Overworlds & Underworlds

This weekend Leeds became a multimedia, multi-arts moving canvas and various parts of the city became part of the Overworlds & Underworlds “project”.  I use the word project as I’m not sure how else to describe it.  For those who don’t know the city, the river Aire runs through it but at one point part of it flows underneath the railway station through a serious of tunnels which are known as the dark arches.  They have always had a slightly otherworldy feel to them as the noise of the rushing water is amplified and there is unsurprisingly a dank and dampness to the place.  This weekend the whole dark arches area formed the Underworlds element of the project dreamt up from the warped imagination of the Quay Brothers.

In each of the arches something different was taking place, there was the journey of the River Stykes through the cycle of imagined, observed and remembered memories; Phoenix Dance and the Northern Ballet performing; a floating Queen/ Ghost like character on a sunken ship; film loops; chalk drawings; a wailing/laughing ensemble (Phoenix Dance) with a lot of chairs and a dead horse; a miniature port hole / coffin depicted a shattered/ flooded world.  All to the accompaniment of bells and water.  Water was clearly a key theme to what was going on although quite what was going on is open to interpretation.

As we were wandering a gap opened and 3 dark angels appeared and handed one of my kids an umbrella full of holes and instructed her to follow them and shelter them as they weaved through the crowd past the band of lost souls.  These dark angels then turned into a fire breathing / eating act, again with the bell toiling for the dead caused by the flood ?  Out in the courtyard a gaggle of steampunks carried water jugs and emptied them in a solemn ritual into the canal, each one again to the ringing of the bell while next to them a pylon had found it’s watery grave.

The Band of Lost Souls

A Dark Angel (photo credit – Carl Milner)

Photo Credit – Carl Milner

A watery grave

Dark Angels playing with fire !

The strange and macabre world of the flooded underworld was of course only half the story, what of those who had survived the flood? celebration was required.  The main shopping street in Leeds found itself with a shipwreck, brass bands in “band off”, celestial dancers floating through the shoppers, shop windows converted to themes of the sea.  All of this of course taking place while much of Leeds does what Leeds does on a weekend and worships to the god of consumerism.  What on earth did they think to these strange goings on around them and I even missed the singing children in one of the arcades.

Members of the Paper Birds Theatre Group and other theatre performers, who we had earlier seen in the ‘water into the canal ceremony’ then mingled in with the bands and dancers and the bells rang out again as they led the way pied piper like back down to the dark arches where without doubt the best thing of the whole “project” was.  Almost hidden right at the end of the dark arches you could see a tightly packed huddle of people all staring at something but it was unclear what.  I wedged my way in to the very densely packed throng but could see nothing but pitch black with the rushing sound of water, then magically the most incredible projection appeared that wrapped round the arches and illuminated the space underneath.  It was like a flooded cathedral or a ballroom of a titanic like ship and totally took the breath away.  I could have stayed there gawping at it for a long time but the throng of people wanting to look meant that I needed to make some room.  The projections were created by Mic Pool, I have no idea how he has done them but they were the highlight of this amazing day.

Photo credit – Carl Milner

Photo credit – Carl Milner

I have no idea what any of this was really about, it was beautiful, beguiling and macabre in equal measure.   I’m not sure if it was environmental or political all I do know is that huge credit must go to all who collaborated on it and Leeds needs more things like this.


6 thoughts on “Overworlds & Underworlds

  1. I’m not sure it was meant to make a whole lot of sense but it’s good to see Leeds doing something that makes use of the cityscape in such a cool and interesting way. Highlights for me – the Aquatic Cabaret and the ghostly Sea Queen-esque figure emerging from behind a shipwreck….

    • yes completely agree on the way the city was used as a backdrop / canvas and I too liked the Sea Queen / Ghost piece.

  2. the final projection was of county arcade which if you had seen the kids singing in there before visiting the dark arches (which luckily we did) made it even more haunting seeing the projection in the dark arches and hearing recorded sounds of the kids singing. I thought overworlds and underworlds was really good and was like a bigger budget version of light night in leeds which happens every october I just wonder what sights I missed seeing as there was so much to see

  3. very difficult to see everything I’d have thought and frustrated that I missed the children singing but it didn’t detract from an amazing experience. It was one of those events that you could catch bits of or submerge yourself in the whole thing and take away from it whatever you want I think.

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