Robert Lepage plans tribute to Quebec City

April 12, 2008, Marianne White

40 night project celebrates 400th anniversary

QUEBEC—Acclaimed director and playwright Robert Lepage is putting the finishing touches on one of his most ambitious projects: a gigantic visual tribute to celebrate his hometown’s 400th birthday.

For 40 nights, beginning on June 20, Mr. Lepage will project a three-dimensional animation on the 30-metre-high, 600-metre-long row of grain silos of La Bunge, in the city’s old port.

The massive screen—18,000 square metres—will host the biggest outdoor architectural projection ever done.

“I have always been inspired by this building that everyone sees as a concrete wall blocking the view,” said Lepage, who has been working on this project for more than three years.

“So my wish was to make it disappear, to make it translucent and show people that beyond this building, the rest of the world opens up to Quebec,” he added.

Lepage’s original approach to theatre has won him international acclaim—notably for The Dragon’s Trilogy and The Seven Streams of the River Ota—and he is known for his creative use of new technologies.

Titled The Image Mill, his new 40-minute show will cover 400 years of history of Quebec City in images, light and sound.

But don’t expect a history lesson, stressed Lepage. He described his work as an animated mosaic that will create an impressionistic portrait of the city, moving from photos to videos, from engravings to paintings—some dating back to when Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec City.

“It’s like a UFO that will land here for the projection and then set off again,” said Lepage, who was born and raised in Quebec City.

He wants to show visitors that his town is much more than just postcard beauty.

“It’s not just an old dusty museum town and a sleepy town like some people like to call it,” said Lepage.

“It’s a very eventful place, a controversial city where major battles took place, a military city and much more. And I think that this effervescence and the many sides of the city will show [in the Image Mill]” he added.

A team of more than 40 people are working day and night to mix the images with the narrative.

The researchers dug deep to come up with original material, on top of a selection from the National Film Board, the Quebec National Archives and the Quebec National Museum of Fine Arts.

“They have come across amazing stuff that people have never seen, like footage or pictures or paintings,” said Lepage.

“We have some very recognizable images of Quebec, but we also went beyond Canada.

There is even a piece of footage that was shot in 1895 that a collector in L.A. had,” he added.

Lepage had to push his creative boundaries and those of his team to make this bold and complex project possible.

“Our biggest challenge is to meet Robert’s expectations,” said his production director Mario Brien.

“You often hear people say that artists’ ideas and visions are impractical, but with Robert, our job is to do all we can to carry out his ideas and make them feasible,” he added.

Lepage teamed with a French company specializing in architectural projections that lit the Eiffel Tower and the pyramid of Cheops.

Lepage’s contribution is one of the highlights of the celebrations that also will showcase other Quebec icons like the Cirque du Soleil and Celine Dion.

The show will run every night at 10 p.m. in the old port, but the Bunge can be seen from almost everywhere in the city.

The score, composed by Quebec musician Rene Lussier, will be broadcast simultaneously on a Quebec City radio station to allow a greater number of spectators to enjoy the show.

Lepage hopes that through his show, Quebecers and tourists alike will see a new side of this historic city.

“It’s an impression of the city that is very vibrant. It’s going to be a very fun piece, there are some very emotional moments in it, but it’s a very playful way of looking at Quebec,” he said.