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Review: The AniMotion Show at Durham Cathedral

An inspiring marriage of art and music created something new and beautiful for Easter as David Whetstone reports

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ross@rossashton.com
White Horse, part of the AniMotion Show at Durham Cathedral

This was something new and very beautiful for an Easter evening and hopefully it won’t be the last we see of it here.

AniMotion is the brainchild of Maria Rud, a British-based Russian artist schooled in animation techniques.

Blessed with the ability to paint fast and freely, she makes pictures to live music – supplied here by percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, flute player David Heath and DJ Dolphin Boy.

Following earlier, successful performances at the National Museum of Scotland and St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, this was the first one south of the border. It was also the first out of doors.

It would be hard to think of a more evocative North East location than The Cloister of Durham Cathedral and the square of grass enclosed within.

As dusk fell, the cathedral’s Canon Rosalind Brown explained that for 500 years, until 1539, this was where the monks would do their washing, grow herbs and enjoy a little recreation between their daily duties of worshipping and educating.

She reckoned they would have enjoyed The AniMotion Show, the first performance of any kind to have taken place here in living memory.

The audience, small yet expectant, were advised that they could sit, stand or wander. A “tender fusion of art, music and architecture” was in the offing and it would be “a very relaxed affair”.

As dusk fell, a lone bat flitted against the cathedral walls and the bells of another church rode faintly on the air.

Then the show, perhaps best described as an audio-visual concert, began.

Dame Evelyn, on African marimba, began with a gentle but hauntingly beautiful melody from her position within the far cloister.

Beneath a gazebo on the grass, Maria started to paint on her lightbox and, as she did so, her deft marks appeared on the wall of the Chapter House above the percussionist’s head.

Three quick brushstrokes made a tree, a few more added three monks with their heads bowed in prayer.

The artist made good use during the hour-long performance of the arched and leaded window in the Chapter House wall, making it variously a boat, a building and occasionally a window admitting chinks of light to fall on a sombre scene.

Sometimes you could see Maria’s hands, at other times her flying hair, as she worked furiously, painting with brushes and hands and then wiping with rag or sponge. As the mood of the music changed, so did the images.

For her third piece, Prim, a snare drum solo by Askell Masson, Dame Evelyn stepped out of the cloister and whipped up the sound of a small marching regiment which then died into silence. Maria responded accordingly.

The other musicians produced their own sometimes other-worldly sounds. This was contemporary music, not out of keeping with a cathedral setting but very different to hymns or plainsong.

A striking horse, kneeling figures, birds and bold knights appeared on Maria’s ancient ‘screen’ of stone as darkness fell, along with the temperature on a chill night.

Those present will surely feel privileged to have experienced something magical.

But practical considerations made it possible, including some Arts Council funding and the technical expertise of Ross Ashton whose Crown of Light was a Lumiere highlight three times here.

Now all involved are wondering about a repeat in front of a bigger audience. Hopefully I can contribute to that with a hearty recommendation. Something different was promised, something life-affirming was delivered.

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