Trish Wheatley: searches for a story
Battle for the Winds had a big billing. The previous day the full-to-capacity crowd at the Weymouth live site had watched the Olympic opening ceremony on the big screens. Would this regional show impress the partisan Dorset crowd? Huge cheers for the Dorset Wind gathering machine erupted when announced.
On being invited to promenade around the site to see the machines from all corners of the region, it was nearly impossible to do so due to the sheer number of people. What it was possible to see of the bizarre and intriguing characters dressed in exquisitely designed costumes that wouldn’t seem out of place in Alice’s ‘Wonderland’ was fantastic. Their interaction with the crowd fully engaged children and was brilliantly entertaining.
Cirque Bijou’s aerial battles were visually stunning, although a strong sense of the story was lacking. The show moved into the Breathe section on the main stage and it became a very real platform for integrated work as the breathers entered.
Group dance sequences involving disabled and non-disabled artists were performed with all the flair and professionalism one demands from work at this level. Again, the costumes (Arts University College Bournemouth) really made the piece shine and they gave a well-rehearsed and thoroughly enjoyable performance.
As it progressed the show moved ever closer to pantomime with Doldrum the baddie making an explosive entrance via military landing craft and a great deal of booing from the young (and young at heart) audience. Doldrum’s thunderous threats of peril for the winds were enhanced by a combination of live-action, big screen video work and music onstage. Of particular note was the use of electric guitar to punctuate and illustrate the action.
As the show came to a close the breathers took a central role in the action, which from a Disability Arts perspective was fantastic to see. They were written into the performance as an integral and vital part. It would have been supported further had the action not been so divided between the stage for aerial work and the main stage. Having a promenading performance on a beach was impossible for wheelchair using artists to be part of, let alone any audience members with limited mobility. I was left confused by the disabled performers that did play a part in the aerial performance at the end. Perhaps again it was the lack of storytelling that left me disappointed, but having seen the skills of Cirque Bijou early on the breathers seemed to flounder up on the crane.
The atmosphere, all-important British weather, the crowd and the performances made Battle for the Winds a very enjoyable night out. I was left with the content feeling that this was a fantastic showcase for integrated work that has received probably its biggest ever audience in the South West. It has to be said though, that the most powerful moment came right at the end of the evening. The torch lit parade of 2012 people wading in the shallows of Weymouth Bay was the perfect, tranquil, but also celebratory end to an enjoyable evening of family fun and entertainment.