Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Milton Keynes International Festival

20 July 2010

On Friday we were at the opening evening of the first Milton Keynes International Festival. We started with a visit to ‘The Magical Menagerie’ (‘Le Manège Carré Sénart’), the latest fantastic Artichoke production created by François Delarozière and his company La Machine who were responsible for ‘The Sultan’s Elephant’ that transfixed the streets of London in 2006 and the giant spider, ‘La Princesse’ that was a seminal moment in Liverpool 2008. ‘The Magical Menagerie’ is a spectacular variation on the traditional fairground carousel. Life-size models of a bull, a buffalo and other animals rotate while giant insects circle them in the opposite direction and brightly-coloured fish rise up to the roof. Each seat on the carousel is equipped with a lever which you can use to move the head, tail, eyes etc of the relevant creature. The whole machine resembles an exaggerated Victorian automaton. It’s bizarre, beautiful, fascinating and completely captivating.

Next we ventured into the darkened interior of the former Sainsbury’s supermarket to see ‘Asleep at the wheel …’ an ‘immersive sound installation’ by Janek Schaefer. Entering this vast, unlit, low-ceilinged space, and walking towards a queue of parked cars with their hazard lights blinking, felt like entering an eerie, underground car park. You are encouraged to move from car to car, sitting in the back seats and immersing yourself in a confusing soundscape emanating from the car radios. You gradually realise from the snatches of spoken word amongst the music, static and sound effects that this work carries a strong message about environmental sustainability. But, for me, the attraction of ‘Asleep at the wheel …’ was the childlike excitement of exploring this spooky film-set rather than the message.

Finally we made our way to Campbell Park for ‘Full Circle’ by The World Famous with Terrafolk, an outdoor spectacular with music, lighting and fireworks. Terrafolk are a Slovenian turbo-charged folk group who I first saw some years ago at the Edinburgh Fringe. They are virtuoso musicians who mainly like to play it for laughs – always crowd-pleasers. In ‘Full Circle’ the four musicians were suspended in translucent pods which gradually opened to reveal them to the audience – which immediately conjured up memories of ‘This is Spinal Tap!’ (although in this case all four pods did open correctly!). We were then treated to a range of musical styles accompanied by stunningly beautiful fireworks and other effects. An odd mixture of sublime and ridiculous (particularly the death-metal version of ‘You Are My Sunshine’!) it was certainly a memorable performance. At times it felt very ‘prog-rock’ – you half expected Rick Wakeman to appear. But it was good fun and an interesting way to end our first experience of the Milton Keynes International Festival.

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