The Wales Millennium Centre (Welsh: Canolfan Mileniwm Cymru) is a centre for the performing arts located on the Cardiff Bay waterfront. Opened in November 2004, it has hosted performances of opera, ballet, dance, comedy and musicals. The building comprises two theatres, shops, bars and restaurants, and seven resident Welsh arts organisations.
The centre was designed by Jonathan Adams, of local architects, Capita-Percy Thomas, with Arup Acoustics providing the acoustic design. The structure is dominated by a huge dome, clad in steel which has been treated with copper oxide to give it a bronze colour. It has been designed to withstand the harsh conditions of the waterfront, and to look better with age. Inscribed on the front of the dome, above the main entrance, are two poetic lines, written by Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis. The Welsh version is Creu Gwir fel gwydr o ffwrnais awen, which means "Creating truth like glass from the furnace of inspiration". The English is "In these stones, horizons sing". The lettering is formed by windows in an upstairs bar area; these are internally illuminated at night, giving spectacular reflections in the water features.
The rest of the structure is clad in multi-coloured slate from North Wales quarries. Narrow windows are built into the slate to give the impression of rock strata. The rear of the centre is clad in natural wood. All the materials used come from Wales and the centre is designed to reflect the many different parts of Wales.
Inside, the main Donald Gordon theatre is dominated by wood of different colours and by chunky, irregular terracotta-like walls. The theatre is one of the largest in Europe, holding 1900 spectators. The second theatre, the Weston Studio, has a maximum capacity of 250 people.
During its design, it was decided that Wales Millennium Centre would be home to 7 Resident arts companies, all of whom would create, develop and promote new work:
- Academi - The Welsh National Literature Promotion Agency and Society For Writers
- Diversions - the Dance Company of Wales
- Hijinx Theatre - an award-winning, innovative theatre company that promotes community work, aiming to bring together people of all ages
- Touch Trust - providing educational touch and movement therapies to people with profound disabilities and autism
- Tŷ Cerdd - music information centre for Wales’ amateur and professional musicians
- Urdd Gobaith Cymru (The Welsh League of Youth)
- Welsh National Opera
They all have office and work space in the Centre, with performance spaces, rehearsal halls, a fully equipped recording studio, and a dance house. Urdd Gobaith Cymru also runs accommodation for 150 people in the centre. It is anticipated that up to 10,000 schoolchildren and young people per year, from across Wales, will spend a week in the Centre, experiencing the range of cultural activities.
The links with Touch Trust, a pioneering charity which provides multi-sensory therapy for people with profound disabilities mean that in addition to a therapy room, partnership with a number of the resident groups of the WMC has provided participation for the disabled in some productions.
The Centre has its detractors. Whilst most are supportive, others think that is too expensive and irrelevant to their needs. Criticism also comes from those living in the north of Wales, some of whom think that too much public money is spent in Cardiff. This is compounded by poor North-South road and rail links in the country.
Most architecture critics liked the design, although many claimed it was a too literal interpretation of national identity. However, it has begun to take on iconic status amongst the people of Wales and the rest of the UK, making numerous appearances in film and television.
In popular culture
Doctor Who / Torchwood
The Millennium Centre has appeared in the show twice to date; as itself from outside in the episode Boom Town, and its lobby appeared as a hospital lobby in the far future in the episode New Earth.
The spin-off series Torchwood is set underneath the Basin, with the Millennium Centre's frontage featuring heavily through the show.
On November 3rd 2006, a record breaking attempt to gather the most people with the same surname—Jones—took place in the centre, under the show banner Jones Jones Jones, filmed for television by S4C. The record was broken, with 1224 Jones' filling the Donald Gordon Theatre.
Building work has just started at the Wales Millennium Centre. This second phase will provide a rehearsal, recording and performance space for the BBC National Orchestra of Wales named the BBC Hoddinott Hall due to be opened before the end of 2008. This does mean that there will be no disabled parking at the venue until Autumn.