Artists dancing on air with crane ballet

THEY would surely be the most unusual "ballerinas" ever to perform in the world.

After decades of service lifting millions of tonnes of cargo on and off ships, the six cranes along Imperial Dock in Leith could be reborn as the "cast" of a massive steel ballet.

The cranes looked set for sale or the scrap heap under plans to transform the port area into a vibrant new city quarter.

But now four artists have dreamt up a fresh beginning for the giant structures.

Under the ambitious proposal, members of the public will be able to "instruct" the cranes to move via text messages from their mobile phones, or by leaving requests on a website.

And the cranes - believed to date back to the 1920s - will trace messages in light across the night sky, much like a child signing their name with a sparkler.

The messages will only be visible through several specially-adapted telescopes that capture the letters on a video or long-exposure photography.

It is hoped the unusual performances by The Ballet of the Steel Dinosaurs will be visible from as far as Calton Hill.

The project is the brainchild of four students from Edinburgh College of Art, who won a competition organised by the Scottish Parliament architects RMJM and Forth Ports.

The winning team - made up of Ruth Bide, a painting student, Chris Gray and Rebecca MacDonald, both architectural students, and Martine Pugh, who studies sculpture - scooped a 2000 prize.

Today, Mr Gray, who is in his fourth year at ECA, said: "We are very pleased. We came up with the idea very quickly and got the opportunity to work it up to a high level of detail. We are keen to see it happen and believe it could conceivably be done."

Port chiefs today admitted the bizarre idea could one day be turned into reality.

Terry Smith, director of property at Forth Ports, said: "It is a very exciting idea. It is great to see the designers of tomorrow coming up with these ideas."

RMJM has been commissioned by Forth Ports to draw up a master-plan for Leith Docks, which will breathe new life into the area.

Tony Kettle, director of RMJM, said: "The standard of entries was very high and the commitment and enthusiasm of the students was fantastic.

"We struggled to choose one winner from so many good works, but The Ballet of the Steel Dinosaurs was the one which all the judges agreed would make a significant contribution to the regeneration of Leith Docks.

"We organised this competition to bring students from different disciplines together and produce something innovative and remarkable.

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The winning entry and a selection of the runners-up are expected to be displayed at Ocean Terminal for three weeks from the end of the month.