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At 8:25 p.m. a crane moved, and the crowd went wild.

Last night’s Dance of the Cranes packed Milian Park downtown with spectators next to the 600 Massachusetts Ave. NW construction site. There, for just under an hour, two cranes passed under and over each other as they rotated in time to the music.

Capital Fringe heavily promoted the large-scale “dance,” and it drew a sizable crowd which filled both the park and nearby rooftops and windowsills.

From the start, the crowd was essential to making the performance a success: they cheered as the first crane began moving, applauded when the second, larger crane joined its partner, and gasped during some of the more harrowing moments as the cranes passed closely to each other. Without the enthusiastic crowd, the scene could have been a bit alarming—picture wandering around downtown D.C. as two apparently rogue construction cranes swing about to music.

The sheer scale of the machines’ dance was the most humbling, if only for the fact that the cranes appeared to pass very close to each other a number of times, leaving the feeling that at any moment they could collide and come crashing down on hundreds of spectators.

That sense of danger would seem to contradict what artist Brandon Vickerd told City Paper about how he first became interested in cranes: because “they’re giant toys,” he says. But that viewpoint was apparent last night: I felt awed by the reminder that it only takes one person inside each gargantuan piece of machinery to make it move.

It was a reminder of the human ingenuity needed to make the performance possible. While mankind routinely builds cities comprised of massive buildings and constructing even taller instruments to move the materials, it’s when we demand more of these giant toys that we can make them dance.

At the close of the performance, the music stopped as the cranes continued rotating for a brief period of time. Maybe it was the fact that the music had ended, or possibly because the crowds began to disperse into the neighborhood, but the cranes no longer appeared to be dancing. They looked like they were moving as they do every day.

But then there’s the great mystery: were the cranes even dancing, or were the crane operators just working overtime?

I can only hope both are correct.

Photo by Brandon Vickerd