I first saw Cloud Gate’s production of Moon Water in a small venue in Barcelona, and its purity and coherence amazed me. There is a gentleness and power about the piece that is quite unique. The performer’s performance is not just physical and cerebral but in some indefinable way spiritual.
I had been aware that we were going to put Cloudgate on since the beginning of 2007 and knew that it was important to get to see the company and to meet up with their technical team to discuss the forthcoming UK tour. The company was touring in and around Europe so Heather (Heather Knight, Coordinator of the Dance Consortium) and I set about trying to find a date that both of us could do that coincided with the company being in Europe. Much easier said than done. It swiftly became apparent that Heather and I were not going to be able to go together as our diaries were somewhat complicated. But just getting Richard Lee their Technical Manager and I together was a challenge. Cloudgate went to Italy and I followed a week later with Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, but we missed each other. We overlapped in Moscow by a day but were both too busy to meet and when Cloudgate came to Sadlers Wells I was out of the country. It was becoming quite silly but Richard and I were building up a very good email relationship.
So it was not until the company’s performances in Barcelona at the end of June that an opportunity to meet up occured. Even though I was going to miss the fit-up, which normally we endeavour to see at least once, it seemed worth it. And indeed it was, just getting to walk around the stage with Richard and to meet his team painted a very clear picture. The show is performed on a rake that sits in front of a mirrored wall, the floor is painted with a white, grey, black swirl that is a bit resonant of early Dr Who (if you are old enough to remember black and white TV) All very attractive and relatively simple. However behind the set there are three huge tubs of water. Very odd. It turned out that for the last 15 minutes or so of the show warmed water is pumped from the top of the rake forming a shallow moving pool on the stage that the dancers perform in. For most of us splashing around in pools of water has the elegance of ducks on land mixed with toddlers puddle jumping. The Moon Water dancers take wet play and make it elegant and strange, the water seems to dance and leap, the droplets caught in the side lights like crystals. To accommodate the flowing water the stage is surrounded by a trough which forms part of a water recycling system.
Now water is not one of the first things that you think about when you are setting up a dance show – Singing in the Rain aside. But the company has been doing this for some years now and knows their stuff. Most importantly they bring everything with them, the water heaters, the water tanks, all the pumps and the piping, the only thing missing is the water. There is another piece that the company does which involves 3 tonnes of dyed rice raining on the dancers for the duration of the dance. Usually they even tour the rice, but in Moscow for some obscure bureaucratic reason this was deemed impossible and the company had to relay on locally dyed rice. It turned out that dying rice was not a skill that the local scenic artists have, and the show was compromised. I am however optimistic that we can supply the water here in the UK.
Having wandered around for a while and taken a quantity of photographs Richard and I retired to a local café to discuss schedules, crew calls and all the other details that need to be nailed down as early as possible in order to make the tour a slick enjoyable experience that all Dance Consortium tours are. During this meeting it became apparent that Richard knows his show like the back of his hand and that in this company the dancers and technicians are all part of one mutually supportive group, not something that you often find. Another thing became apparent is that Richard is a coffee connoisseur as he left the café with 6 kilos of the house coffee.
Water is not one of the first things that you think about when you are setting up a dance show.
Once the show finished the get-out started and it swiftly became obvious that the Spaniards were more interested in deconstructing the theatre than helping Cloud Gate load their container. I had direct experience of this when one of the Spanish crew dropped a pile of cable on my head and only shrugged by way of apology as I struggled to lift myself off the floor while trying to blink into singularity the double vision that had descended as swiftly as the bump had grown on my head. Fairly soon the get-out bottlenecked around the container as by this point the Spaniards had satisfied their agenda and were picking up every available piece of set and rushing it to the container. As they rushed they waived it at the poor unfortunate George Lin, the company’s Master Carpenter, who was trying to conduct a carefully considered and efficient load in the face of a crowd shouting like fans at a rock concert.
Realising that there was nothing that we could do at this point Richard and I retired to the dressing rooms to finish discussing the forthcoming tour. As we walked towards his temporary office he pointed into a smoke filled dressing room.
“Oh that is the temple. The company has a temple where they burn joss sticks and pray.”
“Really, excellent. Do you need the joss sticks? It’s just that fire regulations in the UK are a bit stringent and that could be an issue”
“The joss sticks are very important. It’s not a problem is it?”
“No, I am sure it will be fine” I replied weakly.
Up until this moment it had all seemed so simple, but we had now tripped over the hidden challenge; there is no problem staging a dance piece in a flowing lake on a small hill in the UK. We can accommodate that without turning a hair but if we want to light a joss stick in a dressing room for religious purposes then all sorts of trouble starts up.
I flew back to the UK wondering how to approach this little conundrum.
Through a combination of bringing in extra firemen, isolating fire zones and opening windows, all were confident that a way would be found.
Having returned to the UK I sent Richard a proposed schedule and technical rider. This was a summary of what we had talked about and is an outline of how many crew are required to build the show with a schedule of what is expected to happen on each day. The technical rider is a fairly detailed document that is sent to all the venues and it explains what the show is and then outlines what the venue is expected to supply. For this show we had decided that we would tour most of the lights needed for the show, hiring them from a company in London, and we would only ask the venues to supply the front of house lights, and the sound system. Beyond that Cloud Gate would be bringing everything.
Having sent off the information I expected an immediate reply from Richard but things got pretty complicated for him as the tour he was on at the time progressed and it was some time before he was able to confirm the schedule and tech rider. In the meantime I contacted all the venues and they were undeterred by the technical requirements. The shrine, as expected, was a problem but it is a rare Dance Consortium venue that cannot find a solution and through a combination of bringing in extra firemen, isolating fire zones and opening windows, all were confident that a way would be found. All we needed was to hear back from Richard.
Now I know that Richard is a very hard working chap, so the delays are not of his making, I know that he is hard working because whenever you email him he replies almost immediately, I have had emails from him that he has sent at 3am, 4am and 6am his time. In fact I am not convinced that he sleeps at all. But then we already know that Richard is a coffee connoisseur so that may explain why he is always awake.
Richard and I were eventually able to confirm the schedule and the rider and we agreed that it would make the tour a lot smoother if we employed two British technicians. There were a number of good reasons for this; some of the tour dates are very tight, for example finishing in Cardiff on Wednesday night and getting into Edinburgh on Thursday morning and it is not possible to do this without sending a team up to Edinburgh in advance. It seemed unreasonable to split the Cloud Gate team and to ask a deputy to lead a get-in or a get-out in a foreign country so we thought that we would get a pair of Brits to do this advance work, one to concentrate on the lighting and one on the stage. Furthermore by hiring an entire lorry load of lights we were introducing an unknown factor to the Cloud Gate Company who are used to working with lights that have been rigged before they arrive. It seemed appropriate to employ somebody who could look after all these lights. Luckily we were able to get Nick Mumford who has already worked with the Dance Consortium on the Australian Dance Theatre and Breakin’ Convention tours and Jim Thearl who worked at the Bristol Old Vic for years before its sad closure in 2007.
The gods of transport were smiling on us
So the lights were booked, the lorries were booked, the UK crew contracted and all was looking good. Then disaster struck. Cloudgate’s rehearsal studios burnt down on February 11th destroying not just the rehearsal space but also all of the technical archive and all of the costumes for the UK tour. Richard and his team suddenly had an urgent problem to deal with.
Letters of support were sent and we backed off to give Richard and his team room to concentrate on their immediate problems. But time crept on and unless Cloud Gate was going to cancel the tour – which they had announced to the press that they would not do just hours after the fire – then a container full of special dance floors, mirrored flats, costumes and water tanks would have to be loaded in Taiwan. And remarkably, given all their other problems, Richard and his team got it loaded on time.
With the container at sea and the company in rehearsals all we could do was wait.
On the Thursday before the Company was due to arrive I got a phone call from Paul Richardson the Technical Director of Sadler’s Wells, “have you heard that the Cloud Gate container is delayed?” “No, what has happened?” It seemed that the vessel that was transporting the container with the show in had been delayed during its crossing and our container was not expected to clear customs until Tuesday, a whole day after we should have started. Many phone calls ensued and all our contacts were marshalled. Sea transport is not very precise and nobody was very clear as to when the vessel was expected to dock. Under these circumstances all you can do is prepare and hope. A lorry was arranged to be at the docks at 5am on Monday morning, the earliest that the container could be released, and we rescheduled to start rigging the lights at 8am rather than the set that was in the container.
The gods of transport were smiling on us and the container turned up at 10:30am.
So they had arrived. After months of planning Richard and I could not resist a grin of satisfaction as we watched the UK and Taiwanese crews putting this extrordinary show together.