Sunday, March 15, 2020

A double bill of Dutch shows with beautiful visuals, gorgeous movement and audience participation closed Belfast Children’s Festival #bcf2020

Belfast Children’s Festival is clearly in rude health. This year’s events finished on Wednesday night with a double bill of Dutch physical performance that shone out as amongst the best of work aimed at young audiences. And the quality and inventiveness of local work featured in the festival – like Kindermusik and The Untold Truth of Captain Hook – held up against the international work.

At first the wooden box in the middle of the stage seemed quite shy. Movement behind one fabric face of the cube revealed light and shadow. Soon the coughing of the hermit hiding inside added a deeper layer of meaning, ‘social isolation’ to use the phrase de jour. Hermit comes alive at the point that the box spins round and digits appear, and then door bells galore, and later a pivotal moment of ringing the bell, looking inside and saying “I’m not at home”. Like much of the best children’s work, Simone de Jong’s words are minimal, but those that are uttered bring at first a deep sense of sadness and later joy to this beautifully crafted onehanded production that succeeds in exploring what it means to be alone, to be settled, and to feel at home. And the way that the show finishes – I’ll not give too much away – with the rehearsed performance morphing into a joyful time of audience participation is particularly heart-warming.

With a similar style of ending but a much more energetic performance, Tetris also captures the involvement – and at times invasion – of the audience with a playful dance performance that uses familiar shapes and movements from offline and computer games. Beginning with piano music worthy of a Saturday evening BBC Four Nordic Noir drama, the cast of four combine, intersect and tessellate their bodies into shapes. Arch8’s display of body engineering demonstrates great precision and strength. It’s as if human bodies could be stuck together with magnets. The crazy human centipedes are superb to watch, their extreme Tai Chi shapes and extensions a marvel of physical discipline. But then the audience are allowed to become complicit in the remote control of the dancers using a familiar cubic toy, and it was rewarding to watch children young and old set aside their traditional Norn Iron reserve and join in the on-stage antics with minimal instruction. The final switch of perspectives and role reversal

Both of these Dutch shows eschewed a passive audience experience and offered a wholehearted sense of participation to everyone present. Both shows used beautiful visuals and gorgeous movements to tell a story and project ideas and questions into the heads of their audiences. Great choices to finish a festival which speaks directly to children who have fewer preconceptions and inhibitions about engaging with new concepts and difference.

Hurrah for another successful Belfast Children’s Festival. And here’s to plenty more.

Photo credit: Simon Graham (right hand image)

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