Sunday, May 23, 2010

La Fura dels Baus

I was in Duisburg Ruhrort on Thursday evening for the opening of the Duisburger Akzente, a festival of cultural events, and I enjoyed a performance by La Fura dels Baus, a Catalonian dance/theater troop known for spectacular interactive performances. Thursday night's event didn't disappoint, even with the Kulturhauptstadt media machine in overdrive.

And yesterday I experienced another event planned for the Pfingsten weekend: yellow hot air balloons that float above the Ruhrgebiet, marking the site of each former coal mining shaft. I was at the Landschaft Park to witness the spectacle and I expected to see the whole of the Ruhrgebiet spread out before me, dotted here and there with hundreds of bright yellow spheres. What I hadn't reckoned with: the Ruhrgebiet is flat as a pancake; there's plenty of smog even with the industry mostly gone; the balloons were fairly small and they only went up about 80 meters. The result was a little disappointing when viewed from the Aussichtsturm at the Park.

I'm sure it was exciting for those who were releasing the balloons at the various mines, and probably it looked pretty cool from an airplane. But from any given earth-bound point in the Ruhrgebiet, it was a little less spectacular than the hype may have suggested. The photo above, taken from the top floor of the Essen Rathaus looking north toward Zeche Zollverein, shows the event to better effect.

The Akzente, on the other hand, was everything it was cracked up to be and more. Newspapers report that over 80,000 people came to the Mecatorinsel in Duisburg to view the show and it's unlikely that any went home less than satisfied. Two huge cranes lifted the performers high into the air and they swung out over the audience, lit by a combination of colored lights, projected images and enough fireworks to celebrate Independence Day in even the most pyrotechnically inclined of US cities. Supposedly, the performance entitled Global Reingold, was an homage to Gerhardt Mercator, who was born and lived in Duisburg (who knew?) and Wagner, but with angels flying overhead and a sixty foot high marionette giving birth in the crowd, it was hard to keep the conceptual aspect of the work straight. When the puppet's water broke, there just wasn't time for deconstruction: we all broke and ran. My shirt wasn't completely dry until I arrived home in Essen well after midnight.

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