Illuminares Lantern Festival hosts huge heron at Canada Place
Samantha Jo Simmonds, creative director of Public Dreams, has been quietly cultivating a dream for years—and on Saturday (July 30), it will finally be realized. That’s when a seven-metre-tall illuminated heron puppet will appear at the newly relocated Illuminares Lantern Festival, leading a procession along the Coal Harbour seawall to Canada Place.
Simmonds, a theatre artist and filmmaker, admits she never saw herself working in public art until a couple of years ago, when someone sent her a clip featuring the French mechanical-marionette street-theatre company Royal de Luxe. “I looked at it and thought, ”˜My God, you know, that’s it! That is delight for delight’s sake, and nothing more than that,’ ” she says in a phone call, describing how entranced she was by the vision of a giant little-girl puppet being brought to life.
“I just thought that Vancouver could be doing work on that scale,” Simmonds goes on. “We have on Boundary Road, working in all the film studios, some of the most incredibly talented technical artists—animatronic technicians and puppeteers. But there’s very little crossover between our technical creative field and our community art world.”
When she joined Public Dreams in 2009, Illuminares was still taking place at Trout Lake. “One of the most magical parts of the festival in that incarnation is that we used to float lanterns out on the lake,” Simmonds explains. “So I was thinking, ”˜What would be the nth degree of that?’ ” The answer came to her in a flash: a giant heron, emblematic of the wildlife that coexists with the city.
Public Dreams received a $30,000 B.C. Arts Council Innovations grant in February, and finally the heron concept was able to take flight. Simmonds sought the help of various artists and technicians, starting with Peter Boulanger of the Underground Circus, who had created a 10-metre-tall wire marionette for the opening of the Vancouver Convention Centre in April 2009.
Boulanger designed a metre-high prototype of the heron puppet, later passing it on to other artists and technicians: master puppeteer and consultant Jeny Cassady; builders Philip Piper, Maggie Winston, and Alastair Knowles; lighting designer Arthur Hazelden; and technical director Jayson Mclean. The result is a huge, illuminated aluminum structure whose movements will be supplied by community members who have taken part in special workshops.
Years after conceiving the project, Simmonds says she’s thrilled to be finally witnessing the heron’s first steps. But she insists that credit for the achievement lies with the community of craftspeople and volunteers who contributed to its creation. “If it came solely out of my brain, I think that would be really boring,” she says. “The idea was to bring all of these brains together and see what we all came up with. It’s been this wholly collaborative process where we’ve gone, ”˜Oh, wow! Look, we can do this!’ ”
The Illuminares Lantern Festival takes place at Coal Harbour and Canada Place on Saturday (July 30).