It’s a bright, summer morning in the Gulbenkian café, and already it’s a thriving hubbub of activity, with children clacking their way through in dance-shoes, beribboned with medals, parents hurrying after them, and an assistant carrying what appears to be a bucket of pink and mauve decapitated toy flamingos. It’s all part of the Canterbury Dance Festival, which is in full swing in the theatre.
Through the ebb and flow of dancers and harassed-looking parents shimmers the Director of the Gulbenkian, Liz Moran, who’s come to talk about bOing!, its family festival which is back for the second year running. I begin by asking her how the festival has developed since last year.
‘’It’s developed dramatically since last year,’’ she enthuses, ‘’thanks to the additional funding from Arts Council England as a result of us becoming a National Portfolio Organisation. We have been able to bring to Kent some of the best international work created for young audiences from across Europe as well as a new commission in partnership with Conflux in Glasgow of a spectacular outdoor new outdoor show, Fragile.’’
Young people and families are at the heart both of the Gulbenkian itself and of bOing; how has she put a festival together to appeal to all ages ?
‘’The emphasis is on quality of work, and not just programming work for particular ages. We do include work that has considered the particular needs of babies or young people with PMLD but the majority of what is on offer will engage all ages. I believe the value of a festival such as this is that all ages can share incredible and inspiring work in a relaxed and fun environment.’’
I dare to suggest that one of the new works is something of a ‘Dances With JCBs;’ what exactly is Motionhouse ?
Her eyes light up immediately. ‘’Our commissioning of this new work is very exciting. I have worked with Motionhouse for many years and Kevin Finnan their Artistic Director was Choreographer and Movement Director for the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. We have commissioned this with the Merchant City Festival in Glasgow as part of their Conflux Festival. It opened last weekend and attracted thousands to see it. It is mega! 3 JCB’s which really do dance in the company of 21 stunning and very brave dancers. This will be the English premiere, and you won’t be able to see it anywhere else!’’
And it’s not just happening in Canterbury this year; bOing! is spreading its wings and going to Medway as well ?
‘’Yes! We are developing bOing! as a Kent festival and will develop more work in other areas of Kent besides Canterbury. The show we are taking to the streets of Chatham is by the UK’s leading Parkour company, Urban Playground. They will not only perform their show but will also work with teenagers to demonstrate how to do Parkour safely as many teenagers have been injured attempting Parkour. What is very exciting is that this has led to Medway Council building their own ‘Urban’ festival around this performance.’’
What, I ask, have been the challenges with putting together this year’s programme ?
‘’Lots and lots of different types of challenges ! Finding the right space for the enormous number of events we are offering is one but we have been fortunate to get so much support from across the University to meet this challenge. Also getting the balance between all of the free events and the wonderful international work that is ticketed.’’
And that’s part of the magic of this festival – its accessibility, and programme of events that are free to attend that runs alongside the ticketed performances. Keeping the balance between free and paid events is always going to be something of a financial challenge for a festival, but bOing! continues to make a significant proportion cash-free, encouraging families and audiences to try something new. And the range of events is appealing, too; whether it’s interactive theatre, immersive concerts from the brilliantly-inventive Aurora Orchestra, or innovative dance, the festival manages to bring new and exciting work to audiences of all ages.
And finally, I ask her, what’s bOing’s best-kept secret this year, if she can tell us ?
‘’Ah, well,’’ comes the reply, ‘’there are so many to discover…you have to come to find out – but the most wonderful one involves the show on the front cover of the bOing! brochure…’’
And with that, our time is up and Liz shimmies off through the café through the thronging dance festival attendees, back off to mastermind more creative ideas for the future of the Gulbenkian. The bOing! International Family Festival 2015 takes place on Sat 29 and Sun 30 August; find out what’s in store here or download the brochure for yourself here.