The Year of Seville

Pat Ganase previews a year of frantic activity as Spain and the New World set about celebrating the anniversary of their first contacts

Andalusian pavilion (model)Avenida de Europe under constructionCentenary BridgeExpo Building – World Trade CentrePuerto Rican pavilion (model)

If you’ve always wanted to visit Spain, this is the perfect year. Madrid has been declared Europe’s cultural capital. Barcelona is bracing for the Olympics in July. And Seville is hosting the world in its Universal Exposition, Expo 92.

Five hundred years after Columbus set sail on a voyage that would change the shape of the world for ever, the Spanish government is embarking upon a new age of discovery. This is the focus of the Universal Exposition taking place in Seville from April 20 to October 12. It is going to be a massive event: 20 million visitors, over a hundred countries represented, 50,000 live performances.

As well as being a celebration of the discoveries of mankind, Expo 92 intends to be a launchpad into the next millenium. The Cartuja island site on the Guadalquivirriver in Seville will serve as both a channel into the past – where Vikings ply longboats,

[pullquote]Over 50,000 music, drama and dance performances are planned, many spilling out of the site’s own venues into the streets and squares of Seville[/pullquote]

Greek triremes set sail and history is rediscovered and dramatised – and a capsule into the future.

In fact the future is already in focus in the design and architecture of the Seville site and its pavilions. Described as the largest public works project ever carried out in Spain, the renovation of Seville includes the upgrading of San Pablo airport to accommodate up to 4,500 passengers per hour, and road and rail infrastructure to bring millions of visitors from Madrid and other European capitals. The French TGV train will ply the Madrid-Seville route in less than four hours, allowing visitors to Madrid to take day (or night) trips to Seville for special Expo events. The Costa del Sol’s hotels and guest houses will be offering 700,000 beds to service Expo.

The Expo site is organised around roadways and waterways, and will move its visitors around not only by coach but by boat, by monorail and by cable-car. Daytime activity is focused on the country and theme pavilions. More than 350,000 trees and shrubs have been planted to keep the site cool and shady; the crumbling 15th century monastery which has long occupied the island site, where Columbus prayed before setting off on his voyages of discovery, has been restored to its original splendour.

The theme displays will leave nobody in any doubt about what is being celebrated. There is a 15th century Pavilion, recreating the world of 1492; a Discoveries Pavilion, charting the advances of the last five centuries; a Navigation Pavilion, celebrating the world’s voyagers and explorers; and a Pavilion of the Future. State-of-the-art projection techniques will feature in many of the displays: hemispherical auditoria, lasers and holograms, screens and sound systems to make the spectator feel at the centre of the experience.

Many of the participating countries have gone all out to make a big impact. France’s pavilion is built of materials used in space travel. The British pavilion’s glass facades will be curtained by an 18-metre-high sheet of water. The Soviet pavilion will change colour constantly. Switzerland will have a huge paper tower. The roof of Germany’s pavilion will appear to be suspended in space. Saudi Arabia will have a desert jaima, Japan will have the world’s largest wooden building.

At night the activity shifts to the lakeside for laser shows, and to the Palenque for all-night dancing, concerts and other live entertainment by top performers and creative artists from all over the world. Many of the 50,000 music, drama and dance performances will spill out of the site’s own venues into the streets and squares of Seville.

 

One of these street celebrations will mark Trinidad and Tobago’s “flag day” on July 31, the date on which Trinidad was first sighted by Columbus and named after the Holy Trinity. The celebration is tentatively called A Whale of a Tale, and will involve the talents of scores of Trinidadians and Tobagonians, notably its producer Dr Kiran Akal.

Trinidad and Tobago will occupy space in the Caribbean pavilion. Other Caribbean countries taking part include several Eastern Caribbean states, Jamaica and the Bahamas. Puerto Rico will have its own pavilion in an old Spanish fort.

Apart from the national exhibitions, the Caribbean pavilion will house a major display of art and craft from across the region, much of it available to buyers. The Caribbean countries too are going all out to impress visitors to Expo: the OECS (Eastern Caribbean) pavilion, for example, will invite them to experience a complete island environment. Visitors will follow a path that leads through mountain ranges and tropical forests, along beaches and into magnificent gardens, beside waterfalls and underwater reefs, ending up in a Caribbean market where information and Caribbean products are on display. The experience includes dramatic presentations of island flora and fauna, underwater scenes, sports activities, Amerindian artefacts and modern Caribbean lifestyle. On July 6, the Eastern Caribbean islands’ national day, artists and cultural groups will stage an ambitious programme for Expo visitors.

[pullquote]One of the street celebrations will mark Trinidad and Tobago’s ‘flag day’ on July 31, the date on which Trinidad was first sighted by Columbus and named after the Holy Trinity [/pullquote]

Kiran Akal, the Trinidadian who will produce his country’s July 31 street event, is a medical doctor and Trinidad and Tobago’s Commissioner General at Expo 92. At 28, he is probably the youngest national ambassador ever sent to a world fair. His involvement with Expo follows a series of extraordinary breaks which saw him producing a film about the Amoco Renegades steel orchestra, The Music of Trinidad and Tobago, for French television, and subsequently working with Jean Michel Jarre on the 200th Bastille Day celebration in Paris, an immense “son et lumiere” spectacle witnessed by thousands of spectators and carried on European television.

At Expo on July 1, he is being featured as one of the “creators of the 21st century”. He has commissioned a special sculpture by Francisco Cabral (the Trinidadian artist famed for his sculptured chairs) as the central point of his Expo extravaganza, which will feature a cast of about 300. Cabral is also one of three artists being exhibited in the first two weeks after Expo’s April 20 opening.

Wayne Berkeley, the Trinidad designer whose work is as much in demand internationally as it is at home, is heavily involved in Expo 92. He is the artistic director for the Caribbean segment of the opening parade on April 15, designing and producing the costumes for the 250 to 300 dancers who will be part of the 10,000-strong display. He is also designing the costumes for Kiran Akal’s July 1 extravaganza, a lavish operatic event with a glittering set in Waterford crystal.

Also heavily involved in Spain this year is the Trinidadian Carnival artist Peter Minshall, who has been commissioned by the organising committee of the Barcelona Olympic Games to design for the opening and closing ceremonies in a way that will project Spain’s cultural history. He too made his mark in Europe by presenting a series of monumental costume performances for the Bastille Day production in Paris, to Jean Michel Jarre’s music.

In Barcelona, he will certainly use concepts and techniques developed and perfected in his Carnival presentations. For Minshall is above all a master of kinetic art. “My main preoccupation is with mobility,” he says, “often on a monumental scale. The costume … becomes a kind of sculpture, brought to life by the dancing human form. The performer activates the sculpture and gives it the power of communication.”

 

The Caribbean, in other words, is going to be well represented in Spain this anniversary year. It will be a good time for Caribbean people to find their way to Spain, not just to see what the world has to offer, but to celebrate themselves, their culture, their innovativeness, the special creativity which they have brought to the world in the 500 years since the departure of Columbus.