2017 is the third year that 59 Productions has been commissioned to create the opening event for the Edinburgh International Festival, and it’s not an overstatement to say that Standard Life Opening Event: Bloom is one of the most challenging and exciting public projects we’ve undertaken to date.
59 Productions trades in theatre and theatricality. Our company’s work is dedicated to the art of spectacular storytelling. In the ten years since our inception, we worked mainly inside the great theatres and opera houses of the world. Over the last six years we have spread our wings beyond the stage, taking our work outside the theatre, working on concerts, ceremonies and events, as well as exhibitions, installations and – increasingly – large and highly visible public commissions, many of which have premiered in Edinburgh.
In 2015 we explored what singing does to the human brain, collaborating with experts from University of Edinburgh to create The Harmonium Project, a new digital artwork projected onto Usher Hall that offered a digital representation of the complex neurological effects of music, set to John Adams’s mesmerising choral work Harmonium, performed by the Edinburgh Festival Chorus.
Last year, we delved deep – 350 million years deep – into Edinburgh’s history, to reimagine the prehistoric site from which the city sprang, using iconic Edinburgh Castle and Castle Rock as our vast projection canvas in The Standard Life Opening Event: Deep Time.
Creating large-scale works for the general public is one of the most gratifying and exciting strands of our artistic output, and so as we inch nearer to the launch of our third Festival opener, Standard Life Opening Event: Bloom, it is with excitement and, perhaps, a dash of trepidation.
For our company, every new commission must have a significant element of discovery and experimentation. We seek out flagship projects that test the boundaries of the achievable – projects that push technology to its limit, and provoke the imaginations of our designers and artists. Fergus and the International Festival team have always encouraged us to break new creative ground, but opening the Festival in its 70th anniversary year we knew we had to go bigger and bolder than ever before.
For the first time, the event will take place over two nights, on Friday 4 and Saturday 5 August, and we invite visitors and residents of the city to join us at any time between 10 and midnight on either night.
Unlike our opening events in 2015 and 2016, for which we gathered our audience together to watch the piece on a single canvas, this year we are inviting everyone to inhabit and explore a part of the city – a transformed St Andrew Square – controlling their own experience by moving around a vast projection, sound and lighting installation. With nearly half a linear kilometre of projection canvas across three sides of the square (comprising over ten different periods and styles of architecture with the iconic Melville column at its centre) we are placing our audience inside a bright, colourful and jubilant 70th anniversary of the establishment of Edinburgh as the Festival City.
When the International Festival was founded in 1947 it was declared ‘a platform for the flowering of the human spirit’. We have taken this flowering metaphor as our inspiration for Bloom, and our team of artists have created a jubilant musical and visual mix-tape which explores the ideas of blossoming, propagation and transplanting of diverse cultural ideas. The establishment of the International Festival was a catalyst for a new wave of artistic energy that spread out across Europe and the world following the devastation and darkness of the Second World War, and we’ve tried to capture the sense of that moment of ignition in Bloom. We hope you’ll come and party with us, as we herald the next seventy years of exhilarating art and ideas.
Leo Warner is the founding director of 59 Productions; in 2012 he led the 59 video design team on the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony, working directly with Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle on ‘the greatest show on earth’, with a live TV audience of over a billion viewers. Boyle and Warner have continued to work together since, including on Boyle’s latest cinema release T2 Trainspotting.