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Friday, February 26, 2010

Geology in Art Special Review: Walking with Dinosaurs - The Arena Spectacular

Visual artists often depict reality through painting, but theatre offers the chance to imitate reality in form and movement (see Taddei et al, 2005). For this reason, machines are used since the origins of performance arts.

For instance, Horace used the expression "deus ex machina" when referring to the conventions of the Greek tragedy, where a crane lowered actors playing gods onto the stage. In more recent times, many of the most important engineers and artists of the Renaissance were often involved in making machines and stage settings for the theatre. Leonardo da Vinci is no exception. For a festival in Lyons, Leonardo designed a lion which after it advanced, opened it chest spilling lilies onto the stage.

Tonight I have seen the same visual potential in the mimetic representation of the Mesozoic given by ‘Walking with Dinosaurs – The Arena Spectacular’. It is a live adaptation of the award-winning BBC TV series ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’ and it features tens of mechanically-operated dinosaurs. Originated in Australia in January 2007, it toured North America in 2007, 2008 and 2009. An Asian tour is being scheduled, while it currently travels through Europe. More than 4.4 Million people have seen the show worldwide.

I went to the Assago Forum (Milan) for seeing this live performance show. It’s a 'Geology in Art Special Review'!

Spectacular. This is the first word that came into my mind after the d├ębut of a 10 meters long Plateosaurus, moving realistically and interacting with the stage. After that, it was just a series of “whoa!”. It is amazing to see a 17 meters long Brachiosaurus, staring at you from more than 10 meters of height. These are only two of the eight huge hydraulically-operated dinosaurs (Stegosaurus, Allosaurus, Ankylosaurus, Torosaurus, Tyrannosaurus rex), accompanied by a flying reptile (Ornithocheirus) and five suit dinosaurs (3 Utahraptors, baby T-Rex, Liliensternus).

The gigantic dinopuppets will make you feel that you are looking at real dinosaurs. I also enjoyed a lot the flora, recreated by tens of inflating elements decorated with psychedelic colors.

Engaging narrative. The entire show is narrated by a paleontologist, which is necessary to explain the scientific details of the show. This is a very risky choice, because the presence of a human on stage could suggest an erroneous coexistence of humans with dinosaurs. Fortunately, the show is perfect even under this point of view. When dinosaurs are acting, the actor-paleontologist occupies always a marginal place. Moreover, the actor-paleontologist often reminded explicitly “dinosaurs and humans never lived together”. Great!

Technology. The technology which animates the dinosaurs is amazing. But there is more. Indeed the show uses both live and recorded video to enhance the scenes. Two screens shows the details of the arena and a huge cinematic scope plays recorded video for creating an immersive experience. Dramatic lighting, growls, symphonic music underline the performance.

Science. "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution" is a 1973 essay by the evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky. Evolution is one of the most fundamental scientific discoveries of our time, and gives precise answers to the basic human questions “Where Do We Come From? What Are We?”. Evolution is the unifying force in modern biology.

The show promotes the understanding of evolution, dealing with themes such as coevolution, arms race, competition and natural selection. In one word: this is a wonderful educational experience!

Obviously, the main focus of the show is paleontology, which is presented in a very appealing way, discussing also about paleoichnology (the study of trace fossils). This discipline is almost ignored by the general public, so I was very happy to see the actor discussing about the importance of fossil footprints, burrows and coprolites.

In conclusion, I had an enthusiastic impression of “Walking with Dinosaurs – The Arena Spectacular”: it’s the creative show of evolution and paleontology!