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We Created a Spectacle! Part 1 / 7 September 2012

It has been a whirlwind of rehearsals, logistical preparation, unexpectedly high levels of media interest, nervous, exciting and emotional performances and recognising that 'Creating the Spectacle!' is much bigger than any of us had anticipated. It has been such a hectic time that this blog has simply had to wait while we make quick financial decisions and prepare for this unique series of events that have pushed all of the Freewheeling team to the limits both physically and emotionally. 

Two weeks ago I was up at DaDaFest which is one of my highlights in the Disability Arts calendar. Whilst in Liverpool I sat out of a week of performance preparation with some relief as the rest of the Freewheeling team was down at the Paralympic sailing venue of Weymouth and Portland, specifically Osprey Leisure Centre, making final (but quite often big) changes to Sue's pool-based performances. On my return, still tired but refreshed from seeing plenty of quality art, there was still a mountain of work to do. We all got stuck in, promoting ticket sales, installing lighting and making the space suitable for the performances. 

Being a unique live performance in a swimming pool, it was something that none of us had ever done before. With that came much uncertainty about the final product. The expertise of Adam Benjamin (choreographer and producing mentor) and Tim Hardy (lighting genius) boosted our expectations of what was possible and brought a dynamic element just at the right time. 

Within a couple of hours of the premiere disaster struck when one of the footplates on the underwater wheelchair snapped, such was the strain it had been put under during its development, the filming in Egypt and rehearsals. The team stepped up to the time sensitive challenge and made last minute repairs so that our waiting audience would not be disappointed. The performance was further complicated by the growing media frenzy around the project with both BBC and ITV regional television crews in attendance and well as several other reporters. 

My heart was in my mouth and I felt as sick as I used to before piano exams as Sue was processed around to the poolside. As she sat perched on the side of the 3.1 metres deep ex-navy swimming pool. I could barely watch yet at the same time could not keep my eyes off her as the culmination of our years of hard graft came to a climax. There was a palpable sense of anticipation as she did her last minute safety checks. Was she really going to push herself in off the side of the pool? It all seemed to happen in slow motion as she leaned forward enough for the chair to tip, arms out and head up in defiance she glided into the water to take flight in a weightless magical environment. The underwater audience at the shallow end, many of them new-that-day to scuba diving, were blowing bubbles up as she danced through the space. The poolside audience watched the performance live on a big screen which acted as a portal into the underwater theatre that had been created. 

The beautiful melodies of Jack Martin and Simon Reece which feature in the 'Creating the Spectacle!' films accompanied the performance. We were treated to fifteen minutes of this weird and wonderful vision: a wheelchair - underwater. So many people said it couldn't be done. Sue and the Freewheeling team have proved them wrong and after a short pause Sue emerged at the surface with a red glowing trail behind her to a rapturous applause. 

The reg flags that had been used in the Fleet performance in June we handed out to the audience in the pool who unexpectedly became part of the performance as they swam out into the middle of the pool waving them in appreciation. 

Later in the evening we were able to see, for the first time, the culmination of our efforts with 360 degree cinema in the ICCI dome at Weymouth. It was a moment of realisation of what we had all achieved. For me personally, this was a deep realisation as I had been the person holding the rig to film 360 footage in the Red Sea only having learned to dive a few month previous. The final film was a very special one, commissioned by LOCOG for the Paralympic Flame Festivals that had stunned crowds in Belfast, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Aylesbury. 'Finding the Flame' shot by Norman Lomax of Moving Content was a stunning piece that tells the story of a woman in a wheelchair underwater who discovers the Paralympic torch in a cave.