Recently in Theatre Category
With all my previous blogs focussing on working towards the Paralympic Opening Ceremony, it seems odd somehow to now be writing a blog looking back on the show.
I've now had a couple of weeks to reflect on the occasion, and what a day it was!
As I mentioned in my last blog before the performance, we were working in the stadium and making final tweaks to the show in the days beforehand, and small changes can result in intense pressure, particularly so close to the performance. However, on the morning of the ceremony, one of our main concerns was that typically British subject of the weather - indeed, some of the volunteers even performed a little rain-dance to try and ensure conditions were favourable for us!
Joking aside, with intricate dance movements on a variety of different surfaces, together with aerial performances and elements of the show performed on rollerskates, the threat of rain was a huge concern for us, and for the safety of our cast. There must have been something in those rain-dances, though, as it mercifully remained dry on the night!
I've discussed the pivotal role played by volunteers in earlier editions of this blog, and I must again pay tribute to them for the outstanding job they did on the night. It was exhilarating, not to mention surreal, after days of working in an empty stadium, to see it filling up with people, and with that came an enormous burst of energy.
Everybody involved in London 2012 will talk in years to come of their 'Olympic Moment' or, in this case, their 'Paralympic Moment', and being backstage when the cast came off, it was like they'd earned their very own Gold medal. The volunteers have given up so much of their time and effort, all for free, to deliver this show, and it was a marvellous moment to share their excitement after so much hard work came to fruition.
It was exciting and nervewracking for those of us working in a professional capacity, too. While there are many people involved who have worked on Olympics and Paralympics and events of that scale before, for me personally, it was my first experience of working on something of this magnitude, and amid the excitement and privilege of the role, there are a number of concerns too.
For one thing, you think about the fact that people such as the Queen and the Prime Minister are in the stadium, not to mention the likes of Professor Stephen Hawking, Sir Ian McKellen and Beverley Knight in the show itself, and you can't imagine what it would be like if something went wrong!
In many ways, you have a split persona between being an excited spectator, and your professional self, tasked with the delivery of a show. Luckily, there is an entire army of people on hand to keep things running as they should, with a huge control box manned by various people using microphones and headsets to essentially co-ordinate the show and give instructions to the cast.
From costumes and props to stage management, and everyone in between, it's a real logistical triumph and something of a military operation.
The crowd were fantastic, and it's marvellous that so many people were willing to offer so much enthusiasm. From quiet moments of poignance in the performance, coupled with periods when the stadium felt alive, it seemed that the volunteers, professionals and the audience all united to create a wonderful night for the Paralympians.
I'd like to take the opportunity to thank Jenny Sealey and Bradley Hemmings, the Artistic Directors, for creating such a fantastic vision, and entrusting me with the job of helping to bring it to life through dance. I'd also like to thank my Assistant Choreographer, Helen Parlo r, who was there with me every step of the way, and it was great to work with the team who brought it to life on the stage.
Aside from the ceremony itself, London 2012 also leaves behind a great cultural legacy across the whole of Britain, not least here in the West Midlands. The Cultural Olympiad has seen support given to a number of dance projects, including our own Motionhouse production of The Voyage in Birmingham. These projects have given countless people their very own 'Olympic Moment', and helped grow awareness of our industry and its work.
As for my Paralympic Moment, the show's finale, in which I Am What I Am reverberated around the stadium was an opportunity for us to relax, enjoy ourselves, dance, sing, and celebrate what we had accomplished. It was a joyous moment to cap one of the most exciting, incredible, and terrifying periods of my career so far.
As I reflect upon this most incredible experience, I can't help but think of the journey that's brought me where I am today. From the early days of Motionhouse, of making a show with three or four people and performing in a village hall, doing workshops in hospitals and prisons and schools, performing small shows in the street, right up to now, as we prepare to send our cast to tour China with our show Scattered, it feels somehow that everything led to this extraordinary scenario where I'm suddenly making something for a billion people worldwide.
While this is my final blog about the Opening Ceremony, the hard work continues with tours of China and the USA on the horizon, together with Motionhouse's 25th anniversary. I look forward to sharing these experiences with you in future blogs.
The final week of rehearsals has seen us move into the Olympic Stadium, which was a hugely exciting moment not only for us as the creators of the show, but for the cast too.
It's given everybody a big thrill to walk out into the stadium and see the spectacular arena close up, and also to see all of the physical elements which make our show starting to take shape.
It's a great experience for everyone, but also a demanding one for our cast of volunteers. They have to re-orientate everything so they're au fait with their positioning within the stadium, including their entrances and exits.
All of the movement has to take into account elements including objects, lighting, graphics, and the aerial performances. It's an exciting process, but also very, very complex, and for the volunteers it means that there can be a lot of waiting around before they can actually rehearse.
With the final preparations come very long working days for everyone, but the cast are doing well. We're careful to ensure they aren't overworked, but they are very willing. We carefully plan our schedule to ensure that everybody has sufficient breaks, as it's important that everybody has a good experience working on the show.
Something else that has to be taken into account is the odd tweak to the performance. Upon moving into the venue, there are always little changes to be made to get things to work the way you want them to, especially as the various layers of the show begin to build. There are various bumps and corners to be ironed out in order to make the show as visually stunning as we possibly can, but it's very enriching to see it happening.
The backroom team are working incredibly hard, from the stage managers to the designers, crew and technicians. It's a real beehive of activity. The backstage crew is an army in itself with the organisation, and they're all absolutely beavering away at full speed. It's extraordinary to watch, and great to be a part of.
Some of the pictures within the show are looking beautiful. It's an interesting process for me to work with two artistic directors who have had a fantastic vision, and to create choreography to help them to realise it. So much art is done personally, or in small groups, but they have disseminated an idea across a vast amount of people on a huge scale to create what they have in their minds. To have so many people working to achieve a vision is a very interesting and human thing to do, a real communal effort.
With a day to go, our eyes are on the prize. It's a scary and daunting, yet exciting and thrilling time.
You can watch the Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony on Wednesday 29th August on Channel 4 from 8pm.
For more information about Kevin Finnan Motionhouse visit www.motionhouse.co.uk and follow on Twitter @MotionhouseDT
The Olympic Closing Ceremony has been and gone, which means it's us next! With that realisation comes a real sobering sense of urgency.
We are now working at a site that we call our 1:1. It is an area of open ground where we have two areas of open space that are the same size as the field of play in the stadium. This allows us to practise with the right dimensions for the show. It is an amazing logistical enterprise. There are miles of tents, pre-fabricated structures and portaloos forming what is essentially a huge camp, inhabited by the cast of the show.
Daily rehearsals are taking place. For a lot of our volunteers, this means sacrifices such as booking time off work to contribute to the rehearsals, and it's really fantastic to see the effort they are putting into making the ceremony happen.
Their commitment is extraordinary, and we are all doing our best to make their experience positive. Among the team are my 'dance captains', dancers who teach the choreography and practically run the rehearsals. They are working extremely hard at the moment to make this happen, and they are a really fun team to work with.
We have two spaces at the 1:1, both marked out to the dimensions of the stadium, and we are running whole parts of the show at the same time. There are lots of things to be developed and worked upon, whilst at the same time trying to keep the group sections going. With so much going on at the same time, it's like a monumental plate spinning enterprise for us, as we run from one section to the other to oversee things!
It's daunting and thrilling to be part of, and it's very interesting to see how things are made on this scale. It's not often that you get an opportunity to work at such a size, and it's great to see how things learned in little workshops with small groups of people are scaled up to work with hundreds, even thousands at a time. For me, the fundamentals are constantly being adapted and developed, and I am learning a lot of new things and new techniques. It's extraordinary.
Another aspect is the sheer logistics of getting everybody on at the right time and the right position, then off again following the completion of their section. It takes hours of organisation to make sure everyone knows where they need to be and when. We work with a fine Mass movement team who are really experienced in stadium shows and they are a wonder to behold as they organise these movements.
With only a week until the performance, there's a lot to do until we go live at Olympic Stadium!
It often surprises some people to discover that the majority of the cast at performances such as the Olympic and Paralympic ceremonies are not, in fact, made up entirely of trained, professional performers, but rather hundreds of volunteer amateurs.
As I mentioned in my last blog, the process of creating the show involves choreographing groups of hundreds of performers to create really intricate visual effects, and the challenge increases when you consider the fact that a huge proportion of the people involve do not come from an artistic background.
It's great to see the work that the volunteers have put into preparing this show, and their enthusiasm has made the job much easier. It hasn't been easy for them - many have had to travel a long way to attend rehearsals, and much of the time has been spent working outdoors in less than ideal conditions.
There's a real positive attitude among them that they need to do their rehearsals no matter what, they're giving up their time and their effort, and it's so wonderful to see. It's a very humbling experience.
Something that really touches me is the enthusiasm of the volunteers to make the show as good as it can be. It really motivates you to do your best for them. They are putting in so much effort, and it makes you want to create something that they can be very proud of as well, which raises the bar in a very different way.
The mood at our rehearsals, even though they are difficult and challenging at times, is really, really great, and we all go forward with high spirits as we move ever closer to the big day.
For more information about Kevin Finnan and Motionhouse visit www.motionhouse.co.uk and follow on Twitter @MotionhouseDT
Kevin Finnan, artistic director of dance theatre company, Motionhouse, is the Choreographer and Movement Director for the upcoming Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony.
In an exclusive series of Birmingham Post blogs, Kevin looks back at Danny Boyle's Olympic Opening Ceremony, and offers an insight into preparations for his performance.
This week we have begun our transfer to what we call the 'one-to-one' space, where we bring our groups into an area the same size as the field of play in the Olympic Stadium.
We've been rehearsing for weeks with our cast split into groups rehearsing on different nights, but a few days ago we had our first rehearsal with 550 people all in one area. It's both exciting and terrifying at the same time, because it's the first time there's room to do the show fully, and essentially to see the show in a form that will resemble the final ceremony.
It's thrilling because you begin to see all of the fantastic visual pictures as the choreographic shapes emerge. It's a very satisfying moment, but you're also then presented with a huge amount of new information that the cast have to learn, such as all the movements around the field of play, and how to be in the right position for the choreography.
They also have to become familiar with the process of 'blocking', which is the term we use when volunteers arrange themselves around the field to achieve all of the big visual effects we make with the group, which create the patterns on the field of play for the stadium and aerial views.
This is an enormous amount of extra work for the cast to take on, and we work very closely with what we call the 'Mass Movement Team'. There's a real combined effort now to integrate choreography and mass movement so you can create the spectacle.
While it's exciting to see our performance taking shape in this manner, it's also challenging because while the cast have a huge amount of new information to take in, it's also important that what they've already learned is retained. Working at the 'one-to-one' is extremely interesting because it's a huge space and it requires enormous resources to make everything work and create a memorable spectacle that will be witnessed by the world on 29th August."
Kevin Finnan, artistic director of dance theatre company, Motionhouse, is the Choreographer and Movement Director for the upcoming Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony.
In the first of an exclusive series of Birmingham Post blogs, Kevin looks back at Danny Boyle's Olympic Opening Ceremony, and offers an insight into preparations for his performance.
Since we completed work on The Voyage, the Motionhouse and Legs On The Wall collaboration which opened the London 2012 Festival in Birmingham, I've been focusing mainly on another big project related to the Games in my role as the Choreographer for the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games.
While this project is a personal endeavour, I'll certainly be aiming to deliver a performance containing all the energy and excitement that Motionhouse productions are known for, and I'm even more determined to contribute to a truly memorable show after witnessing last week's Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games.
There are a few guaranteed seasonal goodies which never fail to amuse year after year - like that terrible jumper knitted by auntie and the naff Ferrero Rocher ads on TV. The Christmas show at Warwick Arts Centre is decidedly un-naff, more than living up to its seasonal expectations - it's usually one of the most interesting in the region, and this year is no exception.
Cinderella offers bags of fun and catch-your-breath magic for all the family without any panto nonsense - and, like our 11-year-old, you may even get the chance to dance with the prince. A word of warning, though. This version by Ben Power and Melly Still goes back to the tale as retold by the Brothers Grimm, so there are genuinely dark elements - as in all the best fairy tales.
Spymonkey's Moby Dick, currently opening a nationwide tour at Royal&Derngate, Northampton, must be the funniest show on any stage in Britain at the moment.
Given the company's global reach, that accolade will soon, no doubt, read 'anywhere in the world'. It really is that brilliant. Sly and witty, deftly debunking theatrical conventions at every turn, full of brilliantly-executed physical comedy, with warm and winning turns from a company of four magnificent performers, it is an absolute must-see.
Here's a link for you. Launched at Nottingham Playhouse today (Wednesday Sept 16) it's a new, easy-to-use website aimed at providing blind and deaf people with more information about their local theatres and the facilities they have to offer including details of British Sign Language interpreted, captioned and audio described performances.
The website also includes audio clips and a facility for screen enlargement. It also allows blind people to use their own screen readers and magnifiers effectively. Deaf people can make use of the film clips, which translate much of the site into British Sign Language.
It's easy to see why Disney's Beauty and the Beast has picked up so many award nominations. The current UK touring production, at Birmingham's Alex in June and at Stoke's Regent next week, is playing to packed houses in Northampton this week - a bit of a step change from my last few visits to take in the various elements of the Royal & Derngate's brilliant Ayckbourn season.
But this is state of the art musical theatre, filling the huge Derngate stage with clever film inserts, heart-stopping pyrotechnics, wonderful cartoon-style comedy (don't forget the 'Disney' in the title), excellent live music and some fabulous performances. A magnificent chunk of family entertainment delivered with energy by a superb company.