On November 1, ZOOM, an original multimedia performance constructed around the words of UK’s leading poet, Simon Armitage, served as the centerpiece of Wellington College International Shanghai’s week-long 5th annual arts festival. Part-poetry, part-concert, part-reading, part-dance, and part-light show, ZOOM came together as a performance that included 700 Wellingtonians from years 4-13. The pupils themselves spent the week immersed in the preparations for the show, working alongside, and then performing with, several highly accomplished international artists.
Delivered in the College dome which was transformed into a theatre expressly for the performance, ZOOM took its structure from five of Simon Armitage’s poems and was set to specially commissioned music by award-winning composer and musician, John Harle.
Additionally, a light show, devised by UK award-winning sound architect Richard Scott, added another dimension to the performance. Jeremy Avis, the distinguished UK musical director, conducted the choir and coordinated the various creative strands of the performance. Round Midnight, the drama group that has worked with pupils during all of Wellington’s previous arts festivals, created and managed the choir’s synchronized accompaniments.
In his opening address, Simon Armitage elaborated on the creative concept of this unique performance: “I’m delivering this in deliberately astronomical and intergalactic terms inspired by the title poem of the performance. Zoom! The poem travels from a small terraced house to the far end of the universe in just a couple of minutes, like an expanding address written down by a child. Poems transcend mere earthbound boundaries and borders, breeze through checkpoints, and go wherever they want, whenever they like. Poems are little conveyances with enormous range, vehicles that can transport us from one side of the cosmos to another in just a few sentences. Musical notes do the same thing, and so do images and lights and movements, so in combination with each other, imagine what kind of acceleration and propulsion we have in store for us this afternoon.”
ZOOM was an intensely theatrical and artistic production that involved the whole school, emphasizing ‘performance’ as much as ‘process,’ thereby evolving the customary design of previous festivals in which small-scale workshops and hands-on sessions have been shifted to one of large-scale rehearsals for a single performance. Much like previous festivals, however, pupils were given a chance to meet an exciting array of artists from all manner of professional backgrounds to learn directly from their unique perspectives. This was a chance to deepen their appreciation of poetry, performance and music by working together with their peers from across the year groups, helping them to understand the importance of lending their individual strengths to a larger collaborative process.
Stephen Jacobi, Festival Director and Director of Culture of Wellington College International Shanghai, in his introductory remarks, discussed the value of the annual Arts Festival as an enrichment opportunity for Wellington pupils, as it allows them to experience wholly new ideas and perspectives while learning from some of the best in their field international artistic talent. Furthermore, by challenging pupils to engage across a spectrum of arts, he suggested that ZOOM broadened them as individuals and strengthened their ability as learners.
“Wellington believes the arts are of equal importance to other subjects such as maths and science, and the Arts Festival is a reflection of this,” Dr. Jacobi observed. “Being part of a performance, especially one as challenging as this, means pupils must show dedication and hard work. They must come together as a whole to work towards a single goal. They are taking a risk. This is important for their development, as we want our pupils not only to be prepared to take risks but also be prepared to fail.”
Eleanor Prescott, Principal of Wellington College International Shanghai, emphasized that: “Wellington, and our pupils, are not afraid to challenge the status quo and take a risk. It is part of our philosophy to challenge current ideals in education. Wellington strives to provide pupils with opportunities to perform, create and present; to build confidence and encourage competence, as well as inspiring all of us to reach for the top.”
Each year the Arts Festival goes from strength to strength. Wellington Shanghai had its first event in March 2015, just seven months after it opened, crafting it around the theme of comedy, and presenting a collection of workshops, talks, performances and productions. It filled the school with a sense of energy, amusement and discovery. The 2016 Arts Festival celebrated William Shakespeare with pupils, parents and staff involved in a range of activities such as theatre workshops, storytelling, documentary film, a production of Shakespeare’s Richard II, clowning, journalism, and much more. The third annual celebration of the creative arts in March 2017 featured a dedicated week of workshops, talks, performances and productions that were built around the theme of the film. And the unifying topic for the fourth Arts Festival, in March 2018, was Jazz, which provided a coherent thread through sessions on drama, dance, and music, as well as an exhibition on Degener.
[All images via Wellington College International Shanghai]
See listing for Wellington College International Shanghai here.