Illuminated Crystals in Flight

Authors: 
Scott Skinner
Article type: 
Discourse

About a year ago, at the Cervia Volante kite festival in Italy, I was lucky enough to bump into one of my favorite kite people; Carl Robertshaw. http://www.kiterelateddesign.com Readers of Discourse will remember that Carl was a contributor to Heather and Ivan Morrison’s kite projects (Discourse issue 8), but my memories of Carl go back to the early nineties when he, and his brother James, were the founding members of AirKraft, one of the world’s best sport kite teams.  AirKraft took on the personality of James and Carl and took a highly innovative, avant garde approach to team flying; specially produced music, mind-bending maneuvers, and a break-neck pace that was well ahead of its time.  In catching up with Carl, I learned that his trip to Cervia was really a therapeutic one, as business and life changes had led him to Cervia to get re-energized with the positive spirit that kiting brings to all of us.

Even in this dark time for Carl, though, he shared with me a project that would prove to lift him up and bring us together in early 2012.  Carl had collaborated with performance artist Antony Hegarty, and, as it turned out, Carl would design the set for about half-a-dozen performances of Antony and the Johnsons at music festivals throughout Europe.  In the varied venues encountered, Carl’s set evolved from show to show and grew or shrank based on the size of the stage.  The set designs were based around three sizes of “crystal” box kites, each with five differently-shaped faces.  The kite crystals proved to be a flexible set that could be erected and raised easily in endless combinations for use at any venue. 
 
            “These beautiful crystals can be found in the center of dark mountains, yet somehow they hold an inner luminosity.”
                                                            -Antony Hegarty/Antony and the Johnson
 
I was thrilled to hear from Carl in late 2011 that he would be working with Antony on a show at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, (RCMH).  He and his assistant, James Tattersall (also an artist with amazing kite connections, www.jamestat.com ) enlisted the help of several local and in my case, not-so-local, kite people (Rob Banks, Tod and Melissa Maguire, and Bob Drosnick) to help assemble, erect, and install Carl’s set above the Radio City Music Hall Stage.
With funding from MoMA’s Wallis Annenberg Fund for Innovation in Contemporary Art, Antony and the Johnsons were commissioned to perform Swanlights on January 26, 2012.  Theater critic Klaus Biesenbach commented on an earlier performance at the Manchester International Festival; “Antony worked with set designer Carl Robertshaw to create three-dimensional wall structures that could move, extend, expand, inflate, and deflate throughout the concert.  The staging had the effect of translating one of Antony’s delicate but strong crystalline drawings into a dynamic, changing space,…”
 
Carl knew that installation of the set at RCMH would be a real trick; all the crystals would be transported to RCMH to arrive at 8 am on the day of the performance.  The plan was that they would have to be unpacked, organized, re-erected and lifted within four hours.   The set also included three huge white, rip-stop walls that followed the crystalline theme and it was in a New Jersey warehouse that I got an idea of how large these were.  (Insert photo here)  (Need dimensions from Carl).  The way many productions work in New York City is that costumes, sets, and promotional material are produced off-site, and then, in the case of a stage play, for example, all would be brought to the venue prior to opening, and would be installed for the run of the show.  This was a unique production, however, because it was a one-night-only performance and had to be in and out of the theater in the same day!
Working at the Rosebrand facilities in New Jersey, we received the set from shipping and began erecting and laying out the set elements.  (insert photo here) Crystals came in three sizes and two materials; ripstop, of course, but also silver mylar.  The small and medium crystals were supported by a clever umbrella mechanism that Carl found where else but in one of the oldest umbrella shops in London and adapted for the five-spar arrangements of each box kite.  The very large crystals were framed with fiber-glass spars that any kite maker would be familiar with.  (Insert photo here)  After two days of work, erecting and re-erecting crystals, measuring and painting drop lines, and arranging sets of kites on site-specific drop lines, we were ready to prepare for transport to RCMH.
 
I think we all were a little shocked when we saw the vehicle assigned to carry everything to Radio City.  Small was the understatement of the day!  It was apparent that every kite/crystal would have to be broken completely down.  Every bit of the set would have to be assembled and erected onstage.  Now you might think that Carl’s ingenious sparring system and his formidable organizational skills would be enough to ensure success, but now the whole exercise became one of communication; none of us were supposed to touch anything while on stage at RCMH.  It’s a union house, and only union members are to do any work (as they told us at 8 am, “look at your hands, they should be just as clean when we finish!”).  That meant that we would all have to show and tell someone else how to do what we’d been doing for the previous two days.  I heard James explaining to one of the crew that the measurements on the main lifting bar were in meters, I could see a cloud of confusion as I walked away.  Great credit to James that somehow the bars all got measured and marked.
We actually worked right up to the minute that Antony started his rehearsal, but Carl, James, and the four of us successfully installed the set and had the luxury of listening to the rehearsal and seeing some of the lighting effects while we decompressed in the theater.  Lunch and dinner were provided for the entire crew on this very busy day, so now the time seemed to drag by as we waited for the evening performance.  The following pictures, show the magnificence of Carl’s set design, matched only by the stunning performance of Antony and the Johnsons.  http://www.antonyandthejohnsons.com/
 
The performance is now moving to Mexico City, May 19th, The Festival de Mexico with Orchestra Philharmonic of Mexico City.  http://www.festival.org.mx/fmx/
 
More About Carl Robershaw:
A man of many talents…
Rumor has it that Carl started making and designing kites when he was 3.
I first met Carl when I was competing in the world cup in Japan in 1992.  At the time he said he was going to put together a team and win the world championships.  You know what - he did!
He is three times European and British Sport kite individual champion. The Pairs European and British Sport kite champion with the Evolver Team.
World champion with Airkraft (1995) and three times Silver Medal winner. He has held world indoor duration records for Dual Line flying.
Born May,1972.
Completed a Graphic Design/Arts Degree at Central St. Martins, London.
Started flying kites seriously at 18.
Got seriously hooked when travelling in USA and Australia at 20.
Competed for ten years with Airkraft, and performed with James, as Evolver,  individually using two and four line kites.
Famous maker of single line kites
Occupation: Carl Robertshaw kite related design, building kites and kite related designs used by designers and architects
Favorite Food: Lasagne
Favorite Color: Blue
Hobbies: Scaletric (race cars on track) and Lego
                       
Taken lovingly from Paul  + Natalie website,  The Kite Couple
 
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