Friday, November 25, 2011

Should the circus come to Lyttelton? 

Further to my last posting about Oamaru, this is a poster for the same show I found so brilliantly choreographed, timed, acted, performed etc at the Oamaru Opera house (I am sure The Loons won't mind me further promoting their promo poster, taken from their website).

One of the few criticisms I would have had of the show was the name "Berlin Burlesque", was too generic, lacked its own personality, a distinctive identity, a name to invite enquiry. Someone else obviously thought so too! This is a world class show, and I imagine could literally evolve into that. That said where other countries would find a set of genuine twins as talented as the Twisty Twins,  acrobats but with superb timing, balance and humour I am not sure!

I get the impression that a major aspect of this theatre company's first high standards of performance and high level of acrobatic skills is, in part, linked to the background of some performers who have attended or graduated from the CIRCO arts, the School of Performing Arts at CPIT (Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology - a tertiary level multi-discipline education provider).

There is no doubt that institutions that focus research and learning and develop fields of skill , in any field at all,  do an enormous amount to lift the standards of professional supply and practice in that industry. 

Buskers and Circo Arts amongst others appear to have produced new highs in quality street and circus style acts in this town, that's for sure.  (And wouldn't a school of public transport  studies do wonders for the woefully low, last century, standards of transit organisation, planning, supply and information marketing typical in Christchurch and most of New Zealand!).

As you will see from the CPIT CIRCO arts web page, they have lost their home in the large auditorium of what used to be the High School hall of "Christchurch tech". tonce upon a time he poorer boy's trades college. It has been damaged by the earthquakes.  Likewise The Loons Club theatre in Lyttelton has also been damaged, though reparable, alas unlike the iconic Harbour Light Theatre, now demolished as are quite a few other mainstreet (London Street) buildings in Lyttelton.

I lived in Lyttelton for four years in the 1990s, including running a small business and renting in London Street and one of the great things I thought about Lyttelton is on both the main cross streets, Norwich Quay and London Street, there were buildings totally out of proportion to all the others!!

One was the much criticised and condemned (artistically) little 1960's style high rise on Norwich Quay - bizarrely still standing when so few others are (as in this photo of demolition crews removing the older shops and hotel buildings wrecked in the earthquake a few months ago). It is so ridiculously quirky I can't help loving it.

The other building "way out of proportion" was the Harbour Light Theatre built as a cinema in 1916. 
The size reflects the huge impact of movies and the huge amount of money to be made (especially in a port town with hundreds of seamen with a pocket full of money looking for entertainment) back at that era.

The Harbour Light was so much apart of the street scene in London Street I wonder how many other people ever stopped to think how much it absurdly overshadowed its neighbours little two storey colonial shops. And yet for me this disjuncture of sizes, on both streets, worked. In size and style these variations it was the slightly discordant note that helped give Lyttelton its element of quirky charm and stopped it from being merely colonial and cute.

A touch of Hollywood-before-talkies glamour and grandeur in a small colonial port
the 95 year old Harbourlight photographed just before it's final performance

[There are also some very evocative photos of Lyttelton as was - including the Harbour Light Theatre on the web site of one of the bands that played the Harbour Light, Liquid Blue) 

I hope when they rebuild Lyttelton that this low profile with protrusions sort of image is retained. But of course such things can not be planned in the uncontrolled purchase and sale of properties or developers dreams. So far the Draft plans look OK but miss a bit of the quirky flair!


Unless..... the Department of Education and the Christchurch City Council (Or CERA or whoever) realised that rebuilding a campus of CIRCO Arts in Lyttelton could have a powerful synergy! 

This admittedly curve ball creative move could do heaps to foster the port town's revival, image and greater Christchurch's cultural diversity image....a flow on helping attracting tourists (in general) and foreign students, or students from other parts of NZ (in general). Lyttelton of the last thirty years has established an association with alternate culture and arts, and many people of kindred spirit are in turn attracted to its landscape of rugged towering peaks, steep streets and colonial cottages.  

I imagine the potential capacity of this particular campus would need to be less than 100 students a year, it is a highly specialised and intensive field. But by rebuilding on Lyttelton's mainstreet (possibly on one of the landmark corner sites or indeed on the site of the Harbour Light Theatre itself,  with some nod in style to this landmark passed) room would exist to create the big gymnasium style theatre space and permanent public performance spaces, a circus arena or smaller theatres, as well as lecture halls, offices etc. 

My guess is the physical performing arts is a relatively unique field, without many students also doing courses or papers in other fields, so such a campus could well stand alone, albeit plenty of opportunity would no doubt exist to interact with other CPIT students and faculties in town or at Sullivan Avenue. With a 15 minute bus service, a campus in Lyttelton would get the quicker trip benefits of lower loading back-flow in peak periods, whilst helping to boost patronage without the cost of added vehicles needed. A Harbourlight size building body would give ample room for trapeze and performance art that can be very vertical as well as feet on the ground.

Centring this campus in Lyttelton brings into the town, to live, or daily a lot of creative (unusually healthy!) young people,  a noticeable presence in the main street, and is sure to help re-generate a whole new group of associated cafes, clubs, music venues and other small theatres. For local landlords and residents taking boarders a real boon.

Just as shopping malls need a few large tenants, supermarkets or department stores etc, as anchor tenants, it seems to me the slightly quirky charm and alternative magic of Lyttelton needs a centre piece institution, a building of size that punches above its weight, helps define the (marketable) image of Lyttelton - what better than a (world famous to be!) School of CIRCO arts?**

Lyttelton recovery by the loony fringe!! Probably looking at the world upside down. Again. You bet

Of course I know nothing about this field...but raise the possibility nonetheless. You'll never be a good clown if you are not prepared to make a fool of yourself!

Another iconic loss, an era gone  - ainside the Harbourlight as Eric Bogle plays his last tour ("The band played Waltzing Matilda" of course) a bunch of mainly grey hairs in this case  (like myself) listen. in the background the very evocative "faded" (sepia), slightly stilted and "caught in time" stylised scenes from famous movies painted so adeptly by Tanya Wolfkamp**,  commissioned by owners Tom Jones and Helen Hobbs when they took over the former cinema in the early 1990s.

May the spirit of 70 years cinema and almost 20 years of live (and usually alternative and less mainstream or commercial) performance rise from the dirt where the Harbourlight once stood!!

And in the meantime bit more promo for a great show....

Hanussen-The Palace of Burlesque

Jack Mann Auditorium at the  University of Canterbury

January 4,5,6,7,11,12,13,14   2012

7th January show starts at 3 PM

All other shows start 8 PM

This posting was updated  on 29 November 2011

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