Sunday, 24 June 2012

The Voyage 2012…


An enormous ship sails into the centre of Victoria Square, Birmingham, docking itself beside the city’s Town Hall. High above, dancers and aerialists appear in the ship’s rigging…

Birmingham Hippodrome in collaboration with Legs on the Wall and Motionhouse are this weekend staging a free live production in Birmingham’s Victoria Square. Professional dancers, aerialists, an amateur choir, live band, projections, lighting and community performers come together to bring the huge ship and its journey to life on a backdrop of one of the city’s most prominent squares.

Thursday night, the opening night, was cancelled due to bad weather so on sunny, dry Friday I went to watch what then became the opening night show, along with something like 4,500 fellow spectators. Unfortunately my late arrival on the Friday owing to some rather good real ale in a local pub meant I was standing quite near to the back with the famous Floozie in the Jacuzzi sculpture obscuring part of the ship from my view.

Nonetheless the parts of the performance I did see were enough to entice me to make a more concerted effort the next night and so on Saturday I arrived early (the benefits of living in the city centre in full force) and took my place near the front to wait for the show to begin again. And begin again it did.

The build up atmosphere in the crowd was exciting and I discovered I was not alone amongst the people who had returned to watch the performance for a second time. From my closer vantage point, everything was in far better clarity and I saw the spectacular acrobatics and aerial work that I had missed the night before.

The Voyage truly felt like a once in a lifetime kind of performance. Whilst the story was perhaps obscure in places it was for the spectacle that one was in awe and not the details of the journey itself. From the opening tightrope walker to the in-crowd action, and from the choreographed dancing and tight parcours-inspired movement, the town hall, with its pillars and atmospheric aesthetic, was made part of something larger, something undeniably unique.

The Voyage was a journey of beginnings and fresh starts, of survival and teamwork. I am sure the themes in the production were carefully considered and they did indeed very much reflect Birmingham’s current state of redevelopment and re-birth as we watch another phase of the city being given a new face and embracing culture all the more – Birmingham New Street’s redevelopment and the new Birmingham Library of course at the forefront of my thoughts.

The performers themselves were as culturally diverse as reflects the city also. I was pleased to see all elements of our city represented and all prejudices cast aside in the production. Men were dancing with men, women with women, the captain was mixing with the crew, the crew with the passengers and there was something very open and accepting about it all; barriers were lowered. The production cleverly managed to blend the old stylised appearance of the Titanic-esque ship, costumes, architecture and imagery, with a performance that was appropriately modern in its delivery.

I am so pleased that I returned to watch the Voyage a second time as now I do not feel there is any more I could have taken from it. Finding myself in the very midst of the action as the suitcase-bearing dancers worked through the crowd, and then at the very front of the passageway as the dancing girls in their air bubbles performed in lit costumes, was an exciting experience, and being able to feel the energy the performers were putting in and the buzz and awe of the crowd around me was something truly special.

It may have been raining throughout the performance on Saturday but this became barely noticeable as we the crowd sheltered under umbrellas and hoods, a collective sea of support and enthusiasm, spurred on by the performers and vice versa. Never before have I watched a production that has been so accepted and so praised even before the performers have taken their final bows.

I cannot recommend this show highly enough. From the moment the tightrope walker reaches the end of the high wire, the crowd collectively bursting into cheering and applause, you know you are witnessing something fantastic. The ship sets sail at 10pm again tonight so if you can be there it is worth the visit.

Elloise Hopkins.

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