Victoria Park in Hackney, East London, exploded into life in June as legendary French pyrotechnic artists Groupe F performed their high-energy Garden of Light spectacle - with live fire and music.

The result was an unforgettable incendiary experience; Groupe F used the park environment as a backdrop, filling the surrounding space with sparks, flames, bangs and flashes - as well as a colossal jet-flamed Catherine wheel. Groupe F’s relationship to fire and ‘fireworks’ is certainly not a classical one. The show opens with an alchemist character,stoking and playing a ‘keyboard’ of fire - and just as alchemists changed the properties of real substances, Groupe F transformed fire into water for the finale of the 45-minute show.

Thousands crammed into the park to enjoy the two nights of free performance, part of the month-long London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT). Groupe F are a team of professionals from all areas of performance - engineers, actors, show technicians, composers, directors and producers - who work collaboratively to produce multimedia visual and sonic works based around fire - real fire! Cristophe Berthonneau and his ‘fire instigators’ work internationally on a huge variety of events. Recent credits include the closing show for soccer’s 1998 World Cup in Paris, the closing ceremony for Expo ‘98 in Lisbon and the stunning Millennium Eve fire show on the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Berthonneau explains that Groupe F first performed at the LIFT festival in 1995 where they created a fire show on the Thames. As director of the Garden of Light show, he wanted to add a new dimension to the performance and remove it from any commercial constraints. He is careful, however, not to reveal too many technical details about Groupe F’s unique control and pyrotechnic systems, but is happy to admit that for Garden of Light, they utilized 3,000 shots of pyro for the aerial effects and 10,000 for the flames. Parts of the show and fire effects were triggered via timecode linked to the music, while other parts were improvised spontaneously. All the flames are produced by highly controllable pump mechanisms devised by Groupe F, and the show controller which they have named the Groupe F Tir Safe.

It’s imperative for Groupe F that their creative impact is open to all, and that they can offer different ways of experiencing an environment. They thrive on transforming a location.

Louise Stickland

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