Sunday 15 December 2019

Libeskind theatre has put us on world stage

Valerie McGrath

I write fan letters. Not many -- possibly half a dozen. Always, so far, to authors. I never write in the expectation of a reply, although five out of the six have responded.

Margaret Drabble scribbled a card to me from a holiday in Seville, Nicholas Evans, 'The Horse Whisperer', sent a lovely card from the States and Julian Fellowes, of 'Snobs' fame, wrote from his magnificent pile in Dorset, presumably between shoots of his latest film.I write these fan letters when I am moved by something in the book. Something that touches me, very personally and very deeply. I want to acknowledge the bond, our spirits crossing, so to speak.

Yesterday I wrote another one. This time to an architect. To Daniel Libeskind, who has designed our newest theatre. The beauty of the Grand Canal Theatre literally moved me to tears and I am not an emotional type of person. I cannot recall when I last cried.

Going to 'Swan Lake' on Saturday afternoon I was dropped off in Pearse Street and walked down towards the theatre -- which I couldn't yet see as it is set back from Grand Canal Basin. It was a terrific day, blue skies above and the first hint of warmth in the air. On one side was the water, glinting in the sunshine, water birds and small boats bobbing up and down. On the other side were restaurants, some with tables outside. Very French. Some people were eating, others were walking in a leisurely fashion up and down the wide waterfront walkway.

I too moved slowly, enjoying the atmosphere, when suddenly, to my left, the vista opened up, and the theatre was there, in all its dazzling glory. My breath was, quite literally, taken away.

The Piazza in front, with its unobtrusive seating and pathways, outlined in little green lights, the lovely little water feature where children were playing, the spectacular red beacons -- unlit at that stage -- and the massive theatre itself. It was spectacular.

I found that tears were running down my cheeks and I didn't care who saw them. We need something like this so badly, now that we are all hurting so much.

It is hope. It is beauty. It is the promise of good things to come.

The theatre is seven storeys high, which gives the stage great height for scenery, a factor which hitherto has prevented Dublin from getting full productions of West End shows. The front facade is glazed, allowing for unimpeded views of the piazza and water.

The architectural concept of the 2,000-seater theatre is based on stages -- the stage of the theatre itself, the stage of the piazza and the stage of multiple level theatre lobbies above the piazza.

From its rooftop terrace the theatre offers spectacular views out over Dublin Harbour. The theatre faces out over the large public piazza which, in itself, serves as an outdoor lobby for the theatre, where people can wander during the interval, taking the fresh air. It can also become a stage for civic gatherings with the dramatic theatre elevation as a backdrop, offering platforms for viewing.

IT cost €80m and, of course, there are many people in the mix, not least being Harry Crosbie who saw the need, the Dublin Docklands Authority which had vision and LiveNation, which is responsible for bringing so many major theatrical events to centres around the globe. We in Ireland had not got a theatre big enough to stage the massive productions. Well, we have now.

But the magic was produced by Libeskind. It was he who designed the magnificent diamond-shaped theatre which would be complemented by adjacent luxurious apartments and commercial offices. And he came up with a design which is iconic and, above all, hopeful. He is a man who understands the need for hope.

Born in Poland he remembers how bad things were after the war. The formal end of the Holocaust did not bring an end to violent anti-Semitism or hatred of the Jews in Poland. "Anti-Semitism is the only memory I still have of Poland," he says.

He went to the US where he is now a naturalised American citizen.

As an architectural student he and his classmates watched the World Trade Center being built. He could not have foreseen that following 9/11 he would be working on the Ground Zero project.

He has designed the Jewish Museum in Berlin and also the Danish Jewish Museum and has worked on an extension to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Irish Independent

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