Déda has been part of the East Midlands Children’s Theatre Network for a couple of years now, a consortium of venues from across the East Midlands. We work together to programme and present children’s theatre work in our venues which perhaps wouldn’t be accessible to us individually, including international work. Last year we received Arts Council Strategic Touring funding giving us the opportunity to bring international work to the region as well as presenting exceptional UK children’s theatre companies.
On Saturday, we headed off on our mission: to head to the Danish+ Childrens Theatre festival in Aarhus, Denmark and see if any of the work would be suitable to tour to our venues. We were a group of 10 including a representative from each of the network organisations; Déda, Derby Theatre, Lakeside Arts Centre, Lincoln Drillhall, Spark Children’s Festival, South Holland Arts Centre, The Castle Wellingborough, Core at Corby and Royal and Derngate.
After a quick overnighter at the Holiday Inn at Stansted Airport (much more scenic than you would believe, we spotted rabbits and even a deer!) it was a 5am get up for our flight to Aarhus. We arrived in the city to find the streets alive with music as the Spot Music Festival was well underway. After a quick stop-off at the hotel, we had an afternoon of exploring before heading over to the Bora Bora venue that evening for the launch event and opening performance.
Danish+ is hosted by Theater Gruppe 38 – an award-winning Danish Theatre Company that has been in existence for more than 40 years. They were first on the bill with The Ballad Of Marjam and Rob, a quirky tale with an air of the Brothers Grimm about it. Bodil Alling (Artistic Director of the company who programmed much of the festival) was a joy to watch on stage. As a storyteller she is completely captivating, you would be enthralled watching her reel off what she had for dinner. This playful piece was the perfect start to the festival.
Sunday and Monday were hugely busy days with seven shows per day and lots of networking and coffee going on in between. This is where I found being part of a network extremely useful. The 20 minutes between performances were excellent opportunities to have a quick debrief and reflect on the piece we had just seen in both the context of the region and the suitability for our own audiences.
One of our major highlights of the festival for the whole group was the stunningly beautiful ‘Life Live’ by Cantabile 2 and Carte Blanche. The show is completely interactive and mixes performance with some personal soul searching of your own. We were divided into 6 groups of 5 completely at random. Each group had a guide from the company, who drew us in as she told us a personal story from her own life. We were then asked a series of revealing questions, which we responded to by placing a stone onto a sliding scale to help us get to know what makes each other tick a little better. It was the perfect ice-breaker for the rest of the performance which saw us designing a large city from a labyrinth of walls, telling stories from our own lives, revealing secrets and insecurities and finding more about each other. The theatre space was a beautifully lit environment, with the performance seamlessly blending movement, sound and projection with the interactive elements.
What was absolutely fascinating was that each group had a completely unique experience, some of the groups participated in completely different activities and felt completely connected after the show had ended. We remained huddled in our groups for a short-while following the show because we had experienced something so poignant and intimate together, even though we didn’t know each other’s names. There were tears, laughter and a lot of personal stories being shared and it was lovely to see delegates from across the the world connecting and even in some cases crossing language barriers.
We all agreed the show had been a magical experience and felt it could work really well in many of our venues. The company revealed that performances were particularly poignant across generations, as young people aged 12+ interact with grown-ups to learn about each other’s lives.
Another performance highlight for me, was the cheeky physicality of clowning show ‘Jekyll on Ice’ by Paolo Nani. Jekyll the clown has an ice-cream stall and gets up to all sorts of mischief with balloons, water guns and plenty of air guitar while dishing out delicious ice creams to the audience. The audience were in hysterics and as it can be performed both indoors and outdoors would be a perfect addition to any festival. You can see Jekyll up to no good in this youtube clip.
On Monday, we were treated to a lovely performance from Theatre Mollen who told the tale of the ‘Goldigger’ through performance and irresistibly catchy country tunes. Although it was part of a children’s festival, this was a piece I enjoyed so much as an adult, I could see it sitting in an evening performance programme.
Danish+ proved to be a fantastic weekend of a range of theatre, networking opportunities and conversations. It was a joy to meet people from all over the world, with delegates from Australia, Sweden, Korea and Egypt. The festival staff were brilliantly helpful, thanks especially to Producer Niels and our daily guide Christian who kept us all in check and the event was seamlessly organised. Going as a network was hugely beneficial- sharing ideas and opinions about what would work for us regionally as well as within our individual venues and organisations and discussing future collaboration opportunities.
Aarhus is a buzzing city with loads going on culturally, I’ve got a feeling it’s only going to get more exciting as it becomes European Capital of Culture in 2017.