25 May 2012

Wings of Desire

Last week I went to the last event of the International Dance festival Birmingham, having been to nothing else that was going on.
Wings of Desire is a dance, acrobatic and projected performance based on the film of the same name. I have seen both the original 80s Berlin-set film (which was later adapted by Hollywood into City of Angels, I film that seems mundane and ineffective compared to the artistry of the original) and it's 90s sequel Faraway So Close. Both films were good and arty, though the second was less poetic and had more of a definite plot, including Peter Falk (playing himself) providing one of the best distractions I have ever seen on screen.

Anyway the free performance, which ran in Birmingham's Victoria square for 4 nights, was actually quite a reasonable adaption of the film, considering it was a different medium. The story was relocated to Birmingham and had Goldie (an artist and actor with strong links with the city) take on a similar role to the late Peter Falk. He acted as compere and provided explanation.
Some of the angels were actually stood on top of buildings around the square, which was pretty impressive, especially the person on the five storey building. There were also dancers who wove their way through the crowd holding glowing spheres in their hands. These bits were very effective, as it showed the mystical side of things both at a distance and within the audience. The dance and acrobatic sections mostly took place on a large stage. This was the one place where, for me, the performance broke down, mostly because I could barely see what was going on except for on those occasions when the acrobats were standing on top of each other - which happened a fair bit. However if you're using dance and acrobatics to tell a story it helps if the audience can see most of the moves, or the shape of the dance, rather glimpses and shadows.

The big screen behind the stage projected many faces, and different voices were played over the stereo system, to represent the angels' ability to see into the thoughts of the people in the city. A lot of the images were of local people and some of the situations and dialogue were tied with specific locations, which worked well. Obviously Birmingham does not have the historical significance of Berlin, but there are still a huge number of stories, and part of the beauty of both the films and this adaption are their ability to place personal, intimate stories within a busy metropolis.

The biggest spectacle was the architectural projection on the town hall. It was truly amazing. The building appeared to become a weird spectral river, then seemed to crumble and fall and blow away. There were times when it looked almost organic, and when it was full of fireworks and when it seemed to dance with light and spin with colour like a building made of rubiks cubes. There were times when you thought you were looking at the actual columns then they'd move and you'd realise with delight that the illusion had tricked you.
It's particularly fitting because for years the exterior of the town hall was only a drawing on gigantic sheeting that covered the building while it was being worked on, so the idea that it might be illusory and fleeting worked well.
I think this use of the town hall even beats that time it appeared in a webcomic

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