This summer a huge ship will be sailing into Birmingham as the centrepiece of a weekend of free outdoor performances to open the Cultural Olympiad. The Voyage – an hour long spectacle combining dance, theatre and music – will take place every evening at 10pm between 21-24 June in Victoria Square. The performances will be the culmination of a two year project between Leamington Spa’s highly regarded dance theatre company Motionhouse, Australian theatre company Legs on the Wall, the Birmingham Hippodrome, and Logela Multimedia.
Last Monday, I was invited to the launch event for The Voyage at Birmingham Town Hall. Through previous involvement with Motionhouse I had heard bits and pieces about this summer’s spectacle, but this was the first time I had been able to see how it is all going to look. The verdict? Very impressive and very ambitious! Five minutes into the thirty minute preview, given mainly by Kevin Finnan, the artistic director, I realised I was going to need to tweet and hash tag the flood of information he was expounding, and my opinions on it all. Here’s a brief synopsis from those tweets of what The Voyage is, what may make it a success, and what problems it might face:
The story is influenced by the history of sea voyages from the 1930s to the 1960s in an echo of those making their way to London this summer for the Olympics. Dancers, aerialists and assorted other performers will open the show by making their way through the crowd under a sea of tickertape and as they walk the gang plank onto the passenger liner they will accompanied by the huge amateur choir singing the ‘Song of Departure’. The ship will then ‘sail’ away on an ocean of tears from the numerous weeping eyes projected onto the hull and deck. The voyage can now take place, but it is punctuated by a violent storm and the ‘Dance of the Lost’ as passengers search for those washed overboard. Their rescue will take place within the crowd, and this interaction with the public and the immersive nature of the event is what underpins the whole ethos of The Voyage. The performance will finish with a triumphant and glorious arrival as the ship docks back into the square, the conclusion of an event involving not only professional dancers but also 140 community performers from the area.
Finnan gave the attendants a vivid idea of what The Voyage will look like, while leaving plenty of tantalising details to intrigue and ensure a large turn out on the opening night. The inspiration and ideas behind the performance, of immersive journeys and the “perusal of ideas” as Finnan put it, are immediately tangible to a public audience who may not have encountered dance and performance on this scale or level of ability before. The producers are aiming for an audience of 5000-6000 per night, which looks ambitious, especially as each ‘voyage’ doesn’t start until 10pm and takes place within the health and safety nightmare of the uneven square. The timing has obvious benefits and drawbacks: the night sky will make the whole show more dramatic, and a 10pm start allows those seeking evening entertainment in the city a cultural kick off before bars/clubs/recitals etc. However, the late start will also prevent young children from attending, and this is a major blow for families keen on taking in such an impressive (and free) event. All in all though, The Voyage is going to be an extraordinary way to spend a summer evening, and well worth students sticking around for (or making their own voyage back to the city). It’s certainly one I’m not going to be missing.
For regular updates follow @thevoyage2012 on Twitter.
Words by Andy Newnham