Large-scale aerial stunts, fireworks, pyrotechnics, music, dance - all to an audience of 20,000 with a cast of 500 - Land of Giants was Belfast's colourful cultural contribution to the London 2012 Festival on Saturday 30 June at Titanic Slipways.
Nearly two years in the making, the colossal arts event is proof that Belfast is a small city with big ambition. So with stiff competition from 12,000 events in the Cultural Olympiad - did Land of Giants deliver on a Goliathan scale?
As the crowd awaits the start of the outdoor spectacle on a drizzly Saturday evening, we hear the slow rumblings of a presumably sleeping giant.
The set is made of scaffolding platforms and industrial sized cranes, installed along the full length of the Titanic Slipway; the very spot where the ill-fated ship and her sister Olympic were built in 1911, next to the newly opened Titanic Belfast Museum.
There is a crash and the beat of drums, the giant has awoken and the show begins - a terrified young woman, our protagonist, rushes across the central platform with an imaginary giant in tow, exploding red fireworks chasing her every step.
A performer flees the pursuing giant.
Our character is then seen hurtling and spinning through the air, suspended over 200 feet above the crowd, dangled by a crane that would be more at home lifting a ton of steel than the fragile performer.
A Land of Giants performer suspended 200 feet above the audience.
Within minutes it is clear the Land of Giants is something very special indeed. We are taken on a breathtaking journey through a celebration of the mythical, industrial, cultural, literary and social giants that Northern Ireland has given birth to throughout history.
Belfast's claim as the former linen-producing capital of the world is portrayed with an ethereal projection of white woven threads onto the side of the Titanic Belfast Museum's aluminium façade, whilst four linen-clad aerial acrobats dangle and spin from a crane to the sounds of haunting Irish music.
Performers spin whilst suspended above an audience of 20,000.
On the ground, performers narrate the stories of the lives of Belfast residents from history, using contemporary dance and mime, accompanied by a voiceover. We hear of the hard working linen factory workers, the sons who proudly set off to war and the first Polish policeman in Belfast.
So huge is the stage that groups of performers are dotted along the length of the slipway platform, assigned to each section of the audience, so everyone has a clear view of the performance.
Performers re-enact stories of the lives of Belfast residents.
Perhaps the crowning achievement is the visual representation of the Titanic ship.
The Land of Giants recreates the Titanic.
Hydraulic platforms extend upwards to become smoking chimneys, festooned with lights, whilst performers hold glowing portholes and Titanic's guests dance elegantly between them, enjoying the decadence of the most luxurious ocean liner of its time.
Performers on the recreation of the Titanic.
But we all know what Titanic owes much of its fame to: its demise. A single distress flare bursts through the air as the lights of the gigantic living ship extinguish.
Built in the very same spot where the 20,000 strong audience stand, the tale of the birth and sail of the world's most famous ship is overwhelmingly poignant; a full scale living representation of the doomed ship, made up of Belfast performers, some of whom are descendants of the engineers, builders and victims of the Titanic tale.
Performers on the recreation of the Titanic.
The story-telling of Land of Giants is not perfect; the overall narrative feels lost early on, with an Alice-in-Wonderland tale of time-travelling, involving the letter 'A' falling from the sky. But the individual scenes are easy to follow and with so much spectacular acrobatics, pyrotechnics, music and drama, an overarching story doesn't feel necessary.
Land of Giants is startlingly original, moving and breathtaking; a collaborative triumph.
In a pre-show reception, Ruth Mackenzie, director of the Cultural Olympiad, described her vision to "put art back at the heart of the [Olympic] Games as it was in ancient Greece … [so that] some of the lasting legacies, memories and inspiration for 2012 will be cultural events, not just sporting events."
If all the events of the London 2012 Festival are bursting with the same originality and passion seen in Land of Giants, then we will certainly match the sporting side of the Olympics with striking British art and culture.
Bravo Belfast, take a well-deserved bow.
The London 2012 Festival runs until 9 September.
Click below for some of the stunning pictures from Land of Giants:
Land of Giants, Titanic Slipways, Belfast
Watch the video below for behind the scenes footage from rehearsals for Land of Giants:
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