Excerpt from The Bird & The Elephant, 14 minutes, HD single screen, stereo sound, 2021
The Bird and the Elephant is a film which celebrates the legacy of the iconic Coventry Sports & Leisure Centre, through a performance; a swan song to the space. Shot at the Coventry Sports and Leisure Centre (CSLC) prior to its closure early 2020, The Bird and the Elephant features ballet dancer William Moore performing an underwater choreographed dance inspired by the stories and memories of the Coventry Baths community.
Envisaged as ‘a cathedral of swimming’, CSLC, also known as the elephant building, is a classic example of the radical brutalist architecture which defines so much of Coventry’s cityscape*. Opening in 1966, it was one of the most ambitious swimming pools built in Britain. Like many leisure centres built in the post-war era, CSLC became a focal point for community events and a draw for locals of all ages who attended its regular sports and leisure get-togethers. The closure of the pool signifies what has become a wider trend among council run pools, which due to decaying buildings, cuts to public funding, and the growth of private pools attached to exclusive gyms and health clubs, are under threat, even before the impact of covid closures has taken effect.
Filmed within the light-drenched waters for which the pool is known, The Bird and the Elephant responds to interviews with the community of users and workers, whose recollections form the basis of the film. The recordings were made by a team of volunteers, who through the project, were trained by the Oral History Society, and now form part of the Herbert Museum’s Coventry Archive. The final film is an ode to this unique architectural building, the quality of public spaces and the communities that form within their walls.
Dancer: William Moore, Ballett Zürich
Music: Ed Critchley
To accompany the initial screenings a series of free dance workshops for young people took place with Tom Rogers from Royal Ballet Birmingham
The Bird & The Elephant project was funded by Arts Council England, National Lottery Heritage Fund and Coventry City of Culture. It was supported by the Oral History Society.