It’s been raining pretty constantly in London for the past couple of months, but yesterday the clouds parted and let the sun shine down on the city, as if they knew that something kinda special was going on.
An American dance company, the STREB Extreme Action Company, had lined up a series of seven separate performances across the capital, Surprises STREB: One Extraordinary Day, each of them taking place in and around iconic city spaces. The locations and times of each performance were only released on the day via Twitter and Facebook, and only at the end of each preceding piece.
The first one, Waterfall, kicked off at 7.30am, with a series of dancers bungee jumping off the Millennium Bridge.
That’s rather an early start for a Sunday, but we made it along to their next piece, Sky Walk, which featured the company’s 62 year old founder, Elizabeth Streb, and two male dancers, walking down the vertical glass face of City Hall.
Creating the same kind of awe as Royal De Luxe’s Sultan’s Elephant piece from 2006, the dancers slowly appeared over the top of City Hall at 10am, to a soundtrack by David Van Tieghem (you can hear samples for each piece on the Surprises website). Like a trio of otherworldly superbeings glinting in the sun, they gradually stepped their way down the facade of the building, straining against the ropes that kept them from plunging downward. It was a bit like the solemn sentinels from Antony Gormley’s Event Horizon had suddenly come alive, and were making first contact. Occasionally their shoes slipped on the glass, and you could see the fear and excitement dancing across their faces as they regained their footing and composure, while the crowd whooped with glee.
It was an absolute pleasure to watch.
The dancers and the crowd then moved northwards to Paternoster Square for the next piece, Turn. From there they made their way west to Trafalgar Square, where they performed the piece Ascension in front of the National Gallery. We caught up with them as they moved across the square to the base of Nelson’s Column, for the piece Human Fountain, which started at 5.30, with the rain which would have meant the cancellation of the show thankfully staying away. In this piece, a four-storey scaffold had been erected, and the performers dove off it from heights of three metres, six metres, and ten and a half metres, to land face first on a worryingly slim crash-mat below.
It was spellbinding to watch the eagerness and joy as they hurled themselves off the scaffold into the air, their movements choreographed to perfection to prevent them crashing into each other in the air or on the mat below.
From Trafalgar Square they sped on to the Southbank, to perform their last two pieces, Speed Angels, and Human Eye, the latter of those seeing the dancers entwining themselves amongst the spokes of the London Eye.
All in all the day was a breathtaking mix of dance, art, music and circus. Put together under the banner of the Lift Festival, and the London 2012 Festival, the day was a great example of how the much-heralded Cultural Olympiad could actually be something quite brilliant.
Free performances from incredible performers who genuinely inspire awe and joy. That’s no bad thing. And of course, it didn’t hurt that the weather played along too.
All images © Alistair Hall