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...

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