I’ve been asked to blog about one of my most defining memories of working with Unusual...and this one is up there with some of the best. But of course, the best are almost always the most challenging.

It was one of the cultural events prior to the Olympics and consisted of several Aerial Performances that took place consecutively at different sites in central London in a single day between 7 in the morning and 10 at night.

My remit was to provide the rigging infrastructure, supervise the performances & manage safety.

The client was American aerial artist and choreographer Elizabeth Streb, who brought 16 performers from the States and recruited and trained a further 16 here in the UK.

The performances were:
  • 16 Performers jumping off Millennium Bridge on bungees. They performed an aerial ballet over the water. We then lowered them into speed boats and whisked them away to the next performance . . . 
  • 3 Performers walking 160 feet down the curved façade of City Hall
  • 3 Performers on high speed winches [Speed Angels] performing an aerial routine under a 30-meter tall freestanding goalpost truss, in front of the National Theatre
  • 32 Performers sliding down the spokes of the London Eye performing a routine which lasted for three revolutions of the Eye.
You can imagine the volume of meetings, liaison, site visits, cajoling and persuasion it took to gain permission for these performances.

You cannot imagine the volume of Method Statements and Risk Assessments I produced.

However the real challenges were in the rigging and the performer management.
  • The bungee jumping was relatively straightforward, and yes, I did remember the 6 metre tidal difference and managed to get the bungees the right length. Even lowering them into the speedboats, which could have looked a bit It’s a knockout, went remarkably smoothly.
  • Walking the performers down the glass façade of City Hall was a relatively straightforward belay, although the curve of the roof meant that we couldn’t see the performers and had to view them on a video screen. Not ideal but we managed.
  • AJ made a rare appearance on site and managed the Speed Angels for me, enabling me to concentrate on the big one…The London Eye.
First thing I had to do was design a system which would enable the performers to slide down a spoke at a controlled speed, stop when they wanted to and be hands free at all times, so they could throw shapes and perform their routines.

This I did and over three nights we installed the system on each of the Eye’s 32 riverside spokes.

Eventually the big day – or rather the big night – came, as the Eye performance began at 22.30.

The riggers took up position.

I was riverside, perched precariously 3-metres above the Crow’s Nest, riverside end of the axle.

It was dark.

It was windy.

The river flowed 200 feet below.

32 performers, supervised by my team,  climbed the 200 ft. ladders within one of the support legs of the Eye, crawled through the Axle to the riverside crow’s nest and climbed a three metre external ladder, all in single file, no turning back.

As they climbed the final metre between me and the Spokes, I had 20 seconds to attach each performer to their spoke, commission their device, look into their eyes, make sure they were ready, give them a kiss before the ever-turning Eye had taken them beyond my reach

I did one every twenty seconds, until all 32 were on the Eye.

Intense concentration, adrenalin pumping, no room for error, fantastic feeling.

I then had ten minutes to relax, in probably the best seat in the ‘house’, watching them swoop from 400 feet to 200 ft. in the northern hemisphere and 200 ft. to almost ground level in the southern hemisphere.

They were all whooping and laughing. So elated, so happy to be up there.

They all timed their descent to arrive at the hub at the right time, to give me 20 seconds to focus them, instruct them, detach them and manage them past the pinch points and back down through the axle.

If they arrived late it cut my time.

All 32 were successfully recovered with no mishaps.

Incredible feeling!

What a feeling of elation. What a sense of achievement. That’s what rigging is all about!

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