Friday, December 26, 2014

Here's Ben: Big and blank, but not for long

Here's Big Ben in the midst of his plaza-in-the-making. Looks pretty bare, doesn't he? He's 38 feet tall, about as big as the Eiffel Tower from the "Springtime in Paris" show in 2011.

Here's Ben: Big and blank, but not for long

Here's Big Ben in the midst of his plaza-in-the-making. Looks pretty bare, doesn't he? He's 38 feet tall, about as big as the Eiffel Tower from the "Springtime in Paris" show in 2011. He has no face, and won't get one till the show opens and Klip Collective's video images - they did "the orchid wave" last year - are projected onto him. So the structure looks a little strange at the moment.

The clock faces, such as they are, are 12 feet square. We're told that the video show will be done every hour on the hour for about three minutes. It's multi-media with cultural images, pop art, light and, in set designer Gary Radin's words, "an 80s mash-up of music stuff." Sometimes the images will travel around the clock. The clock face and the plantings, terraced levels and pools around the plaza, will "come to life." Sounds positively Dali-esque!

The decision was made early on to skip live entertainment this year, so this is it for 2013. We're eager to see. The issue has been an interesting one for visitors. All the live shows, whether Aran Island dancers, Parisian cabaret singers or Hawaiian hula dancers, have been well attended. Just try and find a spot up front. Even people in wheelchairs were blocked last year.

But there are always nay-sayers. (I should save my voice mails for those who doubt.) These folks see the entertainment as evidence of the Disney-fication of the show, which, of course, they do not like. As if there isn't anything else for them to see ...

For some, "Disney-fication" is a good thing. They don't consider effort and money expended on entertainment as detracting from the show's true mission. They co-exist.

I've enjoyed most of the entertainment, especially the dancers from Ireland and Hawaii, I guess because they were authentic. When you hire performers from Philadelphia to do the can-can, you lose me. But, unlike the purest of the pure, I don't think entertainment is by definition a bad thing for the show. PHS has a lot of competition in the disposable income stakes, and nobody can honestly complain that the flower show doesn't pay enough attention to flowers. (Check out the new Hamilton Horticort.)

So there's no stage in the Big Ben Plaza, but there will be plenty of other elements - sculptures and cascading water, pools, 12 huge planted containers and landscaped beds. And masses of English-style roses. The entire space will be lit and walkable. And it will be head-on as you walk into the show. PHS tried a weird dogleg to the right last year and, while trying to alleviate the scrum that typically forms by the entrance, ended up creating other problems with traffic flow.

This year, it's a straight shot from door to Ben, but it's - pardon the expression - a very long shot. By that I mean 175 feet from show entrance, through the birch allee, to the back of the plaza. I plan to take my time to get there.

Virginia A. Smith Inquirer Staff Writer
About this blog
Ginny Smith, a Philadelphia native, joined the Inquirer at 1985. After stints as both reporter and editor in the city and suburbs, she’s been happily writing – and learning - about gardening full time since 2006. She’s won two silver medals of achievement from the national Garden Writers Association and in 2011, Bartram’s Garden honored her with its Green Exemplar award for her stories about “the region’s deeply rooted horticultural history, cultural attractions and bountiful gardens.” She plays in her own – mostly - bountiful garden in East Falls. Reach Virginia A. at vsmith@phillynews.com .

Virginia A. Smith Inquirer Staff Writer
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