Bow Gamelan Ensemble re-animated the wet and dry docks of Lots Ait, living for a month on this deserted island in the Thames. Scaffold was built into the river for audience seating, using pumps to create bubbling water underneath, as an overture. Working with many people who worked on the river including Thames Steam Launch Company and Eel Pie Marine, as well as people who had known the island as a working boatyard, they created a flotilla of boats and floating platforms, resurrected some of the old machinery and used the height of the space to create a huge red-dyed waterfall and a giant wind chimes of glass, as well as suspending about 30 metal filing cabinets found on the island played with high pressure water from pumps belonging to the London Fire Brigade fireboat. Aware of the dynamic Indian presence and culture in the local area of Southall, they invited the Treveni Kathak Dance Troupe whose delicate bell sounds and colourful presence contrasted wildly with their aluminium beer barrel ‘carillon’ and the dark industrial enormity of the site.
The most spectacular piece in the London International Festival of Theatre is non-verbal… The Bow Gamelan Ensemble are joined in Offshore Rig by American artist and percussionist Z’ev. The work is presented on an offshore island in the Thames. Using a derelict dry dock with three enormous sheds they stage their spectacle. Exploring experimental areas in sound, performance, light and sculpture, Bow Gamelan create a work of great elegance and originality that is accessible without being compromised. A stream of semi-rehearsed, semi improvised ‘music’ created from fireworks and industrial junk (chimes, steam whistles, long swinging ropes of firecrackers) is interwoven with a variety of lighting effects (spotlights, flares, searchlights, coloured lights and gases). Subtle changes, or sometimes bold and sudden ones, create changing vistas and aural perspectives and rich sculptural silhouettes.
Bow Gamelan Ensemble was the highlight of LIFT's first week… What they do successfully evades categorisation and amusingly blurs the highbrow-lowbrow distinction which dogs most performances. The sheer scale of the thing is a delight to behold, the unexpected explosions a regular cause of spontaneous laughter. The smoke and light constantly create a strange beauty where you would never have expected to find it. Offshore Rig is literally wonderful.
An Alter Image (Channel 4) documentary on Offshore Rig performed in 1987 on Lots Ait island in 1988.
Produced by Mark Lucas.
Directed and Edited by Jane Thorburn.