Category Archives: Beary Artist

ALICE, a Whimsical and Enchanting Extravaganza

Septime Webre’s ALICE (in wonderland) has made it to Perth. Yay!

Chihiro Nomura as Alice
Chihiro Nomura as Alice and Juan Carlos Osma as Lewis Carroll

The costumes are by much-awarded Canadian designer Liz Vandal who has been collaborating with Septime Webre for decades. Webre and Vandal are clearly soul mates. He favours jazzed-up energy — his conception of Alice is a vivid reflection of his own double-espresso-strength personality. Vandal’s costumes are a visual riot to match. She won the well-deserved award for Best Costume Design at the Hong Kong Dance Awards for her designs in this production. We’ve seen some of her other costumes in Cirque du Soleil’s Ovo. Her imagination is boundless. Every exquisite colourful costume nails it, capturing the essence of the character. Surely, next she will be designing costumes for little bears 🙂 Now, that’s a challenge!

The Queen of Hearts looks like a voracious trap-door spider and has a red heart embroidered not where it should be but at the site of her desires.

Julio Blanes as the White Rabbit and Glenda Garcia Gomez as the Queen of Hearts

The flamingo costumes for the corps de ballet are works of art, while the Mad Hatter is a riot of colour. The Duchess rustles about in a big-skirted black plastic dress, edged with black and white gingham.

Juan Carlos Osma as the Mad Hatter
Christian Luck as the Duchess
Jesse Homes and Matthew Edwardson as Tweedledee and Tweedledum

This version of the ballet – styled as ALICE (in wonderland) – is choreographed by acclaimed American ballet director Septime Webre. It began its world circuit in the US in 2012 and last year it was performed in Hong Kong and Taipei before this premiere in Western Australia. It has arrived with a string of renowned American professionals: Johanna Wilt, répétiteur ballet coach, assisting Webre since the tour began; Clifton Taylor, lighting designer and Steve O’Shea, associate lighting designer; composer Matthew Pierce; and puppet designer extraordinaire, Eric Van Wyk, who crafted the 5-metre-long Jabberwocky.

Award-winning set designer James Kronzer kept the audience gasping with simple but ever-changing sets – including 166 props – from revolving doors to mechanics that enabled Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Matthew Edwardson and Jesse Homes) to ride their tandem bicycle above the stage and Alice to grow and shrink. When Alice grows and then shrinks, so do the brightly-coloured doors she’s trying to get out of. There’s a huge key-hole and bubbles and big moving signs, a pool of glimmering water, festoons of flowers, a giant flamingo cut-out, a huge moon and house-sized toadstools. Dazzling.

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party
Queen’s Garden Party

There’s a saying that actors should never perform with dogs or children but a plethora of ‘child guest artists’, admirably well-disciplined (unlike the ones in the audience), did their best to steal the show as flamingos, piggies and hedgehogs and there must have been small miracles happening behind the scenes with 214 costume changes. In this land of wonders, cuteness abounds. If the baby flamingos don’t slay you, the fuzzy, somersaulting hedgehogs surely will.

Matthew Pierce’s evocative music is the crowning luxury of this ballet and the cherry on top. A specially commissioned score, Webre worked with Pierce on each scene, deciding on exact key, timbre and tempo. So precise are they, that you can hear the Cheshire Cat purr and miaow in the brass and strings; so discordant are they when the Queen of Hearts appears that you learn to anticipate her entrance and tremble in your seat.

Chihiro Nomura as Alice and Matthew Lehmann as the Cheshire Cat
Glenda Garcia Gomez as the Queen of Hearts and Matthew Lehmann as King of Hearts
Chihiro Nomura as Alice and Julio Blanes as the White Rabbit
Alexa Tuzil as the Caterpillar

This is a revisionist Alice, belonging to an age where we have our doubts about Carroll and his other-world. There is a deliberate playing-up of adult content: flamingos straight out of any fin-de-siècle Parisian night club, a male dancer in travesti as the Duchess, and a male corps de ballet. The Queen of Hearts is quite the dominatrix, all verticals and angles, who with evil red pointe shoes stepped on the bare backs of her male entourage. The Cheshire Cat was rather suggestive in his pas de deux with Alice, although she, more at home with the furry little creatures, was seemingly immune. There are enough layers for the grown-ups to observe and the little ones not to notice.

The memory of the performance will be primarily visual. From the scarlet unitards of the Queen of Hearts to the flapping cardboard tutus of the playing cards (a sly inversion of the traditional tulle), and from the sight of characters suspended from the ceiling (luridly orange-haired Tweedledum and Tweedledee on a tandem) to the spectacle of Alice growing to an extraordinary height, her dress billowing out, and somebody else’s legs doing the footwork beneath, the production is alluring, amusing and lavishly detailed.

With any luck, Alice will make it into the regular repertoire of the company. We will happily see it again!

Verdi, Shakespeare and Macbeth

Little Honey and Puffles are at His Majesty’s Theatre suitably dressed to compete with the magnificent costumes from WAO’s Macbeth 🙂

Antoinette Halloran as Lady Macbeth and James Clayton as Macbeth

Verdi adored Shakespeare. Besides the three operas he took from him — Macbeth, Otello, and Falstaff — he considered (though briefly) doing a Tempest or Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet. He considered for a very long time, and came near to creating, an opera from his favorite play, King Lear. He did not take lightly the duty of being true to Shakespeare. When he read the score of Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet, he said of the librettists, “Poor Shakespeare! How they have mistreated him!” He had no intention of mistreating the great dramatist himself.

Macbeth was unprecedented in Verdi’s art both for its psychological penetration and the refinement of its orchestral colouring. With it, Verdi jumped musically 50 years ahead. The tinta, the colour of the opera, is very shadowy and there are few very famous arias. The difficulty with Macbeth is that you must consider it not as a series of arias, but as an organic body – there is an unbroken dramatic line running from the first to the last note of the opera.

Macbeth is ‘early Verdi’ in that it was written before 1850, but in terms of the specifics of the opera, it is not ‘early Verdi’ at all, it’s very mature Verdi. And while Verdi made some revisions in 1865, for the Paris premiere, he didn’t alter very much. He refined some elements, but basically what he wrote in 1847 was already a fantastic opera.

Verdi wrote the initial draft for the libretto, and then he nagged his librettist Francesco Piave into producing exactly the text he wanted. A letter reads: ‘This tragedy is one of the greatest creations of the human spirit. If we can’t do something great with it, let us at least try to do something out of the ordinary.’ What Verdi wanted from the libretto was not the beauty of the poetry but the fire of the drama. And in this, Piave did a fantastic job. If we look at Macbeth’s libretto from a literary point of view, there are some less successful moments, but Piave never lost the high dramatic temperature that Verdi required.

A portrait of Giuseppe Verdi, painted in 1886 by Giovanni Boldini.

A triumph at its 1847 Florence premiere, then revised for Paris in 1865, ‘L’opera senza amore’, as the Italians dubbed it, has been derided for its stylistic inconsistencies, and for the alleged triteness of the witches’ choruses. Yet most opera lovers would agree that Macbeth is a masterpiece both great and ‘out of the ordinary’, unprecedented in Verdi’s art both for its psychological penetration and the refinement of its orchestral colouring: such as the eerie, wailing cor anglais in the sleepwalking scene, or the evocative use of low clarinets. More than other composers in the 19th century Italian opera industry, Verdi involved himself closely in a work’s staging. Nag, nag, nag… With Macbeth he went further than ever, minutely supervising every aspect of production. He gave the scene designer, who hadn’t a clue about Shakespeare’s play (still unperformed in Italy in 1847), a crisp lesson in Scottish history. He wrote to the Florence impresario Alessandro Lanari specifying the exact number of witches – three groups of six – and stressing the need for a good tenor for the part of Macduff, and the importance of the ensembles.

Verdi had no time for singers with attitude. ‘I am annoyed that the singer who will play Banquo doesn’t want to come on as his ghost. Why is this? Singers must be engaged to sing and to act. It is high time we stopped being lenient here. It would be monstrous for someone else to play the ghost. It must be immediately recognisable as Banquo.’ Verdi even wrote to London to discover how the appearance of Banquo’s ghost was customarily staged in the play. Verdi seems to have existed in a constant state of nervous irritability. Increasingly exasperated with Piave for resisting his requests for changes, he sacked him and engaged the poet Andrea Maffei to make final adjustments to the witches’ chorus in Act 3 and Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene.

For the title-role Verdi insisted upon the baritone Felice Varesi, who had so impressed him as Don Carlo in Ernani. Stressing that the opera was written ‘in an entirely new manner’, he enjoined Varesi to ‘serve the poet before the composer’, and worked with him and the Lady Macbeth, Marianna Barbieri-Nini, on every nuance of their roles. According to an unreliable memoir, Barbieri-Nini complained that Verdi rehearsed the breathtakingly original ‘Gran scena e duetto’, beginning with Macbeth’s dagger soliloquy, more than 150 times, and then called a final rehearsal moments before the public dress rehearsal. But while Verdi made unprecedented demands on his singers, many reports, from all periods of his life, confirm his kindness and consideration to them.

Teatro Pergola foyer
Teatro Pergola, Florence

After the premiere at the Teatro della Pergola (Florence, a remodelled version of the theatre still there today) on March 14, 1847, Verdi informed Maffei’s estranged wife, Clarina, in Milan that ‘the opera was not a fiasco’: dour Verdian understatement if ever there was. In fact, Barbieri-Nini received an ovation after the sleepwalking scene, and the composer was called back for no fewer than 38 curtain calls. After its initial triumph, Macbeth quickly made its way around the Italian peninsula. Performances in Madrid and Vienna soon followed, and by 1858 it had even reached New York. Verdi dedicated the opera to Antonio Barezzi, the father of his late wife, who as ‘benefactor, father and friend’ had helped make possible his career as a composer: ‘Here, then, is Macbeth, which I love above all my other works, and for that reason deem it worthy to be presented to you.’

As one of his personal favourites, Verdi discouraged the opera featuring as an ‘opera di ripiego’ (a stop-gap work used to fill up the repertory if other, more important productions failed). Most revealing, though, is a comment he made as late as 1875, at a time when – much to his annoyance – he was being bombarded by questions about Richard Wagner. An interviewer in Vienna steered round to the inevitable topic, and Verdi is reported as commenting in a most surprising manner:

When our conversation turned to Wagner, Verdi remarked that this great genius had done opera an incalculable service, because he had had the courage to free himself from the tradition of the aria-opera; ‘I too attempted to blend music and drama, in my Macbeth’, he added, ‘but unlike Wagner I was not able to write my own libretti’.

The most important experiment in Macbeth is the new way musical moods define two strands of the opera’s world, giving them what Verdi later called tinte or identifying colours. The first strand belongs to the witches, and is largely confined to the opening scenes of the first and third acts, which in Verdi’s words had to be ‘trivial but in an extravagant and original way’. Both scenes move from the minor to the major mode, and both employ similar musical means to depict the witches: sudden changes of rhythm and texture; rapid, Mendelssohnian passages in thirds for the strings; dark woodwind sonorities.

The second strand of tinta is associated with Macbeth (baritone) and Lady Macbeth (soprano) and is more widespread. Here there is a prominent recurring motif: a simple alternation of middle C with the note a semitone above, which accompanies Macbeth’s words ‘Tutto è finito!’ (All is finished) as he returns from murdering King Duncan, immediately before his Act 1 duet with Lady Macbeth. The ‘tutto è finito’ idea is simple enough to perform its purpose without ostentation, and flexible enough to function in subterranean ways, in particular disappearing into accompanying figures.

But Macbeth offers more than just an added sense of musical coherence. In order to do justice to the excess – in particular the free mixing of the comic and serious – that the 19th century found in Shakespeare, Verdi was even more uncompromising about the vocal urgency of his dramatic message. A hint of this comes in a letter by Emanuele Muzio, Verdi’s composition pupil and general dogsbody, who could be relied on to repeat uncritically his master’s opinions. Writing to a mutual friend, Muzio stressed Macbeth’s novel use of the baritone protagonist, whom they hoped would be sung by Felice Varesi (1813–89), one of the great singer-actors of the day (he later created both Rigoletto and Germont père in La traviata):

Now everything depends on an answer from Varesi; if Varesi agrees to sing in Florence … then [Verdi] will write Macbeth, in which there are only two principals: [Lady Macbeth] and Macbeth – Loewe and Varesi. The others are secondary roles. No actor in Italy can do Macbeth better than Varesi: because of his way of singing, because of his intelligence and even because he’s small and ugly. Perhaps you’ll say that he sings out of tune, but it doesn’t matter at all because the part would be almost completely declaimed, and he’s very good at that.

Verdi’s own letters to Varesi were more circumspect, but their sentiments were the same. It is also significant that Verdi imagined Loewe, so forceful a presence in Ernani, for the part of Lady Macbeth. In the end she was not available, but Verdi was adamant that he must have someone who was a fitting partner for the unprepossessing but uniquely dramatic Varesi. When one of the greatest sopranos of the period, Eugenia Tadolini, was suggested as Lady Macbeth, Verdi rejected her with great explicitness:

Tadolini’s qualities are far too good for this role. … Tadolini has a beautiful and attractive appearance, and I would like Lady Macbeth to be ugly and evil. Tadolini’s voice has an angelic quality; and I would like the Lady’s voice to have something of the diabolical! The two principal numbers in the opera are … the duet between Lady and her husband and the sleepwalking scene. If these numbers fail, then the opera is ruined. And these pieces must not be sung: they must be acted out and declaimed with a very hollow and veiled voice; otherwise they won’t be able to make any effect.

This was an astonishing reversal of the values that had sustained Italian opera through the 18th century and up to Rossini, in which beauty of vocal delivery had conquered all in the expression of drama. Vocal beauty, the quality that had portrayed saints and sinners alike for so long, quite suddenly became insufficient. Voice must now suit character.

The kind of music Verdi wrote for these extraordinary performers is well illustrated by the Act 1 ‘Gran Scena e Duetto’, which he mentioned as one of the opera’s ‘principal numbers’.

Even though this duet is conventional in being cast in multi-movement form, it is unconventional in making few distinctions in vocal behaviour between one movement and the next. Both characters express themselves mostly in stifled phrases. In the first two movements, Macbeth makes sporadic attempts to introduce more traditionally lyrical ideas (in the first movement he recalls Duncan’s sleeping attendants, in the second with ‘Com’angeli d’ira’ – Like angels of anger); but on both occasions he is countered, silenced even, by brittle ornamental explosions from Lady Macbeth, who derides his doubts as ‘follie’ (madness). The fact that her crazed coloratura recurs in three of the four movements is itself unusual, contributing to the sense that the entire duet is a single musical argument. Equally important, though, is that Verdi uses her vocal virtuosity to unorthodox ends. What had traditionally been decorative and ornamental here marks hysteria, or at the least forced, unconvincing gaiety. In other words, in this heavily charged, declamatory world, vocal ornament becomes jarring, laden with negative meaning. The final movement of the duet, traditionally the place in which ornament spills forth no matter what, makes this clearer still: it is stifled and subdued throughout, ending with isolated staccato exclamations low in the singers’ registers.

It was a further mark of Macbeth’s significance that Verdi agreed to add ballet music to a revival planned for Paris’s Théâtre Lyrique in 1865; he also decided to make substantial changes to some sections that were, as he called them, ‘either weak or lacking in character’. These included a new aria for Lady Macbeth in Act 2 (‘La luce langue’; The light weakens) and the replacement of Macbeth’s death scene with a final, French-sounding ‘Inno di vittoria’ (Hymn of victory). The Paris version is what we usually hear today, in spite of the stylistic dissonances Verdi’s revisions create. ‘La luce langue’ makes no attempt to adapt to the surrounding musical atmosphere, indeed is one of the most radical stretches of music (both orchestrally and harmonically) that Verdi had written even by the mid-1860s. Another example is the ‘Inno di vittoria’. The 1847 death scene it replaced was faithful to Macbeth’s vocal personality, being almost entirely declaimed, and returning chillingly to the tonality and motivic ambience of the Act 1 duet with Lady Macbeth. The ‘Inno’, on the other hand, is a jaunty chorus of celebration, with a virtual quotation of ‘La Marseillaise’ at the end (something guaranteed to get the French up and saluting). So how much musical coherence does an opera need? In 1847, Verdi invested parts of Macbeth with much connective musical tissue (recurring orchestral combinations, motifs that appear periodically in different context, etc.); in 1865 he sacrificed some of this to bring his opera up to date and make it more amenable to Parisian taste. Today we have access to both versions; we can (at least on recordings) mix-and-match, perhaps including ‘La luce langue’ but retaining the old death scene. And the choices may well be invigorating, reminding us that operatic texts from the past need not be sacred objects, even in today’s museum culture.

James Clayton as Macbeth
Antoinette Halloran as Lady Macbeth

WAO’s production departs from Verdi in one key aspect. Verdi deliberately chose “ugly” singers for Macbeth and his wife, and told them not to sing beautifully. Antoinette Halloran as Lady Macbeth and James Clayton as Macbeth sang superbly. With respect to the staging, Roger Kirk’s simple but clever set comprised a combination of large moveable uprights and lighting effects with bursts of dry ice brilliantly reflecting the creepy environs of the witches and gloomy Scottish castles. The stage was tilted upwards away from the audience to create a fantastic depth visually. The witches were suitably weird in black gowns with large-toothed necklaces. The male nobles were represented as barbaric warriors, all kilts and furs and crossed swords. The courtiers define the period with 16th century starched ruffs and Elizabethan hairdos. It was clear that director Stuart Maunder and the designer Roger Kirk were sharing a coherent vision.

Jud Arthur as Banquo

Paul O’Neill as Macduff

A Wild Ride

Hang on, bearyone! It’s going to be a wild ride!

Sparkly Bear
Barkly Square

Little bears are on a wild ride with Gillie and Marc art around Melbourne.

Gillie and Marc have been called “the most successful and prolific creators of public art in New York’s History” by the New York Times. Not bad at all, considering they are from Australia!

Creating some of the world’s most innovative public sculptures, they are re-defining what public art should be, spreading messages of love, equality, and conservation around the world. Their highly coveted sculptures and paintings can be seen in art galleries and public sites in over 250 cities. They’re Archibald Prize Finalists and have won the Chianciano Biennale in Italy.

Gillie and Marc were commissioned to make the Barkly Square mascot, Sparkly Bear. The locals’ nickname for the square is Sparkly Bear. The sculpture is part of a heartwarming global movement by the artists, titled Travel Everywhere with Love. The artists’ are passionate activists, who use their work to raise critical awareness for the causes and charities they support.

“Without a definitive race, religion, or culture, hybrid characters like Sparkly Bear represent all people as one,” said Gillie. Sparkly Bear now stands in Barkly Square to let visitors and residents from all-walks-of-life know that they’re welcome there.

Sparkly Bear
Barkly Square
He Knew This Would be a Year of Good Fortune
St Collins Lane

For the Year of the Dog in 2018, Gillie and Marc created a sculpture of Dogman, holding a magnificent red apple. Next a cherry for sure 🙂

In Chinese tradition, when a dog enters a home it symbolizes the coming of good fortune. Dogs are loyal, clever and brave. Best friends to humans, they are known for having harmonious relationships with people from all-walks-of-life, and don’t discriminate against socio-economic status, race, religion, or orientation. The word for apple in Chinese is ping (píngguǒ), which is also the word for peace (hépíng).

“We combined the powerful image of Dogman with an apple in the hopes of inspiring the public to be brave in the pursuit of a better world,” said Gillie.

In the Chinese Zodiac chart, the dog and the rabbit are born to be a perfect pair. They understand each other by focusing on their similar traits, while facing difficulties with patience and open-minds.

He Knew This Would be a Year of Good Fortune
St Collins Lane
Early Morning Coffee
St Kilda Pier

Gillie and Marc are best known for their beloved characters – Dogman and Rabbitgirl – who tell the autobiographical tale of two opposites coming together to become best friends and soulmates. As unlikely animal kingdom companions, the rabbit and the dog stand for diversity and acceptance.

Dogman and Rabbitwoman are enjoying their morning coffee. Peacefully… sometimes…

There’s a bear in my coffee!

Early Morning Coffee
St Kilda Pier

Mine too… One must accept these things!

Early Morning Coffee
St Kilda Pier

The coffee drinker friends get around a lot! 🙂 and remind people everywhere to get together over coffee. A beloved motif in Gillie and Marc’s art, coffee warms the body and soul.

Dogman and Rabbitwoman Drinking Coffee
Pullman on the Park
Dogman and Rabbitwoman Drinking Coffee
Pullman on the Park
Dogman and Rabbitwoman Drinking Coffee
Pullman on the Park
Run for your life
La Trobe University, Melbourne campus

Now running wild and free on campus at La Trobe University, Run for your life was first exhibited in 2014 at Federation Square. Nearly 700 rhinos had been killed in South Africa in 2013 making it the bloodiest year to date for rhino poaching.

Gillie and Marc’s sculptures hoped to raise public awareness of the plight of rhino species in the wild. Now critically endangered, rhinos desperately need the active involvement from everyone to save their lives. Riding the bronze rhinos, you can transport yourself to the African savanna and be part of the real rhinos run for their freedom and life.

Run for your life
La Trobe University, Melbourne campus
Run for your life
La Trobe University, Melbourne campus
Run for your life
La Trobe University, Melbourne campus

Terminator 1 2 6

“Sarah, I came across time for you. I love you. I always have.”

The Terminator is a love story?!? Eeeww! We’ll watch Terminator 2: Judgment Day!

It seems appropriate that little bears should skip to Terminator 2. I have no recollection of when I first saw The Terminator, but definitely not when it came out in 1984, or any time soon after. I do remember when I saw Terminator 2, on account of walking out half way through a maths lecture (Woolnough Lecture Theatre if I remember correctly) so I could go to the cinema to see the movie on release day 🙂 Priorities!

Terminator 2: Judgement Day came out in 1991 and the special effects then were insane. The technical team behind the film were showered with accolades during awards season, picking up two BAFTAs and Oscars for Best Make Up, Sound, Sound Editing and Visual Effects. But director James Cameron – and his team at his production company Lightstorm Entertainment – have since 3D’d the hell out of this and brought the seminal blockbuster to the next eye-popping, screen-popping level, which was released in 2017. Little bears don’t know this (incredible, I know 🙂 ) and we’re not going to tell them. Yet…

The Terminator was a low budget film with $6.4 million (about $16 million in today’s money – still not a lot). The studio didn’t expect much from the movie so the budget was very small. Almost no one had heard of James Cameron at the time, the young director’s most notable credit was being fired from 1981’s Piranha II: The Spawning a few years earlier. But Cameron had written a new script, about a cyborg from the future trying to kill a young woman. A B class movie script if there ever was one.

James Cameron and fellow writer/producer Gale Anne Hurd both envisioned keeping budgets low by casting relative unknowns in the film. Each unknown had their own reasons for signing on.

Conan the Barbarian star Arnold Schwarzenegger was first considered for the role of Kyle Reese, but he found the role of the T-800 to be the more interesting part (even with fewer than 20 lines of dialogue). It was also a villain role at a point in Schwarzenegger’s career where he wanted to be a leading man. Schwarzenegger’s genius as a movie star is to find roles that build on, rather than undermine, his physical and vocal characteristics.

Michael Biehn, fresh from The Fan which was a dud, was unimpressed when his agent, Ed Limato, told him the only person attached to this cyborg script was Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Austrian body builder not known for his acting chops or even for his command of the English language. Still, at his agent’s suggestion, Biehn read the script. He liked the character of Kyle Reese, a freedom fighter from the future. He saw potential for The Terminator‘s love story. He knew he could give a good performance, even if the movie failed. “It didn’t have anything going for it as far as I was concerned,” Biehn admitted.

When Biehn came in to read, he stood out instantly to Cameron. “To me, he was the quintessential man, expressing the male values I admire — strength, honesty, a sense of duty, conviction. He wasn’t too glib — his charisma didn’t come from that too-cool-for-school wit or sarcasm like a lot of young actors — he wore his heart on his sleeve.”

Perhaps above all, Biehn delivered on The Terminator love story. “If that doesn’t work, you’re never going to buy the entire premise,” said The Terminator producer Gale Anne Hurd. “You have to believe when he says, ‘Sarah, I love you. I crossed time for you.’ Otherwise people would have left the theaters.”

Linda Hamilton didn’t want to do the original movie. She was based in New York at the time and didn’t want to go to California. It was only when she saw Schwarzenegger on set and thought he was fantastic, that she signed on.

James Cameron had worked with Roger Corman who was known for his cost-cutting techniques. He had learned a lot and he could make his $6.4 million stretch out quite a bit.

Cameron didn’t have money for lights and filming permits. So, he filmed at night to avoid attention on location. Many scenes were filmed in Los Angeles California on streets for the mercury-vapor lights, which reduced the need to bring in expensive lighting equipment they couldn’t afford.

True to their guerrilla filmmaking roots they almost got arrested while filming. They were filming the final scene of Sarah Connor at a gas station. It was actually Little Rock, California, USA.

They were filming with a skeleton crew of Cameron, Gale Anne Hurd and a couple of other people in the middle of nowhere. All of a sudden a car appears on the horizon. The policeman who pulls up and says “I need to see your permit for filming here.” They didn’t have one.

They said, “Oh, officer, we’re making a UCLA student film. We didn’t know you needed permits.” He bought it and said, “Okay, you’re fine, just take the camera off the road.”

One day he probably realized he’d been hoodwinked, but he’s a part of movie history now.

For a car chase scene that required Schwarzenegger’s Terminator to break the window of a moving car and grab Sarah Connor, Cameron devised a way to shoot it without the car actually moving.

“Everything had to go right. It was a good two, three-hour setup,” says Biehn. “Jim built this big thing that looked like a building. It was 3 metres high. It was on rollers. And when they called action, they just rolled that the opposite direction … it looked like we were moving backwards, but we were just sitting there.”

The Terminator made over $78 million and became a blockbuster sensation. When the cast signed on for the sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day they could ask for much more. The budget for the film soared to over $102 million, with nearly half the budget spent on special effects. Schwarzenegger got over $15 million including a slightly used Gulfstream III airplane for accepting the role. Despite the budget and the salary of her co-star, Linda Hamilton only got $1 million. That’s only slightly more than the $750,000 Schwarzenegger got for the first film. Absolutely despicable!

Terminator 2 is the special type of sequel that surpasses its predecessor. Thanks to Cameron’s filmmaking wizardry, the $102 million budget and a standout performance from Robert Patrick as T-1000, Terminator 2 is not only considered to be the best in the franchise, it often ranks highly in lists of the best sci-fi movies of all time.

Famed for its CGI shots, Terminator 2 has stood the test of time and remains a benchmark in terms of practical effects, which were used to bring to life the dealbreaker of the whole cast – Patrick’s liquid-metal T-1000. The character’s terrifying presence is a major contributor to the film’s lasting legacy. Cameron needed to find a villain to surpass Arnold Schwarzenegger’s formidable T-800 and, with help from the SFX team, the shapeshifting assassin was born, making Terminator 2 the classic it is. You know you’ve made history when you get a Simpsons parody 🙂

For all the special effects in Terminator 2, some things were real.

Terminator 2 scene

That hapless security guard in Terminator 2 who takes a finger through the eye courtesy of the T-1000 was actually played by two actors, identical twins to be precise, Don and Dan Stanton. Don plays the character in human form, and Dan takes over while the T-1000 is impersonating him following that nasty brain probing.

This method was used twice in Terminator 2, with Linda Hamilton’s twin sister Leslie Gearren, a nurse and the mother of three in New Jersey, taking over the part of Sarah Connor when the liquid-metal Terminator is mimicking her. ”They were going to use a process shot for the double,” Hamilton says, ”but they flew Leslie in and were delighted.” The experience was a far cry from the sisters’ community-theater days growing up in Salisbury, Md. ”We were shooting in freezing temperatures in a steel mill, and they had to wet us down. Leslie got a glimpse of how tough it can be to do this stuff.”

Terminator 2 surpasses itself with special effects. There are the usual car chases, explosions and fight scenes, all well done, but what people will remember is the way the movie envisions T-1000. This cyborg is made out of a newly invented liquid metal that makes him all but invincible. Shoot a hole in him, and you can see right through him, but the sides of the hole run together again, and he’s repaired and ready for action.

These scenes involve ingenious creative work by Industrial Light & Magic, the George Lucas special effects shop. The trick is to create a computer simulation of the movement desired and then use a computer paintbox program to give it surface color and texture – in this case, the appearance of liquid mercury. The computer images are then combined with the live action; T-1000 turns from shiny liquid into a human being through a dissolve from the effect to the actor.

All of that work would simply be an exercise if the character itself were not effective, but T-1000, as played by Robert Patrick, is a splendid villain, with compact good looks and a bland expression. His most fearsome quality is his implacability; no matter what you do to him, he doesn’t get disturbed and he doesn’t get discouraged. He just pulls himself together and keeps on coming.

Robert Patrick was the unknown actor in Terminator 2. He’s had roles in the The X-Files, The Sopranos, True Blood, Scorpion – but none of them have been as enduring and instantly iconic as his breakthrough performance as the T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. And he could really run that fast!

The dream sequence with Kyle Reese in Terminator 2 was not present the original theatrical release of the movie, it was added in 1993.

In 1984’s The Terminator, Sarah was the very definition of ordinary: a young waitress with a roommate and man troubles. She did a terrible job of hiding from the cyborg sent back from the future to kill her, and did a fair amount of wide-eyed whimpering as she attempted to outrun it. She got squeamish at the sight of blood, was almost entirely reliant on her time-traveling guardian, Reese, and was the very epitome of a damsel in distress. That is until the very end, when she destroyed what was left of the Terminator and hit the road.

To prepare for the role of Sarah Connor in the 1991 sequel, Linda Hamilton worked with personal trainer Anthony Cortes, for three hours a day, six days a week, and an Israeli commando, Uzi Gal (the dude who invented the Uzi machine gun), primed her for action scenes with judo and heavy-duty military training. “I learned to load clips, change mags, check out a room upon entry, verify kills. It was very vicious stuff. And it was sheer hell.” she said of the experience. She went through the training ”because Sarah would have.”

Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Terminator 2

Co-star Arnold Schwarzenegger described her transformation as “extraordinary” – more so because her regime began just two weeks after she gave birth.

Uzi Gal also trained with Robert Patrick. Weights on his back, running knee-deep in water, in the sand, countless sit-ups – it was brutal. Through this process, Gal only called Patrick T-1000 and made him think he was the baddest thing walking the earth.

In the film, Sarah Connor defeats a killing machine from the future. In real life, Linda Hamilton was battling an enduring anachronism: the poor portrayal of women in action movies. She has now returned to the role in Terminator: Dark Fate to vanquish another stubborn Hollywood monster: a lack of action roles for older women. “It’s nice that I’m seen as someone who opened possibilities for women in action films, but until this film I never thought of myself as badass. I didn’t want to play me as I was, I want to play me now. It was a journey of discovering who I am today and putting that on screen.” And naturally, she’s doing it all while pumping a shotgun with one arm.

The sixth installment, but the third installment on the initial timeline (don’t sweat the details, just go with the flow, it’s not science, it’s science fiction) got a budget of around $200 million.

Terminator: Dark Fate picks up where the high-tech game-changer Terminator 2: Judgment Day left off in 1991, as if the next three films in the series never even existed.

Ok, so Terminator: Dark Fate recycles images, visual effects and even dialogue from the previous movies. But then so do the previous movies. It’s not a Terminator movie if someone doesn’t say that line! This time, Sarah Connor is the one who gets to say “I’ll be back” – and it’s hilarious!

There she is, there she is!

It’s great to see Linda Hamilton back, swaggering and kicking ass in the defining role of her career as Sarah Connor. After one of the great entrances in recent memory, the writers find a pretty ingenious way to bring an age-appropriate Schwarzenegger back into the mix, offering welcome dollops of humor courtesy of the interplay between the movie’s senior contingent.

Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger – then and now
Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator: Dark Fate

Over the many movies, Terminators have changed looks, genders and capabilities, but the basic programming — a near-unstoppable killer that won’t deviate from its single-minded purpose until the job is done – evidently never goes out of style. One blessing of the Terminator movies, creatively speaking, has also been a kind of curse – namely, that once you’ve established you can mess around with the timeline and potentially “save” the future, there are all sorts of opportunities to rinse and repeat the formula.

This time the latest Terminator model is a Rev-9, with all the ferocious fighting skills and morphing abilities of the T-1000 and then some. He can take a shotgun blast to the head and heal to perfection within seconds. He car turn his arms into spears, sledgehammers, guns, whatever weapons he needs with a mere flick of the wrist. He can get obliterated in a blast, his limbs scattered hither and yon, only to have them melt into gooey, black puddles that scurry across the floor to recreate his shape once more. (He’s like The Blob, only super evil.) He even has a skeleton that separates from his exterior, so he can fly a helicopter in the sky AND battle puny humans on the ground simultaneously. The only problem with this Terminator is that Gabriel Luna just doesn’t quite pull off that menacing look. He looks more baffled than badass. Still, Luna has an odd, dangerous charm, and the T-1000 is a Pokémon compared to his Rev-9.

Two Terminators meet: Gabriel Luna, left, and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator: Dark Fate

The visual effects are consistently the strongest part of Terminator: Dark Fate. The first, big fight scene between Grace and the Rev-9 is full of inventive, acrobatic choreography. But eventually, the fact that the Rev-9 just keeps coming, over and over again, without the slightest trace of weakness or vulnerability grows a bit repetitive and tedious. And like many other blockbuster offerings in modern Hollywood, Terminator: Dark Fate suffers from a mind-numbing surfeit of forced excitement. Once the action scenes kick off, it’s hard not to check out, no matter who’s wielding the weapons.

The movie incorporates welcome new blood, with another young woman, Dani (Natalia Reyes), now the target of a terminator, and another young woman, Grace (Mackenzie Davis), sent from the future to protect her. Grace is an “enhanced” human, demonstrating that the killing machines aren’t the only ones capable of receiving an upgrade.

Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, Mackenzie Davis as Grace and Natalia Reyes as Dani

It’s fun to watch Schwarzenegger play backup to three formidable women — each one hailing from a different Terminator time frame, and one of them a Latina who represents the gravest possible threat to our fascist future. Even at 72 years old, he retains the confidence and physical presence that made him an instant star back in 1984. In this role, he also has a new self-awareness, seeming to recognize that Hamilton has always been the beating heart of the series, and quite gracefully ceding her the limelight. No special effect is as striking as either of these stars walking into the frame.

It’s also refreshing to see the series engage in a bit of self-critique, establishing that Dani is powerful — and interesting — for reasons that go beyond what might someday issue forth from her womb. In time, the action shifts to a train carrying Mexican sojourners toward the border with Texas, with a crucial stopover at a detention center where Grace pointedly identifies her fellow detainees as “prisoners” — and then does precisely what a hero would do in that particular situation.

Little bears don’t care about timeline continuity, especially since they haven’t seen 3, 4 and 5, and they are enjoying Linda Hamilton’s scowl (if looks could kill!), Arnold Schwarzenegger’s stubble and MacKenzie Davis’s athleticism in the movie.

The dire future of machine rule, prophesied in the first Terminator way back in 1984, has been evaded, revised and reinstated in the many sequels since then. Judgment Day was coming, until it was canceled. Or maybe just postponed? Skynet was going to obliterate humanity under its cybernetic boot, or maybe just squish us into obedience. Or maybe Skynet never happened? It doesn’t matter. Because one thing is certain, whatever the chronology: Our brainy, idiotic species will create a technology that either enslaves us or wipes us out altogether. We’ll have to engage in some desperate feats of guerrilla engineering in order to survive. This is not Star Wars, so anything goes. The fans are pretty easygoing.

This time around, the entity that isn’t Skynet will have made — the Terminator franchise is murder on verb conjugations (where is Sheldon when you need him?) — killer robots far worse than the models sent from previous futures. Luckily, the scrappy human remnant in this other future gets — will get, would have gotten — hold of time-travel technology and also the ability to create “enhanced” fighters with some of the lethal characteristics of their android enemies.

It makes as much sense as it needs to and little bears had a pawsome time watching the movie 🙂


It’s World Architecture Day and little bears are exploring Brutalism at the Art Gallery of WA.

Despite being known for its stern and angular stature, Brutalism actually came from the French term for raw concrete; ‘béton brut’. In the middle of the 20th century, famed French architect Le Corbusier popularised an architecture comprising simple cubic forms of raw concrete as the epitome of modernism. His apartments inaugurated in Marseilles in 1952, Unité d’habitation, are widely recognised as the starting point at which this occurred. Subsequently, the term Brutalism was popularised by English architectural writer Rayner Banham and came to describe various types of modernist buildings that foregrounded the raw, undecorated material presence of their (concrete) form.

Unité d’habitation

The towering Unité d’habitation laid the groundwork for future Brutalist projects, and inspired the ensuing ‘International Style’.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Brutalism became a global style, with few concessions to local climate or conditions and concrete monoliths were built in as diverse places as Singapore and Sao Paolo. Brutalism in the postcolonial world was functional, economical, and it made new nations appear progressive.

Well known Brutalist buildings include the Barbican Estate in London (1968-1979), the Royal National Theatre in London (1976), Yale University’s Paul Rudolph Hall (1963), the Bank of London and South America in Buenos Aires (1966), SESC Pompéia in São Paulo (1986), the Breuer Building in New York City (1966), Boston City Hall (1968), Habitat 67 in Montreal (1967) and Brazilian Museum of Sculpture (MuBE) in São Paulo (1988).

For modernists, concrete was a futuristic material that could fulfill their utopian dreams of mass housing and urban renewal. It was flexible yet solid, malleable yet permanent. Unrefined concrete was an honest expression of their intentions, while plain forms and exposed structures were similarly sincere.

And concrete has its own qualities. No two concrete surfaces look or feel the same. Textured with impressions of the wooden form-work or sandblasted to expose its gravel aggregate, concrete walls have a subtle beauty.

Brutalism became a favoured style for public institutions, particularly government buildings, cultural complexes, schools, universities and hospitals.

But Brutalist buildings (like all buildings) require regular maintenance, and concrete deteriorates. Brown stains leak from joints due to metal reinforcements rusting from within. Public buildings particularly suffer from neglect.

Brutalism entered the Australian urban landscape in the 1960s, taking heed from Britain and influenced through the influx of skilled European migrants, who the government welcomed in a bid to ‘populate or perish’, following the Second World War.

Local examples include the Art Gallery main building (1979), the Perth Concert Hall (1973), the East Perth Train Station (1976), the architecture building at Curtin University (1968-1969) and the Hale School Memorial Hall (1961).

The Art Gallery of Western Australia was founded in 1895 and occupies a precinct of three heritage buildings on the south-eastern corner of the Perth Cultural Centre. The Centenary Gallery was built as the Perth Court of Petty Sessions in 1905 and the Administration Building was built as the Police Barracks in 1897. The paved concourse area containing Gerhard Mack’s sculpture Der Rufer (The Caller) and the water feature creating a mini wetland, with its amphitheatre form making it an ideal performance and outdoor activity space, also belong to the Art Gallery.

The third building is the main building, completed in 1979. Designed by Polish-born architect Charles Sierakowski in a Brutalist style, the Art Gallery of WA building was opened on 2 October 1979 by then Premier Charles Court to mark the 150th anniversary of the Western Australian State’s foundation.

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the building, the Art Gallery has organised an exhibition, Perth Brutal: Dreaming in Concrete, which explores the building’s development through images of its construction and early days, along with building models, plans, diagrams and drawings.

AGWA acting director Colin Walker says, “In 1979 the building lifted the bar and was a very brave way of marking the State’s 150th anniversary. Time has proved it to be a highly functional and timeless gallery as well as popular version of Brutalism, an architectural movement which otherwise had a mixed reception in the following decades.”

The hexagonal plan and generous proportions of Sierakowski’s design transformed the way the gallery exhibited works. With 3500sqm of display space, the unique building was designed around 120-degree angles that created several unusual vistas from different spaces within the gallery.

Dunja Rmandić, AGWA associate curator of 21st Century Arts, said, “Late Modernism, with its roots in Bauhaus principles, was an exciting period of architectural innovation mixed with social utopianism. Grand architecture was no longer defined by decorative elements, but by practicality, open spaces enabling social interaction and aesthetic minimalism. No longer only for the privileged to enjoy, it was now also for the masses to live in and work in, to experience culture in, democratically. Charles Sierakowski’s design for the Gallery is among Australia’s best Brutalist designs, combining practicality and a focus on how best to experience art by creating flexible vistas and open spaces using a simple modular principle.”

The Art Gallery houses the State Art Collection, which includes one of the world’s finest collections of Indigenous art, the pre-eminent collection of Western Australian art and design, as well as Australian and International art and design.

Van Gogh @ Atelier des Lumières

Vincent van Gogh’s life is the focus of an immersive experience at L’Atelier des Lumières, Paris’ first digital art museum. In a disused foundry in the city’s bohemian 11th arrondissement, hundreds of the Dutchman’s paintings have been transformed using art and music technology. For 35 minutes, visitors roam around his work, from the dreamy Sunflowers (1888) to the tormented spires of Starry Night (1889).

The Paris venue opened in April 2018 and more than 1.2 million people attended the first exhibit on Gustave Klimt. The digital museum is operated by Culturespaces, which specialises in immersive displays. Director Bruno Monnier says Van Gogh’s colours and motifs are perfect for an immersive experience. In the last ten years of his life, Vincent van Gogh painted more than 2000 works, without any recognition. Today, he is one of the most famous artists in the world. His tragic life has inspired the cinema scene, while museums from all over the world are fighting to show his works. His paintings transformed art history and digital technology can be an excellent way of understanding his world. Not tom mention it doesn’t need the physical paintings to travel!

Inside the exhibit, a selection of Van Gogh’s famous paintings are represented in their entirety, accompanied by commentaries about his life, art and the museum in which it is exhibited. A free mobile app has commentary on these paintings.

Brushstrokes spiralling light and darkness across the tall drying towers, bare walls and water tank below, transforming into Van Gogh’s Starry Night (1889). It feels like standing in the moving water as the stars and lights of the town are reflected down on visitors.

A short programme shown between screenings explains the influence of Japanese art on Van Gogh’s work. A specially commissioned piece, Dreamed Japan: Images of the Floating World, depicts the simple beauty of cherry blossoms, geishas, samurai warriors and spirits. Delighted children circle the floor of the foundry as the waves crash around them to the sound of Claude Debussy’s The Sea and to the fast beat of the Japanese drums.

The walls of the Atelier darken to a deep blue. An illuminated walkway to The Church at Auvers appears. Painted during his last weeks in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, the simple painting depicts his nostalgia for his home in the Netherlands.

The artist lived in several different places, the change of surroundings often reflected in his art. In the days before leaving the asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Van Gogh embarked on a series of still-life paintings of cut flowers, including Roses and Anemones.

One of the most striking elements of the exhibition is the use of contemporary music. Nina Simone’s Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood powers around the foundry as visitors view some of the famous works, including The Siesta, Van Gogh painted while living in an asylum; the words of the song mirror a cry for understanding in his time of darkness.

To end, the sound of heavy rain fills the venue, getting louder as a stormy sky emerges overhead. Wheat rustles in the breeze and the golden hues of Wheat Field with Crows brighten up the floor. As the crows take flight overhead, you can no longer see the sky. In its place are Van Gogh’s self-portraits.

In the art world, framed canvases in grand museums is so last century! Not only has technology created new mediums such as video installations and soundscapes, it has untethered artworks from their geographical homes. Can’t get to Russia’s Hermitage Museum? There’s a movie presenting its treasures at your local cinema.

The latest offering in the digital art space, however, is something altogether different. Opening its doors in mid-2018, Paris’s newest art centre, Atelier des Lumières, morphs the work of art masters into 360-degree, multistorey sound and light shows.

Inside the hollowed-out shell of the 19th century foundry, the audience is surrounded by an ever-changing visual landscape.

Images are constantly morphing on every surface – floor, walls, columns, the assembled crowd. Children run around in a confetti of light spray and adults are struck still in wonder. Large blobs of paint – purple, pink, green, yellow, orange – are scattered on the walls, floor and ceiling. His paintbrush is hurriedly introduced: deep, decisive brush strokes turning the bareness of the foundry into a colourful space. His Sunflowers masterpiece transforms into bouquets of flowers with multi-coloured petals.

And you won’t just be able to see the painter’s most famous works — you’ll also be able to step inside them. Totally pawsome!

Atelier des Lumières is the brainchild of Culturespaces, an organisation established in 1990 by Bruno Monnier​ to offer a professional management service to public museums and cultural sites in France. Today, it manages 13 sites, including the Roman monuments at Nimes and an automobile museum in Mulhouse, handling everything from ticketing to the creation of historical re-enactments.

The breakthrough in digital art happened when Culturespaces took over the management of a stone quarry at Les Baux-de-Provence. The haunting white limestone of the site had already garnered artistic attention as the setting for Jean Cocteau’s 1960s film Testament of Orpheus. Later, the rock walls were used as the screen for a photographic slide show.

Upping the ante, Culturespaces developed the concept of AMIEX – Art & Music Immersive Experience. “We wanted to create video exhibitions with great artists,” says Atelier des Lumières director Michael Couzigou. And instead of projecting video images randomly onto surfaces, they mapped the entire stone pit to achieve a tailor-made multimedia display.

Using state-of-the-art visuals and audio, artists’ works are transformed as images of their paintings are projected (using 140 laser video projectors) on to (and across) 10-metre-high walls over the vast 3,300 square metre surface area of the renovated 19th century building. These images provide an immersive and panoramic show throughout the space, to a sound track of music using an innovative “motion design” sound system, with 50 speakers programmed to complement the 3D visual experience.

While the Atelier des Lumières immersive exhibitions can bring the world of art across oceans to Paris, there is no reciprocal journey. What happens in the Atelier, stays in the Atelier. Moving the exhibition would require moving all the technology – laser video projectors, sound system, etc. However, Culturespaces is taking its AIMEX concept beyond French national boundaries – the Bunker de Lumières opened last year on South Korea’s Jeju Island in what was a bunker during the Korean War. And back in France, in 2020, Culturespaces will open a digital art centre in Bordeaux in a former German submarine base from WWII. Make art, not war.

Immersed in Music and Light

30 years in the planning and 8 years in the design and construction, the Philharmonie de Paris, a shimmering metallic structure conceived by Pritzker Prize winner Jean Nouvel, located in Parc de la Villette, opened on 14 January 2015, after two months of 24/7 construction to get things ready for the opening concert. Controversy had dogged the Philharmonie from the beginning. Cost overruns, its relatively remote location, issues concerning artistic decision-making and even whether Paris really needed a new concert hall were some of the things people were talking about.

There was little disagreement, however, about the spectacular nature of the building designed by the architect Jean Nouvel, whose previous work has included concert halls in Lucerne, Switzerland, and Copenhagen, Denmark, and the redesigned Lyon opera house. The extravagant aluminum structure looks like a collection of randomly stacked slabs, with significant space between them and a vertical slab cutting through the others.

On opening day, the exterior and a number of ancillary spaces were far from complete, and the auditorium was only 95% complete (exposed MDF, chipboard, half-painted flooring, and chair numbers written on Post-it notes 🙂 were on show) with all the key acoustical elements in place for the opening night concert, but not with the acoustics commissioning complete. Indeed, the first set of commissioning measurements did not take place until 4 days after the opening concert (10pm to 5am). There were two more commissioning sessions over the following 9 months.

The acoustic commissioning the Grand Salle of the Philharmonie de Paris was never going to be straight forward due to its multiple uses – classical symphonic, choral and recital repertoire, contemporary music, Jazz and World Music. Add in highly adaptable stage and seating arrangements, and the mechanics of making these changes, and a protracted series of measurements, with both occupied and unoccupied seats, were inevitable. Complicating this task have been cost overruns, construction delays, politics and an extensive concert program booked out months in advance. By the time little bears visited, it had all been sorted! 🙂

The Orchestre de Paris performing the inaugural concert at the Philharmonie de Paris in January 2015.
The Orchestre de Paris performing the inaugural concert at the Philharmonie de Paris in January 2015.

Jean Nouvel refused to attend the opening, in protest. After the Philharmonie’s inaugural concert, the New York Times music critic Anthony Tommasini wrote that, “from first impressions,” the concert hall “seems acoustically marvelous,” though he noted that “its true character will take time to emerge.” It goes to show that the right project team had delivered the right stuff, even without the fine-tuning that took place later.

The rooftop, two restaurants and exhibition space had staggered openings over the following months from the opening concert.

Walkway to the rooftop
Walkway to the rooftop
Walkway to the rooftop

For Nouvel, the space around the Philharmonie is as important as the space within. Those not attending a concert or a music education class can linger on the steps or climb them to the rooftop looking point which offers a view of Paris far more eclectic than Haussmann’s uniformity. Up here, the vista encompasses the science museum with its mirrored geode, the former abattoir converted into a festival hall, Bernard Tschumi’s architectural contributions from the late 1980s, and the industrial suburb of Pantin.

View from the rooftop of the Philharmonie
View from the rooftop of the Philharmonie

Beyond the lyrical birds in their lustrous shades of grey, Nouvel introduced a metal mesh that, like a theatrical scrim, makes the building appear impenetrable during the day (while not obstructing the view outward); at night, the interior light takes over and passersby can see inside.

The Philharmonie de Paris was the vision of the late Pierre Boulez (1925-2016) – the potentate of late 20th century music, who dreamed of launching a “Centre Pompidou for music” in the Parc de la Villette. Boulez saw his dream came to fruition, with the Philharmonie forming part of a music precinct which includes the Cité de la Musique and the Conservatoire de Paris.

Plans for a big Paris concert hall date from the 1970s. They were put on ice with the construction and 1989 inauguration of a huge opera house on the Place de la Bastille. What Paris got, six years later, was the Cité de la Musique (part of the Mitterrand “Grands Projets”): a 900-seat concert hall and musical-instrument museum in the Parc de la Villette, on the border between Paris and Pantin, a suburb. It took 20 more years for the Philharmonie to open next door (incorporating the Cité de la Musique).

The location of the Philharmonie in the 19th arrondissement on the border between central Paris and the eastern suburbs, in an attempt to ‘bring the music to the people and bring the people to the venue’, paid off. This move was controversial as the élite regular concert goers from the centre of Paris would have to travel 20 to 30 minutes to hear the symphony rather than walk. However, advance ‘sell out’ performances throughout the first year of operation, with a high ratio of new audience, have proved the concept a success. Concerts in the main hall (all genres combined) run at 95 percent capacity on average, with the Philharmonie pulling in patrons from all over Paris and its immediate suburbs, thanks to a diverse program. What appears to be a winning formula — music-education workshops and affordable tickets — was pioneered over two decades by the Cité de la Musique, and is a strategy now adopted by the Hamburg Elbphilharmonie as well.

The project brief was published in 2006, and it included an architectural brief, ‘Le Programme General’, consisting of a 153 page document with 14 appendices, as well as an acoustic brief, ‘Le Programme Acoustique’, probably the most comprehensive acoustic brief ever written for a concert hall.

98 teams submitted their designs and at the beginning of 2007, six teams were selected to enter a 10 week design competition.

The architectural brief was quite specific without wanting to stifle the creativity of the design team. The requirements asked for the main hall to be highly adaptable and suitable for symphony, jazz, rock and world music; and for the hall to be a surround hall with significant audience behind and beside the stage (in symphony mode). The objective was to “limit the distance between the audience and the musicians by installing the latter at the heart of the auditorium amongst a present and perceptible audience that will share the musician’s feelings (the complete opposite of the frontal and exclusive relationship is required).” Clearly the requirements were not for a conservative concert hall with an end stage.

The most significant requirement from the architectural brief was that the ‘design must be a new typology – it cannot be one of the existing concert hall forms; shoebox, vineyard, fan or arena.’ The acoustic brief called for great clarity (all instrumental voices to be distinct) and high reverberance (makes the sound from musical instruments more loud, rich and full-bodied), considered by some acousticians to be mutually exclusive, and specified more than 10 acoustical parameters to be achieved in the room.

The Jean Nouvel (lead architect) / Sir Harold Marshall (lead acoustician) team used the dying art of drawing in the design workshops to progress from a concept idea to actual design.

Marshall ‘Restaurant’ Cross-section – origins of the bicameral concept

The solution to the challenging brief was found in two nested chambers – an inner space producing visual and acoustical intimacy between audience and performer and an outer space with its own architectural and acoustical presence providing the high reverberance required by the brief. Nouvel and the architectural team developed the concept idea into the architectural concept with the inner volume providing great clarity and the outer volume providing high reverberance. Marshall termed this the Bicameral Adaptable Concert Hall.

3-D printed model of the bicameral space for the main hall
1:50 Acoustic Scale Model with a Lego audience 🙂

As with other great architects, Jean Nouvel was able to take the acoustical elements conceived by Marshall and turn them into architectural features. The floating ‘inner reflectors’ from Marshall’s concept sketches became the ‘nuage’ (clouds) which determine the visual character of the room when you first enter the inner space. The early reflections required to make this design work are provided by these nuage along with the ribbons (reflectors at the rear of the seating pods), the balcony fronts and the overstage reflectors. These surfaces all contribute to defining the inner volume.

Computer simulation submitted with the competition documents. It is a view from within the inner volume showing the seating pods, the floating nuage and the outer volume backlit in orange.
The theater’s main hall in its final stages of construction.

Little bears approve of Jean Nouvel’s surreally imaginative interior, an asymmetric assemblage of gigantic floating panels, clouds and boomerangs, of crazily diverse surfaces, colours, and acoustically adjustable geometries and movable seating and stage configurations, all nested within an outer shell whose chaotic lines and curves are covered in 340,000 geometrically tessellating metallic and concrete birds.

Time for a little music to test all these surfaces… It was the Brahms Violin Concerto with Janine Jansen on violin, and Sibelius Symphony No 4 with the Orchestre de Paris, and Daniel Harding, its Music Director, as conductor.

Janine Jansen violin
Daniel Harding conductor
Orchestre de Paris

Janine Jansen, the flamboyant Dutch violinist, is one of the world’s great violin players. She comes from a musical family: her father is an organist and harpsichord player (as is one of her brothers), her mother is a singer, and another brother plays the cello in a Dutch radio orchestra. Her uncle is the renowned bass Peter Kooy.

She began to study the violin at the age of six after first considering the cello. She appeared as a soloist with the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland in 2001 when she performed the Brahms Violin Concerto.

Ha, ha! The concerto was recorded the day after little bears attended the concert and here it is…

Janine Jansen violin
Daniel Harding conductor
Orchestre de Paris

As for Daniel Harding, the British conductor will step down as Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris at the end of the 2019/2020 season to take a one year sabbatical from his music career to focus on his ambition of being a commercial pilot. Harding had qualified as a commercial aviator and during the sabbatical year 2020/2021 he will fly for Air France as a copilot!

Daniel Harding conductor
Orchestre de Paris

A beary joyful evening…