Set amidst a twilight sky at 10pmin the centre of Victoria Square, masses of people gathered for the evening showcase of the outdoor spectacle, The Voyage. The production was the outcome of collaboration between Birmingham Hippodrome, UK dance company Motionhouse and the acclaimed Australian physical theatre company, Legs on The Wall.
The show told the story of passengers aboard the HMS Olympia. The huge ship, designed by Simon Dorman, was erected in front of Birmingham’s Town Hall, which was used as a backdrop to project an array of video imagery. The ship was also the stage of musical performances by the Town Hall Gospel Choir and live music from Birmingham Conservatoire. The Town Hall was also an eerie backdrop to the opening of the show: an acrobat steadily walking along a tightrope set at the height of the Town Hall, creating an atmosphere of silence and suspense amongst the audience.
Greatest praise is reserved for all the performers, who were able to capture stories of love and loss, romance and disaster, as the ship encounters a storm. Their excitement was infectious, as the spritely passengers hung off the railings waving energetically to the crowd, throwing luggage to each other in a choreographed dance. Through fantastic dress, facial expressions, and flawless air acrobats the performers were engaging; enhanced by clever costume decisions so as certain characters would be distinguishable. There was a memorable romance between a man in flat-cap and his lady in a magenta pink dress as they were parted at sea; I followed their struggle amongst the beautiful chaos of colour and line.
As the pace quickened, I felt more involved in the perfomance, as if on the platform waving goodbye to the ship’s passengers, or as intended, as part of the sea. As I dipped out of fantasy to configure an appropriate setting on my complicated camera , the rowdy Birmingham crowds had been tamed and transported with wide eyes and open mouths. The beautiful haunting music eminated from the musicians and choir situated at the front of the ship, who wore deliberately simple beige and grey macs. Their presence was aptly modest and still amongst the flashing lights, swinging acrobats and flamboyant dancing. A perfect contrast as the soulful voices offered some calm both before and after the storm.
The interactive projections were all encompassing, projections spread across the façade of the ship and the entire breadth of the Town Hall. The sheer scale was quite mesmorising; a really magnificicent use of the space that created a slick and stunning performance. Despite the many and varied groups involved in the production, both professional and amateur, they worked together like the cogs of an intricate clock. The dancers releasing the large white sheet to hang from the railings of the ship, this doubled up as a flat surface for video projections by the crictcally accliamed Logela Media. The vast arrangement was fitting for a perfomance about culture and communities, an exploration of global migration actualised in the teaming of UK and Australian performers: a message of the great possibilities when international talents combine.
The only negative point to be made is that if you were at the back of the crowd I imagine poor visibility would have meant a lot of the action was missed. As well, I fear I misssed some parts of the show as it was so vast and my eyes can only cover a certain radius at once. However, even the negatives can be reversed into positives as the show covered all areas of vision and all senses (and thank goodness the rain gods kept at bay). If it had rained I think the stormy ship speactacle may have transformed into open water horror and less of a family-friendly magical performance.
Before the show started a young man from Birmingham declared, “Birmingham never do anything like this, this sort of stuff only happens in London”. This special performance really was unique and reminded everyone that Birmingham is the second city. The city of a thousand trades and the epicentre of industry has now hosted something aesthetically pleasing as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad.
Words and photography by Natalya Paul