Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in 3D @ The Symphony Hall Birmingham, 21st April 2011

Sometimes you get the opportunity to see and review something entirely different. And this performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in 3D certainly is living up to that expectation — taking a beautiful venue, a full world class symphony orchestra playing classical music, contemporary dance and ground-breaking technological advances to create a truly stunning and revolutionary interpretation of dance, performance and 3D technology. Wow!

Invited to a pre-show rehearsal, which unfortunately didn’t happen, we had the opportunity to look behind the scenes, to see how it was delivered, how it would be achieved. Two years in development, this show needs the right venue to deliver such a diverse and complex show. And Birmingham is lucky. It has such a venue in The Symphony Hall!

To the side of the stage a blackened alcove — where contemporary dancer Julia Mach will perform — with meticulously pinpoint accurate cameras, relaying the performance to a live edit and then streamed through 4 massive dual lensed 3D projectors, 35 metres to a simply huge screen above the stage, for audience to view in 3D glasses. The delay, we are told, is merely second from actual performance to screen viewing. On the rest of the stage City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) — even some of the orchestra members instruments have sensors, allowing the interaction of sound to compliment and interact with the onscreen visuals.

Days in rehearsals and set-up — with the powerful projectors giving out so much heat that the air conditioning system is struggling to cope – this is truly a brave and radical leap to merge classical music with the latest in visual opulence. The visual representation will visualise the change of a person into virtual space — the breakdown and merging of humanity to data. A true compliment to the music.

And so to the main performance, the first of two performances tonight, both around 45 minutes long. The first part, in two movements, is the CBSO alone performing brief works by Varese and Ligeti. The first an abstract mixture of loud sound, the second a haunting melody – definitely would be used for a film score or drama mystery, almost waiting for the bad to leap through the screen. With this section, you just listen to the music, there is no visual distraction. Close your eyes, you can hear why the CBSO are a world class orchestra.

In the introduction the announcer said that the dancer, Jane Mach, had spent most of the previous evening in casualty. Well you wouldn’t have known, as she took her place on the blackened alcove, the lights went down and on went the 3D glasses.

This was all streamed live as the dancer contorted into positions, the 3D interactivity commenced – first with signs and squiggles drawn on the screen, and then emerging into space before your eyes, so you could almost reach out and touch them. The screen effects were clever, predominant black background with morphing images, and the dancer moving, all cleverly choreographed in the with the music. And they were right – there was no delay in the process – the dancer was in time to what was happening on screen. The visuals were reminiscent of a cross between Disney’s Fantastia and the original Tron movie.

For me, the best 3D effects were the simple ones – the more complex imagery of the dancer positioning herself in such a manner that she emerged from the screen, occasionally appeared to blur, but that could have been my eyesight or seat positioning ( it must be very difficult to ensure that the viewing perspective is the same for an audience in the round). One part, took dismembered arms legs and morphed them so they were adjoined to the upside down to arms and legs – while the dancer continued to move – the screen showed a Daliesque vision in time to a crunching movement of the music. (For metal heads – you would know as the introduction to Metallica’s symphonic album ‘S&M’).

Tonight’s performance was very, very clever – the technology, commitment and work put into creating such a feast was impressive – the CBSO are truly wold class, the dancer incredible and the capability of the technology – a brave mix of classical music, art and dance – hugely inspiring.

The slight downside is that the musical performance of the CBSO was so slick, that it became background to the visuals. And I think our expectations of the visual imagery are higher than what appeared – that is not to say that what was achieved in a live performance wasn’t incredibly clever and shouldn’t be applauded – maybe we just expect more these days…

For those who think classical music isn’t them (and I have to admit knowing little about it, so apologies if I’ve got some of the technical terms incorrect), these days such music surrounds us, in adverts, programmes and films. And to be performed by one of the best orchestras in the world – you should take the opportunity to take a look (even if it’s not your scene) as we are truly lucky to have such a resource in the city. As for tonight’s performance – it was truly different – to bring arts and dance with classical music – worth taking a look if you get the opportunity – all should be applauded for taking the risk, for putting on something that is so different. If you think 45 minutes is short – it’s not – watching 3D in such a depth, with a full multimedia symphonic experience is actually quite tiring. The length is just right.

Next is London, and the Royal Festival Hall for the opening weekend the Festival of Britain. Take a look on the Symphony Hall’s interactive link for a preview of what it is all about!

Review: Zyllah Moranne-Brown

For the rehearsal unfortunately the photo opportunity didn’t come off (thanks to John Kennedy for offering his services at short notice) and no pictures were allowed at the main performances. Thanks to Lyle and the team at Symphony Hall for the pre-show tour.

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