Luminaries Woburnensis – Woburn Abbey

Last night our family took a trip over to Woburn Abbey for the Luminaries Woburnensis, a light, fire and ice event in the Abbey Gardens. We were very lucky to have a beautifully clear night and with the temperature pretty low it was the ideal weather for it.

As you entered the event you wereIMG_1200 greeted by food stalls and boutique stall holders around the main buildings, all accompanied by the Woburn Sands Band. The very first stop was the lantern making stall where we decorated a paper bag, popped in an electric candle, stuck it on a cane and off we went into the dark like the dwarves from Snow White…

Ice Sculptor

Throughout the gardens lanterns lit paths leading to fire jugglers, incredible ice sculptures and the beautiful Chinese Dairy. The really great thing was that sculptors from Glacial Art were present and carving so that you could watch the sculptures transform before your eyes.The lighting was really great as it really highlighted the contours of the ice so that everything was clear and visible.IMG_1253

My only disappointment in the evening was the ‘interactive ice wall’. My family and I had envisioned a wall of ice that people could all have a go at and chip away as they liked. The reality was a sculpture where one of the sculptors guided your hand as you chipped away for a minute or so where they told you. I only saw little children do this and to be honest there didn’t seem to be much in it for them as they were following a design.

IMG_1249However there were two other parts to the evening that I particularly liked. The first was the Tree of Dreams on which you could hang a lantern with a wish. The tree was the focal point of the central lawns and every visitor passed it on their way to the main grounds. By the end of the evening it was completely covered and it was lovely to read others’ wishes for the future, regrets of the past and messages of joy and hope for loved ones… or lego.

The other highlight of the evening for me IMG_1312was the opportunity to send a lotus lantern out onto the lake. As this was a live flame candle it was a very sweet gesture and made for beautiful viewing, especially as the breeze blew the lanterns out into the centre of the lake.

This was only the third annual event, and I hope that they continue and grow. If you’d like a lovely family event to kick off Winter then the Luminaries Woburnensis at Woburn Abbey is ideal.IMG_1237

John presented by DV8 Physical Theatre

John is a new verbatim work by Lloyd Newson, Artistic Director or DV8 Physical Theatre, and follows the story of one man.

Hard-hitting, gritty, dark.

Through interviews with 50 men Lloyd Newson discussed love and sex, the risks and the sacrifices they were prepared to take. It was through this that John’s story was discovered and is now brought to life.

Rape, beatings, miscarriage, drug use, alcoholism, overdoses. And that’s just the first five minutes.

This is an extraordinary piece of work that is deeply unsettling and incredibly hard to watch, and yet you cannot tear your eyes away from the stage.

The staging itself is simple and yet suits perfectly the whole feeling of the play. First we see two rooms of John’s house as a child, sparsely dressed. The stage then rotates, revealing a corridor which then leads on the other side to another two rooms. For the first sequence the stage rotates constantly as John narrates his childhood and adolescence, walking between rooms into explicit scenes, both frozen and physical. You are immediately put on edge and the continuous motion does nothing to settle you, nor the music overlaid, a constant through the show that you barely notice, yet notice the absence of. Throughout the play the walls of the set are realigned to make new rooms, and at one point a maze, yet you don’t notice the changes at all as your eyes are always drawn to the characters onstage at any one time.

There is a synthesis between the movement and speech that is developed throughout, and cleverly draws your attention or serves to highlight particularly hard subjects and unique viewpoints, for example the unsteady and erratic actions of drug users are displayed through swaying, jolting falls into one another…

The story breaks the narrative of John’s story for a while when the gay sauna is established, introducing alternative viewpoints on the subject of love and sex. Here we are presented with an extremely open and honest discussion and varying opinions of addiction, sexual compulsion, the search for love and the risks that entails, including a candid interview about HIV. In one particular sequence the owners of the sauna describe the risks men take with one of them affirming that education about the risks is out there, but people choose to ignore it and risk their health, in the pursuit of intimacy in the case of another interviewee.

The physical theatre sequences were restrained throughout to specific moments, and this served to really bring out the serious issues and conflicting standpoints. The juxtaposition between movement and stillness throughout is a key tool. At one point one of the owners describes the search for sexual partners, the predatory nature of it. During this time the men walk between a maze of walls, on the periphery of your vision while he leans against a wall, a focal point in a constantly shifting tide. It is only when any of the men stop, confronting another, that your eye is drawn to them before they slip away again.

Add to this the very straight delivery of the words, taken from the interviews. It is very personal, and you cannot help but be drawn into the person’s world, in particular John, and it is to him that they finally return. One man, centre stage, speaking of his hopes and dreams for the future, trying to put aside the horrors of his past.

Whilst there are moments of comic relief, they are few and far between, although necessary. The intensity of the performances, particularly by the exquisite Hannes Langolf as John, submerge you in this explicit view into one man’s life, and the issues and trials he has, and continues, to face.

John is at the National Theatre (+16 years) until January but will also be broadcast on 9 December in cinemas (+18).

IFMK:2014 Casus & The Iron Man

Casus are an Australian contemporary circus company whose acrobatics are simply sensational. Their show Knee Deep has you sitting on the edge of your seat, holding your breath and breathing deep sighs of relief every three seconds. It’s a thrilling show.

Set in the Spiegeltent, the stage was a plain square in the centre of the tent with the audience seated all around the stage. Being so close to the action was incredible as every tiny movement could be seen in detail. I can not tell you how many times the audience gasped at the feats unfolding before their eyes because I was too busy gasping with them…

There are no sets, no complex costumes, no speech. The performers are all extremely expressive both through their movements and their faces, telling a story beautifully. I won’t attempt to describe the incredible aerial feats and acrobatics. I will only encourage you to take a look at their website and to go see one of their shows. You won’t be disappointed… but you may think you’ve having heart failure at moments… it’s not for the faint-hearted but go see them anyway!Iron Man

The second show I’d like to talk about is Graeae Theatre Company‘s adaptation of the classic children’s tale, The Iron Man by Ted Hughes. A cast of deaf and disabled actors and musicians introduce the characters initially, teaching the audience the signs for them. Then through a combination of music, signing and audio description the story unfolds.Iron Man Hand

The wonderful Iron Man is a 5 metre tall moving giant, operated by two actors, that helps to save the world! Children absolutely love this show and it works perfectly as an outdoor event. The festival had placed the show in the bowl at Willen Lake, forming a wonderful performance space that enabled MKPA Iron Maneveryone to have a good view. The cast also allowed children to meet the giant afterwards and this went down an absolute storm.

Despite being a children’s show, adults loved it as well! The tale is so well told and the Iron Man so engaging that the performance flew past! The show  inspired kids to make their own Iron Man at the MK Play Association workshop!

It was truly wonderful to see people inspired by the performances they saw, particularly seeing children engaged with theatre, taking the story away with them and allowing their imaginations to take over. The festival catered to so many different people of all ages with varying interests which was wonderful to see!

Creative uses of Sound

Sonic installations are something that I hadn’t experienced before this year’s IF: Milton Keynes International Festival so I thought I’d try and experience as much as possible. We were very lucky this year to have sound artists Kaffe Matthews and Ray Lee involved.

IMAG0132I started off my sonic experience by attending a concert by Kaffe Matthews and Ray Lee, entirely improvised and performed in the incredible Architect’s of Ar: Pentalum that was placed in Middleton Hall in the centre:mk. Pentalum is a luminarium, an inflated structure made up of tunnels leading into different rooms in different colours. The ceilings are domes in geometric patterns which then run down the walls and along the floor to the centre points of each ‘room’, with pods nestled throughout the structure. People were encouraged to find a pod and settle down. With Ray Lee on theremin being digitally mixed by Kaffe Matthews, the sound was ethereal and very atmospheric. A group of the audience decided to settled in the room where they were performing whilst others wandered around or settled in different sections. It was very peaceful and I really enjoyed the concert and the whole atmosphere.

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I then wandered over to The Hub in Milton Keynes, a square of restaurants with apartments built above. It makes for an enclosed area with a large open central square. In this were placed eight tripods with rotating speakers attached to the top, towering over the audience. This was Ray Lee’s Chorus. Over the course of an hour each of the rotating arms began to move, emitting a pulse of sound. As each of the tripods began to move the sound increased and built, reverberating through the area before starting over, once again building to a crescendo before dying back to nothing. It was fascinating to walk amongst the tripods as the sound changed as you wandered around different parts. It was interesting to watch other people’s reactions, those who had just stumbled across the installation and stood mesmerised before continuing on their way, and those who had purposefully come to see the installation trying to work out whether they were enjoying it or not. Whilst I wouldn’t say that I found it exciting, I certainly found it interesting and I’ve certainly never encountered anything like it before.

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Kaffe Matthews’ installation by contrast I absolutely fell in love with. This was a commission by the Canal & River Trust and IF: 2014 specifically for the festival. Kaffe collected sounds during a walk along the Grand Union Canal that links London with Milton Keynes. Using these sounds and a choir created specifically for the project she recorded a composition to be played through sonic beds. These were three beds, surrounded by speakers in the sides and suspended above, with vibrations played through the base, set in an empty shop which they had darkened to make for a more intense atmosphere, surrounded by the sound. It was a fully immersive experience. I could have spent hours there and I went back several times to try the different beds as in each one you picked up different sounds in the track, whether it was the chugging of a canal boat as it passed or the birds singing at a distance. Every time was a different experience. I would encourage anyone who comes across Kaffe’s work to try it. It was incredible.

The last piece I want to talk about was a performance by Melanie Pappenheim, a solo voice-theatre performance. Although only about 20/30 minutes in duration I was enraptured. Melanie lay in the middle of an exhibition titled Cadences in MK Gallery. She began singing whilst laying on the floor, at different moments in the three songs she performed rising and turning or falling… For that was the theme… falling, destruction, gravity. Dressed simply in aIMAG0233 white dress with loose hair and piano hammers attached from wires on the back scraping the floor as they tangled, the whole performance was beautifully simple but very emotive. I hadn’t been sure about going to see it initially but I am so glad that I did. I feel I would really have missed out had I not gone.

The events that I saw really inspired me and challenged my perceptions of how we use sound in art, differing drastically from the musicals and concerts I’ve seen in the past. It also challenged my views on how to engage people with sound installations with the Lock Shift Songs definitely having the most impact on my experience.

Scratch Night at MK Gallery with Manny and the Coloured Sky

Being a young leader on the Oyap Stepping Up programme has put us all in a slightly bizarre situation at the moment. We all know that we’re artists in our own rights and yet for the most part we don’t get to see the others’ skills and talents in action. So tonight was a revelation. I’m so lucky to be part of such an incredible group of artists!

Tonight I went along to the Scratch Night at MK Gallery that our very own Manny and Alice had organised. It ended up with a group of people listening to three very talented musicians who each did a set and then jammed together, which was really great to see! It’s always great to see collaboration in practice, but I want to focus on Manny.

ImageManny and The Coloured Sky is a singer-songwriter who also plays guitar and you can check out some of his music here. When you meet Manny he can come across as quite understated, a little quiet, and totally in his own world, never without a pair of headphones, totally immersed in his music. Seeing him up and performing was a whole other thing. Now I’d checked out his recordings and I’d had a sneak peak of his musicianship at one of the Oyap training sessions but that is nothing compared to his live performance. He didn’t just perform…

He lived it.

The moment Manny started performing I was absolutely mesmerised. It seems that Manny totally opens up and bares his soul, and you feel really connected to his performance and what he’s singing about, whether he’s singing his own original music or a cover. His original material is so immensely heartfelt and beautifully written. This is a guy who really understands music, its impact, its intricacies and its ability to capture your attention and soul. Also, let me tell you this…

This guy can SING.

Manny has such an unusual voice which conveys so much emotion. Add to that a phenomenal range and basically the sky is the limit, and what a colourful sky it is! I cannot express to you how impressed I was.

Please go and listen to his song ‘Dream’. It honestly gave me goose-bumps.

So Manny,

From one musician to another, one artist to another, one human being to another, let me just say…

You blew me away.

Exciting Updates!

Well hello there lovely people! I have two rather exciting updates to inform you of! This won’t be the longest of posts but I thought they definitely merited a post of their own!

The first one is that on Wednesday I started organ lessons!

‘Why organ?’ you ask. ‘Why not?’ I reply.

The organ is an instrument that I hadn’t really encountered much, except for the odd Christmas Carol Service at school, until I got to university. As part of the Founder’s Choir at Royal Holloway I began to regularly sing in Sunday services, occasional Evensongs, and weekly morning services, most of which were accompanied by the organ. There were several organists within the university so I began to hear a lot more of it throughout my time there.

However, it wasn’t until a couple of months ago, at a Christmas concert I was singing in with my choir, that I spoke to a Paul Edwards, a composer, organist and choral singer native to Bedfordshire, who put the idea of learning organ in my head. As he put it, I was already part way there being a pianist. So I went away, having joked about learning organ, thinking that I wouldn’t give it a second thought.

I was wrong. I gave it a second thought… and a third… and a fourth… until I was decided. I was going to be an organist.

So here we are. I am now taking organ lessons with Paul Edwards. Having only had one lesson, I am already full of enthusiasm for it and I can’t wait to progress!

Now, onto the second update.

I have a mentor!

I am absolutely delighted to inform you all that myself and one of the other young leaders, Kirsty, will be being mentored by Sarah Mayhew Craddock! Having spoken to several potential mentors for OYAP I was struck with Sarah’s infectious personality. I don’t think I’ve ever been greeted so enthusiastically over the phone before!! Sarah is an artist with an absolute wealth of experience of curating, marketing and developing cultural events. As someone with an interest in curating large scale events and eventually going into theatre production I felt that I could learn a lot from Sarah. I will be meeting with her later in the week and I absolutely cannot wait!

Working with a mentor is such an exciting prospect. Having never had a mentor of this type before I think it will be really interesting to see how we work together and the steps we take from here. I’m really looking forward to getting to know Sarah, learning more about her , her work and her art, and I feel like she will be a great person to bounce ideas off of and gain great advice from! It felt like we clicked really well when we spoke before so I can’t wait to meet up!

Well that’s all for now folks. Blog post on the second day of No Boundaries will be up very shortly so stay tuned!

Hope you’ve all had a lovely weekend and have a good week!