Spectacles most often are built on numbers: numbers of people, numbers of decibels, numbers of lumens. Whenever you can say “biggest” about your event, you have a spectacle. (Think about the ongoing Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.)
One of the most successful purveyors of spectacles then was Imre Kuralfy. A Hungarian immigrant, he bought land on Staten Island in New York so he could stage his tableaux vivant, including live stagings of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days or Columbus arriving in the New World (complete with ships!). One of his shows on Staten Island put 2,000 people on stage, and another in London employed 2,500. When he staged his history of America tableau in Chicago, he used a theater that had over 4,000 seats and could accommodate an orchestra of 100 musicians.
Today’s spectacles are often staged with far fewer people, but with other numbers of significance. Blast!, which returns to Popejoy Hall next month, accomplishes a lot with fewer than 40 people on stage. First is their virtuosity: everyone on stage plays an instrument somewhere, even members of the Visual Ensemble. Many play a variety of instruments. Tuba player Jason Moncrief plays a few notes on a flute, while several of the brass players also pick up drumsticks for the wildly popular Battery Battle. All in all, there are about 550 musical instruments in the show, which is a pretty impressive number.
Based on the very spectacles mounted by very talented drum and bugle corps, the show pared down the numbers of bodies needed for the stage — you don’t need as many people to create a solid visual and aural impact in a theater as you do in an open-air field. It also took advantage of the more controlled environment of the theater to add dramatic lighting and a more focused viewpoint.
We don’t see a lot of stage spectacles in Albuquerque. They take more budget than local groups can typically muster. While Blast! doesn’t take its cue from Imre Kuralfy, it is a modern-day aural spectacle (if that’s not a physical absurdity). And it’s nice to have a spectacle come to our town, even if it is for only one night.
Terry S. Davis