- From the International Space Station to your Desktop: Performance in Orbit
Between 30 September and 11 October 2009, Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté was Space Adventures' seventh private spaceflight client at a cost of US$35 million—small change, of course, for a man recently assessed by Forbes magazine to have a net worth in the region of $2.5 billion.1 But lest this space tourism be thought merely a whim of the super rich, Laliberté dubbed his trip a "poetic social mission," designed to promote his own charity, the One Drop Foundation, and its objective of providing sustainable access to safe drinking water. To realize his goal, Laliberté emceed a two-hour show that moved between fourteen world cities and broadcast live over the Internet and through various television providers such as DirectTV, from the International Space Station.
A star-studded entertainment that responds to particular crises in the world is, of course, hardly new. Since Live Aid in 1985, artists have donated time and performances to globally distributed events in support of a particular cause. Indeed, Live Aid, Bob Geldof's initiative to address famine in Ethiopia, remains the blueprint. It involved live concerts at London's Wembley Stadium and Philadelphia's JFK Stadium in front of audiences of 72,000 and 90,000 respectively, remarkable for performances by Phil Collins at both venues (thanks to supersonic air travel furnished by the now superannuated Concorde). An estimated 1.5 billion viewers watched on television. Other concerts took place simultaneously in five additional cities including Sydney and Moscow and in 2004 the BBC released a four-disc DVD recording of the event. To date, Live Aid is estimated to have raised £150 million ("Live Aid 1985"). The donation potential for Laliberté's show was, then, extraordinary.
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Laliberté opened the broadcast describing his role as a "space artist" and the importance of working with scientists to deliver his message—addressing the fact that a child dies every eight seconds because of lack of access to clean water. The prologue continued with lecture-like segments from Al Gore and David Suzuki outlining evidence for climate change and its impact on water resources. What would follow (fourteen "scenes" from participant cities), Laliberté explained, was composed around an original work commissioned from Yann Martel, "What the drop of water had to say."2 And so each segment opened with a reading from Martel's text before showcasing major national and international artists (usually performing for a live audience). Appropriately, the first feature city was Montreal (home, of course, to Laliberté's Cirque du Soleil) and, not surprisingly, this was the most theatrical component of Moving Stars and Earth for Water: a typical Cirque acrobatic performance embracing world cultural forms but here emphasizing First Nations artists (a hoop dancer and Inuk singer Élisapie Isaac). Like all filmed versions of Cirque's shows, this segment struggled to deliver the scale and complexity of the live performance—the singular point of view of a camera always seems to diminish both artistry and skill—but it effectively launched a register of solar system images that functioned as a linking thread between other segments.
The subsequent participant cities—Johannesburg, Rio de Janeiro, Paris, Mexico City, New York, Sydney, London, [End Page 91] Marrakesh, Mumbai, Osaka, Santa Monica, Tampa and Moscow—staged celebrity and other distinguished readers for Martel's poetry (Salma Hayek, Shakira, Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, Bono, among them) and a variety of performances, although usually, and in the Live Aid tradition, musical (including Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Gilberto Gil, Australian soprano Tiffany Speight, Joss Stone, Moroccan rap group Fnaïre, and Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack composer and two Oscar-winner A.R. Rahman). Often music was accompanied by commissioned photography/film of a scale and impact familiar from the BBC's hugely successful Planet Earth. Moving Stars and Earth for Water's last...