Given that rehearsal time in the arena had been limited by the inclement weather, that the entire layout of the arena had changed this year, and that there had only been one run-through of the full programme on Tuesday night, I had honestly not expected the dress rehearsal to be so dramatic and powerful. No doubt, the organisers and the people responsible for putting this together behind-the-scenes will have noticed some things that can still be improved or that need to be corrected to make each item flow more smoothly into the next, but that is fine-tuning what is already an excellent show. Opening night – Thursday, 6 November – is sure to be breathtaking!
Seeing all the performers in their full military dress and in their costumes for the first time during the dress rehearsal only added to the impact – and made for some stunning photographs. The different patterned tartans of the pipe bands (some of whom I hadn’t seen at the Tattoo before), and the matching uniforms of the marching military bands – the two army bands in their scarlet tunics, the SAMHS band in mastic brown and the SA Navy in their brilliant whites … they all look simply stunning.
The various groups of ushers – from Chrysalis Academy, the SA Navy, the SA Air Force, the SA Medical Health Services – were also looking very smart and suitably authoritative in their uniforms.
This year, because the arena is a bit smaller, the final muster of all the participants is really tightly spaced, and the various groups have to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle – but this definitely adds to the wow factor. As soon as the bands march onto the arena, they are focused and disciplined, moving as a team, with everyone aware of his or her position in the formations that change and shift according to the musical choreography.
That is something that impresses me every time I see it. How they manage to play such beautiful music, while remaining correctly aligned with their fellow musicians, remembering all the additional choreography and any changes that were made to it during the various rehearsals – all while marching in sync with each other and with the beat – well, let’s just say, I couldn’t do it! And they always make it look so effortless and polished!
In addition to the military marching bands and the pipes and drums, there are some marvelous additional acts:
One particularly dramatic act involves the SAASIC (SA Army Specialist Infantry Capability) bikers – especially as they soared off ramps into the arena, flying across flames in the process!
My fellow photies and I had spent some time strategising with regard to our ideal positions for this act, as we all have different cameras and lenses and we wanted to optimise our chances of getting some impressive images – from a safe distance, of course!
Looking at the pics afterwards, I realise that shutter speeds will have to be adjusted upwards, even at the risk of amping up the ISO even higher and getting some graininess.
The act that (almost literally) blew my socks off was the unexpectedly realistic and powerful ‘deploy and protect’ act, in defence of 20 years of democracy in South Africa. I’d seen the daytime rehearsals – and the previous night’s dry-run, so I knew vaguely what to expect. But with my eyes glued to the viewfinder on my camera, my peripheral vision is very much reduced – so the explosions of the flash-bangs, or thunderflashes (both highly appropriate names!!), caught me completely off-guard.
I think there were some seriously startled and shook-up photographers (possibly even spectators) that night! (I am bringing earplugs tonight!) The colourful smoke made for some striking images though, particularly when the SAASIC bikers arrived to give support to the infantry troops. And it certainly drove home the point that you wouldn’t want to be on the sharp end of a coordinated assault by these highly trained men and women!
The tribute to the men who drowned when the SS Mendi was accidentally and tragically sunk during World War 1, was beautifully done. The young girls of Project 021, who had earlier performed their own fast-paced dance routine on the arena, returned to the stage once more, creating the stormy ocean waves, beneath which the SS Mendi sank. The Sea Cadets of Training Ship Woltemade, who had just completed their silent drill, making use of the entire arena so that all members of the audience could see them well, did an about-turn in the tunnel and returned as the members of the Fifth Battalion of the SA Native Labour Corps, over 600 of whom died in this tragedy. The SA Navy Band Marimbas provided a suitable musical backdrop and narration. It was a very stirring and quite beautifully executed tribute.
Here are the pics!
Next up: Opening Night!