Review: Music of The Spheres – Ip-Art Festival

The opening event of an arts festival is the one vital show to launch an event with flair and sets the tone for the whole event. A tough gig but pull it off and there’s that much-valued ‘WOW’ factor.

This year’s Ip-Art festival, Ipswich Borough Council’s multi-disciplinary arts festival kicked off tonight with Music of The Spheres, and ambitious mix of music and aerial performance taking place in two giant transparent spheres, floating on Ipswich’s historic marina.

The advertising blurb sounded promising:

“Two giant spheres – the largest the size of a four-storey building – floating on the water at Ipswich Marina. Inside one, suspended in the centre six metres above the water, an aerial dancer weaves up and down on a silk trapeze.

The second Sphere weaves a ballet on the water with a flute player suspended inside. The music, created live by the flautist, is transmitted by radio microphone to the public on the quayside. Computers and surround sound PA create a whole orchestra of flutes. Searchlights and smoke effects complete the scene to create a unique theatrical event.”
So does it work? It is impossible to say.

In their wisdom, organisers had chosen to stage the performance on a crowded part of the Ipswich Waterfront. While the waterfront has undergone something of a regeneration recently, at its heart it is still a busy marina with only a small section of open water in front of the old custom house. The marina is even busier this weekend with one of the largest assemblies of Thames Barges seen in many years for the annual Pin Mill Barge Race. Unless you are lucky enough to live in one of the waterfront apartments, or dining in one of the many restaurants, your viewing options are restricted to a stretch of narrow quayside.

A flat quayside, low water and crowds with umbrellas to combat the typical British weather not conducive for viewing. In fact, the only comments one could hear from fellow viewers was that of disappointment for not being able to see.

Ok, so restricted views are nothing new in theatre – surely the ‘orchestra of flutes’ and lighting effects would compensate? If you are planning an orchestral based musical performance you need to think carefully about the sound system – what do organisers do? Place a large part of the audience in front of one of Ipswich’s most popular live music pubs with its sound system drowning out any chance of hearing the performance.

After 10 minutes struggling to catch a glimpse or hear a snippet of the performance large sections of the audience began to depart. Given their experience of the launch of the festival what’s the likelihood of their return to future events? A home goal for Ipswich Borough Council.

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