Royal Opera House Sings the Praises of Unusual Ringing

16th November 2018

After two years of building works, the revamped front of house spaces the Royal Opera House in London's Covent Garden opened to the public this autumn. As part of the renovation, a number of exhibitions and displays now enhance the new spaces and offer visitors the opportunity to learn more about the Royal Opera House and the art forms it supports as well as showcasing the ROH's past and present to inspire every day audiences. Unusual Rigging were brought on board to help devise a way of installing a number of scrims over the escalator leading to the newly refurbished spaces on Level 5.

Sarah Tatham, exhibitions manager at the Royal Opera house explained: "We approached Leon Ingram, Unusual's rigging project manager, in March 2018 to discuss the best way to hang the scrims. A principally artistic endeavour, the scrims required a technically complex hang and design. Unusual Rigging fed into the concept and generally advised us on the size of the scrims, the fixing methods and the installation."

Unusual has worked with the Royal Opera House itself and two of its design studios (Skellon Studio and Studio Eger) in the past. "Unusual is so well known in the industry we were very comfortable working with them from the word go. Our design studios developed a concept and Leon came on site to provide technical advice generally on installation and more specifically on fixing methodology. We supplied detailed drawings and the Unusual team developed the fixing methods and contributed to the paperwork for change of use of the track," explained Sarah.

As with most projects Unusual finds itself involved with, there were numerous challenges – not least because the area was largely a building site whilst still being open to the public for performances, making access difficult. The track had to be approved for use for an artistic installation, rather than solely to provide access to the ceiling lights. The installation had to work going up and down the escalator from outside, and with the lighting already provided. Sarah added: "Artistically, as well as identifying the right ballet and performers; we had to find the best size, location and number of scrims, ensuring the layering effect visually and the right lift artistically, as well as art-working the film stills for colour and background to provide maximum dramatic effect. And then...we had to hope that the finished result was worth the investment."

The result is ten scrims (a semi transparent theatrical voile), suspended from a track in the ceiling over an escalator. They are 2.20 metres wide and of staggered depth. The shortest is 2.7 metres deep. The longest is 7.4 metres deep. They show a vertical lift from The Royal Ballet's resident choreographer Wayne McGregor's 2018 ballet Yugen, performed by Royal Ballet dancers Calvin Richardson and Joseph Sissens.

Sarah said: "We hope to have the scrims up until the end of 2019, maybe even 2020 depending on how they weather. Originally we had thought to only have them as a temporary installation but we have received so much positive feedback that we are now likely to keep them for longer and possibly replace them with a similar installation. Leon and the Unusual team have been amazing from start to finish. He was approachable and very pragmatic and nothing seemed to faze him. The team were equally pleasant and hardworking and I wouldn't hesitate to use them again."