show, with fire jugglers, fire fan wielders, fire hoops and of course plenty of fireworks. And all this within easy sight of the flaming fire throwing presence that is the Afterburner in Arcadia! Surely (despite the fire shows and circus/theatre, art/installations/walkabouts etc. being what makes Glastonbury so special for me personally) the fire acts should have been paced and placed farther apart in time and space.

The same was true of the Invisible Circus, performing in a venue opposite the Afterburner. They looked great (and I checked out their website afterwards - see weblink below) but with all that Arcadian splendour behind me, I was too distracted and so had to go and be hypnotized by it instead. Would love to catch the Invisible Circus properly though - especially their folks in white dresses abseiling down buildings featured in a video on their website!

Another amazing performance-without-actors (i.e. its chief feature lay in the imagination behind it and how it operated, taking many to construct it, but leaving as the final product an artifice that needed little else, like the Afterburner) was the Insect Circus Museum. A tiny fairground caravan which sometimes had a long queue, and sometimes didn't, and I was lucky enough to catch late in the evening when there wasn't one (thanks Liz!). In each little porthole, you sat on a low stool and switched a switch which made a light come on, illuminating a scene through the 'window' of extraordinary proportions, as giant bugs from beetles to wasps to butterflies were seen in circus rings as acts - for instance a ringmaster trying to make fierce giant wasps fly in formation! The attention to detail and optical illusion was simply breathtaking, and there were three or four such visions before the final larger 'grand finale', of many monster bugs taking part in a grand parade. 'Push button mechanical peep show models' was what they were technically. It was superb - imaginative, brilliantly executed, quirky, eccentric, and was very special as how many gypsy caravan shows or attractions could hold their own with fire and aerial acts surrounding them? They also have a full size insect circus! With folks kitted out as stag beetles etc., which wasn't there, but looks really worth catching. Check them out on the link below, it's well worth it.

Insect Circus;

Invisible Circus;

Monday, 5 July 2010

Glastonbury Festival Part 1: Arcadia

So much has been going on, and Widsith and Deor Theatre have had so much on/so many gigs ourselves, that I've had barely a chance to go and see what other folk's are up to! Ironic, as I used to write many reviews of wonderful things and then lose them in the pile, and as soon as a blog was begun so that wouldn't happen...we got so ridiculously busy that there was little to review! However, as we were performing at this season's Glastonbury Festival and all our slots bar one finished by 6.30 (only one at 10.30pm) and there's tonnes to see between 9pm and 2am, I finally got to see some other acts! hence this blog.
What a six days it was! First and most present in my mind has to be Arcadia - or to be more precise, the Arcadia stage/machine, 'The Spider'. Constructed by folks who make up the company Arcadia Spectacular, their shows/space are simply that - Arcadian and Spectacular. Made from parts which organizations from the MOD to NASA were discarding, it's a large turret flanked by huge monster/spider's legs in a circle or semi circle, and studded with flame throwers and Victorian lanterns adorned with twisted metal branches which are also flame throwers. Also studded throughout the sinister yet compelling structure are delicious LED rotating spotlights shafting beams of electric colour into the twilight and the night, contrasting with the main lights of the structure itself, the lights underneath the lanterns, and set off by the smoke that issues from the latter, and finally (as if all the flaming stuff and eventual fireworks weren't enough), its crowning glory is a really beautiful (and expensive-looking) green laser which rays out from the centre (like an eye).
In a sense, once you have a structure such as this, just put on any pumping dance music, and it needs neither bands nor indeed anything else. However, the robotic happening that was the Arcadia stage also had plenty of gilding and extra treats in the form of fire jugglers, fire hoop acrobats, aerial hammock-style twisters (folks hanging and twisting in fabric from roof struts), flame thrower carriers blasting fire at intervals, at different times dancers in various costumes, and perhaps best of all (although much as I would have liked to, I couldn't spend all of every evening there so there may have been others) aerial dancers on triple hexagonal rafts suspended from structures flanking the main machine. I had seen plenty of folks on ropes, hoops, and fabric, but the most startling was a metal raft, and that wasn't hexagonal, so it also (for an admirer of aerial dance/circus) had the charm of novelty. Oh yes, and some excellently chosen music of bands and superb DJs! as well, but as long as the music matched the splendour of the Arcadia sculpture itself, I was happy.
A startling, indeed astounding act set just before it was 'The Lords of Lighting' - which happened on the area fenced off in the middle of the Arcadia area. Two plinths crackled purple lightning, and the sense of expectation was palpable. Then two figures dressed in thick grey bodysuits mounted the plinths and commenced commanding lightning from their fingertips, fighting with orange 'light sabre' like swords or wands, and finally emanating purple lightning from one head to another. It was incredibly arresting, impressive, imaginative, stunningly beautiful, and - like the Arcadia machine itself - I was so glad that someone had been to the same dreamworlds that I frequent at night, and had returned to make such better use of what they'd seen (rather than merely writing poetry and surreal short stories about it)! All but the most cynical, jaded (or environmentally hardcore in a way that made them incapable of falling in love on dislike-of-technology and/or energy use grounds) were wowed and won over by the spectacle.

I was lucky enough to catch the warm up on Friday - a lot fewer people were there, and I had the delicious sensation of finding some secret kingdom. As soon as I saw it, it struck me as a cross between Paka's mechanical creations (formerly of Mamaloucous Circus and one of the most ground-breaking and influential artists of any discipline in the country - doyen of many big festivals and a true genius and my own first influence), Pan Optikom Action Theatre (which I was lucky enough to catch at a previous Glastonbury Festival, and masters of multimedia theatre with mechanical structures and pyrotechnics!), the Dark Tower (in the Lord of the Rings), the Terralec catalogue (excellent lighting experts for stage and venues), and that dream realm which I inhabit from time to time, obviously along with some other artists! I knew I had 'come home' in some sense. And as a mechanic remote-controlled horse began to wheel about and came up to people, and the lanterns glowed red and started to smoke, consciousness seemed to merge with the surroundings, and music began. In the dusk, first came some wheeling lights spinning rays at angles like a Feininger painting, then the whole entity changing its colour, then the plinths with lilac lightning, the literally electric duel between grey clad figures, then the flames here and there, the tower turret itself on fire...the whole place smoking and reeling in colour-changing light, and every time I thought that must be all it had to offer, it changed - transformed from red and black, to industrial greys, to electric green with purple shafts of light crossing it...the lanterns shot flames, and so different parts of the went on, hypnotic, hardly describable in its dreamlike progression of wonders, losing us in a whorl and whirl of colour mutating into form, in a ceaseless and perfect dance and play of light against structure. The evening was (were) perfect - deep blue skies, exquisite full silver moon behind...and then the viridian laser - with an ever-changing show just overhead, splitting, combining, opening to a smoking cavern above, shifting like the storm clouds...and I was completely lost in the experience. The videos are excellent (and all different) though none do it full justice.

Around the rest of the site, when you needed to be in Arcadia, you just had to follow the sudden plumes of flame in the flashing lights...

Check out;