Phil Gyford

Writing

Monday 12 January 2004

PreviousIndexNext National Theatre vs Burning Man

On Saturday night I took a lovely stroll through a silent weekend City, and across the Thames to see a fire sculpture at the National Theatre. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and wondered if it would in any way live up to the fire frenzy of Burning Man.

The NT’s concrete building had a very long piece of something pale snaking along its balconies, up and down, and looping about the space in front, which was marked off by security tape. Before we could find out exactly how much this extrusion would be on fire we had to listen to Alexander Balanescu busking for too long.

Now, busking. I have nothing against busking, but if it’s amplified I start mounting a hobbyhorse. If you can’t attract a crowd with your instrument, then don’t inflict your music on the innocent by using a speakers. This goes double for men with hats playing soft-rock guitar in Covent Garden. If someone in central London played repetitive beats at the same volume as we must endure Eric Clapton covers, the police would be carting continental tourists away by the busload for forming an illegal rave.

So, OK, yes, Balanescu wasn’t strictly busking, but I think the same should apply to virtuoso violinists playing a succession of modern classical riffs. Without the police there to pull the plug on this illegal gathering we waited for Denis Tricot to start some fire. Which he did, eventually, and the music was fine as background to the main event.

Unfortunately the main event wasn’t up to Burning Man standards. Denis Tricot glided along the primed waves, setting light to them, leaving a trail of fire behind. But the fire at the start began fading before he was half way along, so it wasn’t quite the spectacle it might have been, even though he was wearing a puffy shirt. If you don’t have to take several steps back to avoid singed hair, it’s not quite the Real Thing.

But I hadn’t quite been expecting something on this scale, so I don’t want to make out like it was a huge disappointment; there was some flaming poi, one of Burning Man’s inescapable features — like bad trance and embarrassing naked men — so the South Bank wasn’t entirely unlike the Black Rock Desert. And the National Theatre was certainly more on fire than one sees it on an average Saturday night, so well done Denis.