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INTERVIEW: Director of ‘De Matos Ryan’ Jose Esteves

After hearing about De Matos Ryan’s new project benefitting young performers, we were curious to find out more from their Director and architect Jose Esteves De Matos. De Matos Ryan specialises in contemporary design within culturally sensitive contexts and we had the pleasure of hearing about how this recent architectural and design project will recharge one of the ArtsEd schools in Chiswick’s ambiance and extend its space and facilities.

What made ArtsEd decide to redevelop their performing arts school in Chiswick?


ArtsEd comprises four distinct schools, previously disparate and located on various sites. The School of Musical Theatre and the School of Acting offer full-time BA and MA courses, The Independent Day School and Sixth Form. ArtsEd Extra focuses on outreach and community provision, drawing in a wide array of the local community to share in the school’s facilities and expert staff through term-time and holiday courses for people of all ages and abilities. Over 400 children and adults participate every week in a wide variety of courses.

The specialist curriculum of the schools and lack of space had resulted in hiring off-site spaces. At the outset, the school looked at development options including relocation and new build development at another site. The existing buildings had many ad-hoc measures in place with none designed for performing arts training.  In spite of this, the school decided that the relationships and community ties that it had established since the 1980s in Turnham Green/Chiswick were too valuable to justify moving to a new site.

Our development of the site will bring opportunities to expand this work even further. Greater and more inspiring space provision with much-needed outdoor amenity space improves both the physical and emotional well-being of its participants and the extent to which Arts Ed can play an active and vibrant role in the local community.

With, economic and environmental sustainability in mind, we have minimised demolition and alterations to existing fabric and maximised the potential of existing spaces by using localised interventions. This lean retrofit strategy to old fabric then abuts the new build areas which deliver state-of-the-art purpose build dance and drama training facilities. Restructuring and clearly defining safeguarding separation has helped to consolidate all students and staff on one site and eliminated the need for either expansive demolition or relocation and intensive new build elsewhere.

What new spaces are you creating and how will they help future generations of creative young performers?


Located in a tight landlocked block, the scheme reorganises a previously disparate campus into a cohesive whole, maximising every millimetre of space to unlock the potential of the existing buildings whilst delivering 2875m2 of new facilities. The project is delivered in 3 phases to minimise disruption. The completed Phase 1 consists of a triple layer volume at the centre of the site housing; three 5m high dance studios, a suite of classrooms, large format rehearsal rooms, capped by a rooftop outdoor recreation space. A naturally lit atrium between new and old becomes the new heart and shared space for the schools. Inspired by ‘natural movement’ and the concept of transformational education through the medium of dance, the design reflects the pioneering vision of the women who founded ArtsEd in 1944. The new façade concept, reminiscent of musical and dance notation as well as physical movement, brings renewed coherence and identity to the campus reflecting the dynamic activity within.

How important is it to match the quality of teaching with facilities and an inspiring space? What’s the secret to creating a state-of-the-art site for performing arts schools?


The quality of teaching is the most important factor to deliver an inspiring performing arts education and ArstEd has this in abundance.  In spite of its lacking facilities, the school continually delivers the highest standards.

That said, the existing building was in desperate need of extension and refurbishment. The site was unable to accommodate all of its students nor provide them with the physical and environmental quality of facilities that they deserve and that its teaching requires. Demands on space were such that Day School students used dance studios at the Polish Centre, requiring travel between the two sites and gave rise to safeguarding concerns. The Day School also had no outside recreational space. The project brings all these previously disparate and physically separated schools under one roof and within one campus reducing travel requirements to and from ‘campus’ and by creating dedicated social spaces, a more cohesive social hub to the school.

Reduced energy loss, energy use and operational costs with a new sustainable services strategy was implemented to improve well-being. Previously, existing practice rooms were poorly lit and ventilated with moisture visibly running down their walls. A new mixed natural ventilation strategy throughout the building, improved lighting and external aspect, reduced noise transmission between studios as well as sound leakage to adjoining properties were some of the environmental improvements put into place to provide outstanding facilities for the students. Improved height requirements of studios, the installation of much-needed sprung floors to prevent long-term injuries as well as the provision of much-needed outdoor space has greatly improved the physical well-being of the students.

Does the school have a strong community outreach and how can the local community share the school’s facilities?


The school has a very strong and established outreach programme. ArtsEd Extra focuses on outreach and community provision, drawing in a wide array of the local community to share in the school’s facilities and expert staff through term-time and holiday courses for people of all ages and abilities. Over 400 children and adults participate every week in a wide variety of courses.

Now you’ve completed Phase 1 of your masterplan and redevelopment what will future phases provide for the young performers and local community?


Phase 2 will deliver a new Studio Theatre/Performance Hub, including a flexible performance theatre space, additional rehearsal rooms, one-to-one singing studios, a new lift core to provide level access to all floors and mediate between the new performance hub and phase 1 floor levels including the new roof terrace/recreational outdoor space.  This phase will also encompass the refurbishment of the existing school refectory and catering facilities.

Future phases can deliver additional 5m floor-to-ceiling dance studios replacing the pitched roof of the existing street-facing main building.


ArtsEd schools project X De Matos Ryan:

This interview was put together by Jules Nelson who does marketing and operations for Abundant Art.


Interview with Jermyn Street Artistic Director of Footprints Festival Tom Littler

For a second year, Jermyn Street Theatre is hosting the Footprints Festival. From 6 July to 30 July, the mini-season of the festival will feature short runs of an expertly curated array of cutting-edge work from the best of up-and-coming British talent. We chatted with Jermyn Street Theatre’s Artistic Director Tom Littler to talk about his past theatre experiences, the productions, and what it takes to put on such a festival.

1.What was your first theatre job?

Sweeping floors and fetching coffees.

2. Tell us about the Footprints Festival.

It’s a celebration of new work by early-career artists. It showcases the work of our Creative Associates – ten early-career theatremakers we believe have a massive future. The festival is headlined by the winner and finalists of the Woven Voices Prize for migrant playwrights. We’ve done various projects to promote the voices of migrants in theatre over recent years and this prize, co-produced with Woven Voices, is a big step in that journey. Migrants are hugely important to the make-up of our vibrant capital city. The winner, The Anarchist, is a gripping drama by Karina Wiedman set during an election in Belarus.

3. What was the selection criteria when choosing which plays would be featured in the festival?

We read a lot of great work which we’d love to stage, but isn’t commercially robust enough for a full five-week run. Footprints is an opportunity to stage a range of great plays which broaden our artistic voice, for short runs and at cheap ticket prices. The Anarchist and the other Woven Voices finalists came through a rigorous judging process. Then our Creative Associates brought three more brilliant plays – Duck, about racism in cricket; Shake the City, about strike action; The Poison Belt, a radical shake-up of an Arthur Conan Doyle novel.

4. What makes a good theatre line-up?

To see plays in conversation with each other – variety, of course, but it’s not just chucking paint at a wall. You want to see links between the plays, places where they spark off each other.

5. What is the target demographic for the festival?

We hope our core audience – who are quite a traditional theatregoing audience, culture-vultures – seize the chance to try out these new plays. But it’s also a chance for us to welcome new audiences who might be younger and more diverse. We’re on a long-term journey to grow, broaden and diversify our audience, and it is changing. JST is on a very posh street in the West End so there’s a particular vibe to the local area, but once you come downstairs into the theatre, it’s all about the work you’re watching.

6. How has the footprints festival evolved over the years?

This is year two! Last year was all about reopening after the pandemic – we staged forty pieces over three months – plays, one-person shows, cabaret, readings. It was all about giving artists a chance to have their work on in a financially sustainable way after they’d had so few opportunities for ages. This year is more tightly focused on our Creative Associates, giving them a great platform. I’m excited to see what my successors do with Footprints in the future – it has huge potential.

7. Do you think the covid-19 pandemic has had lasting effects on live theatre?

It’s not a question in the past tense. We’re still living and working through a pandemic; shows are still routinely shutting down, and we’re in summer. We cannot be complacent about this.

8. Who or what is your biggest influence?

I assisted the late, great Peter Hall for several years when I was young. He was a brilliant director but also a fearless, instinctive and entrepreneurial producer, unafraid of risk. He grew up and worked in a different age, of course, but those were good lessons.

9. What is the role of an artistic director in a theatre festival? What is your favourite aspect of it?

For me at JST, it’s an opportunity to devolve authority. For the rest of the year, it’s ultimately my decision what work we stage and who makes it. At Footprints, our Deputy Director Ebenezer Bamgboye has curated the festival, as his predecessor Cat Robey did last year. I hover about, popping into rehearsal rooms and bringing biscuits. I’m around if I’m needed, and help in various ways, but I get to watch the next generation being amazing.

10. Are there any newcomers (performers or otherwise) taking part this year? What advice do you have for people looking to break into the London theatre scene?

Loads! It’s Karina Wiedman’s first play. Our Creative Associates are all from underrepresented backgrounds and many of them, and the people working on their plays, are very new to the industry. They’re learning by doing. It’s the best way.

Interview by Dina Khashoggi who is a student at City University of London – she is doing a Micro Placement with us in Marketing and Business.

For full listings and tickets go to:

Interview with Zena Carswell, A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Iris Theatre

Following a two-year break from its traditional programming, Iris Theatre is back producing outdoor, promenade Shakespeare with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was initially scheduled for 2020.

We caught up with Zena Carswell who plays Helena/Quince. Her theatre credits include Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet (Orange Tree Theatre), The Importance of Being Earnest (Immersion Theatre), Othello (English Theatre of Hamburg) and Tallulah Brown’s There’s A Monster in the Lake (Vault Festival). We discuss her performance and how she feels performing in this fantastic adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s most loved comedies.

How did you feel when you found out that you got the role of Helena for this adaptation of A Midsummer Nights Dream at the Iris Theatres Outdoor Summer Festival 2022?

Absolutely over the moon! Its such a wonderful part and such a beautiful space to perform in. I also feel so lucky to be performing after such a strange few years, so to do so in such an interesting role is a real privilege. 

What do you think Shakespeare lovers will think of the Directors new approach to this classic comedy? 

I am excited for people to see the new take on it! Theres a reason Midsummer is performed so much as it is a brilliant play and I think audiences will appreciate the slight twist on the original in this one. It still has the bits people know and love but with a different perspective on some areas too!

How is the Iris Theatre committed to developing the careers of early-career artists? And what advice would you give to artists embarking on a career in theatre?

Iris gives people a chance who might not otherwise be able to get into certain rooms – they keep the audition process open and are very keen on championing new talent, which is amazing.

 My advice to those embarking on a theatre career would be to stick with it! Sometimes things will be busy and sometimes things will be quiet so just keep going, because thats normal and when its great, its really great! 

What are you looking forward to the most on the opening night on the 5th July?

Being able to share our hard work with everyone and being able to celebrate all that we have achieved in a short rehearsal period!

What is the secret, in your opinion, to making an adaptation really fantastic?

Committing to the vision of it and making sure you believe in it! As long as you feel strongly about what it is saying and the new perspective (as well as the old) then it will be full of treasures!

Box Office: 29 June – 13 August

Interview by Jules Nelson who does operations and marketing for Abundant Art.

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Interview with Director of ‘The Lesson’ Max Lewendel

Icarus’s award-winning staging of Eugene Ionesco’s timeless dark comedy ‘The Lesson’ will open at Southwark Playhouse for a four-week limited run this summer, followed by a national tour in the Autumn. This production has had international stagings, including a sold-out run at Teatrul de Comedie in Bucharest.

Ahead of the opening night in London, we had the opportunity to speak with Director Max Lewendel about the play and get advice for any aspiring theatre directors.

What initially drew you to ‘The Lesson’?

The gradual change from comedy to horror was fascinating to me.  It was the first time I’d seen it done.  The original French and our translation has such a beautiful, roller-coaster flow to it that I was hooked.

The reflections on fascism and abuse of power came to me later and cemented the play in my heart.

Did you draw inspiration from any other works when directing ‘The Lesson’?

Oh yes.  I hope I am standing on the shoulders of giants here.  Every show I’ve ever seen informs this one.  Peter Hall’s The Bacchae taught me about the beauty of chaos.  Rose Rage taught me about the abuse of power.  Every surreal moment in every play I’ve ever seen showed me how to bring an audience on an exciting journey, even when the meaning won’t become clear until after the show is over.

You have expressed a preference for dark comedies (, what is it about dark comedy that interests you as opposed to more traditional comedy?

I find that dark comedy leaves a stronger impact.  Whether there’s a deeper message or simply the juxtaposition of emotions, something about them will stay with you forever.  You can even look back on dark moments with pure joy and excitement.

Which of your past experiences have helped you in the directing of this play?

A very difficult question!  Working in theatre requires using all your life experience.  I’d say some of the most significant moments are growing up Jewish, facing antisemitism and so developing a good sense of humour about even the darkest of moments in life.  Also, my directing classes taught me the difference between the art of theatre and the craft… as well as how to serve the text rather than my own ego.

Do you have any advice for aspiring theatre directors?

Three things:

1. Theatre is collaborative. Your job is to help your team be their best, not come up with all the ideas yourself. Everything brilliant idea that your actors and designers – and even the intern in the corner – comes up with is yours too (and vice-versa); you chose them or chose the person that chose them.  So don’t be afraid to embrace their creativity and don’t impose your ideas: help them find their own path to tell the story you hired them to tell.

2. Anything you allow on stage has to have a reason tied to a singular, underlying message, whether that’s about fascism or simply about sprites playing with silly humans in the forest. The audience isn’t stupid nor sacrosanct: they don’t need to understand the reason for every spec of paint on the furniture.  But to take them on a ride, to entertain, you must know why you make every choice.  That doesn’t mean it has to be logical.  It just has to be explainable and emotionally harmonious with all your other choices.

3. Most importantly, if it can be cut, it should be cut. Text, pauses, or business.  This is the biggest problem in theatre today: If your audience gets bored (or over-stimulated), you will lose them and all other great work your team does becomes less valuable.  Know what are you trying to say with the play, the scene, or even that dramatic pause.

That being said, never be afraid to take your time for your audience to stay with the play. Whether in comedy or drama, the trick is to stretch tension as much as possible, right up to that invisible fine line before the audience or the cast loses focus.

The Lesson opens at Southwark Playhouse on Wednesday 29 June and runs to Saturday 23 July –

Photo credit: Bernadett Ostorhazi

Interview by Dina Khashoggi who is a student at City University of London – she is doing a Micro Placement with us in Marketing and Business.

Interview: Producer of Wandsworth Arts Fringe – Cath Mattos

Wandsworth Arts Fringe is back with its first full-on festival since the pandemic.  With 150 events taking place, there’ll be an explosion of colour in the streets, intimate live performances in surprise locations and a huge celebration of art as Wandsworth’s pubs, theatres, galleries, studios and churches are transformed.

We caught up with the Producer of WAF Cath Mattos to pick her brains about this year’s festival.

When and how did the Wandsworth Arts Fringe festival start and how has it evolved over the years?

Wandsworth Arts Fringe grew out of Wandsworth Arts Festival which grew out of the Shimmy and was a programmed festival taking place in the borough. We realised there were a lot of local arts organisations and companies in the borough that wanted to get involved and so we created an open registration process and WAF sprung to life and so began the organic chaos that has ensued. Companies and artists took WAF into their hearts and into their year-round planning.

The lockdown happened just as we were launching our WAF 2020 programme in March, leaving 15,000 programmes boxed up and ready to go. We decided with a 6-week turnaround to ask our artists if they were interested in being part of a digital WAF and with an enthusiastic ‘yes!’ we started planning. WAF In Your Living Room 2020 was born. We have had a ‘WAF in Your Living Room’ element of WAF for a number of years, but this was on a whole other scale. The WAF artists really appreciated the platform to give them support and a purpose at that time, there was so much enthusiasm to be involved. We held weekly meetings with all our artists and although it was a difficult and stressful time a wonderful community was created.

In 2021 we ran a hugely successful hybrid WAF with the WAF Big Top and lots of outdoor spaces were used and many events streamed their live events to their audiences that were still shielding. We are keeping our WAF in Your Living Room element though it takes a smaller part of the fringe this year. We run our WAF contributor networking meeting still mainly online, so our national artists and international artists can get the same support as the local companies.

How does it feel to be back with a full lineup of LIVE events?

It feels exciting and exhilarating to be back up and running for WAF 2022. Our programme is vibrant and engaging and there is something for everyone. It is weird though to be working in relatively normal times, we are used to the added layers of difficulty now, but so relieved we are back in our venues this year. We are partnering with 70 venues across the borough and this is just such a joy! The artists are super excited to be coming together and shining a light on creativity in Wandsworth.

What made you choose to shine a light on dance at this year’s festival? How will the festival be celebrating this art form?

We are celebrating Wandsworth’s emerging dance quarter as the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) open their brand-new headquarters on York Road in Battersea, joining a cluster of local dance companies including Tavaziva, bbodance and London Children’s Ballet, which opened last year. On Friday 10 June, WAF will launch with a promenade performance along the riverside around Battersea Reach, charting a course between bbodance and RAD’s new home and discovering hidden music, spoken word and dance gems along the way.

The WAF Dance Weekender has set a two-day extravaganza of dance styles from around the world, popping up in public spaces around Battersea. Find us in York Gardens on Saturday 18 June for contemporary dance from London Butoh Dance Company and Hallomai Dance, and accessible dance workshops with disability-led dance troupe Magpie Dance. Shake your tail feathers with the most fabulous flock of senior citizens in town, PC*DC’s Royale Dancehall Flamingos, then head over to bbodance for African movement, drumming, ballet and more with Tavaziva Dance and the English National Ballet School. On Sunday, WAF takes over Battersea Reach with another all-dayer featuring pop-up performances from Flamenco Con Gusto and Orleta Polish Folk Song and Dance, African drumming and movement from Tavaziva Dance, and even a chance to learn Japanese Tenshintaido with martial artist and calligrapher Beatrice Boivineau.

Alongside our free public events, there’s a brilliant dance programme of amazing contemporary dance and ballet performances – check it out!

Do you have any young artists exhibiting and performing this year? What’s the best way for young artists to get involved?

WAF is always a fantastic platform for young people to showcase their talent. We’ve got performances from Youth Club Providence House, World Heart Beat Music Academy, London Children’s Ballet and On Da Beat Studios – all organisations working with the next generation of young creatives, performers and artists. WAF works with local schools and supports a cohort of young visual artists to exhibit professionally via the RCA Bursary Scheme. We are also bringing back the WAF Young Reviewers scheme for a second year following a successful pilot in 2021 – providing an opportunity for young people aged 14-19 to review WAF events, receive professional mentoring in critical writing, and get published!

In what ways does WAF offer development support for artists and contributors?

Each year, WAF hosts a series of networking and learning sessions for artists and contributors in the lead-up to the registration deadline and festival dates. These are a great opportunity for artists to meet the WAF team and get the most out of taking part.

So far this year we’ve offered 6 open-access online support sessions for artists covering marketing, sustainability, event registration and ticketing, venue/artist matchmaking and accessibility – as well as an in-person publicity launch event, where artists and venues get to meet in person ahead of the festival.

We also offer online toolkits and guidance, and a 1-1 clinic session for more specific advice on realising ideas and fundraising, including making an application to the WAF Grant scheme. Every year Wandsworth Council sets aside £20,000 in funding for WAF Grants. The WAF Grants help artists, makers and community groups realise their creative vision for the festival and engage with Wandsworth communities. For 2022, we distributed £32,382 among eighteen creative companies, including local community organisations and internationally acclaimed artists, for projects taking place over this year’s festival.

What’s the best thing about working in the arts and what advice would you give to a young person who’s interested in pursuing a career in the arts and working for festivals like this one?

Working in the arts comes from a passionate belief that the arts can make the world a better place, it fosters community and a shared experience. Art deals with difficult issues in a positive and engaging way. Working in the arts is hard work but it is so rewarding when you see projects like WAF come to life each year.

The advice I would give is to get yourself to festivals, theatres and meet people who work there and find out avenues to get in through the door. I love freelancing but other people prefer the stability of being a secure member of staff in an arts organization, and there is definitely a benefit to this.

Go with your passion and interest and you will head in the right direction to suit you.

For more info about WAF please visit their website here:

Interview by Jules Nelson who does marketing and operations for Abundant Art.


Mayor praises the footballing talent of Mumbai as he announces young stars will travel to London-Sadiq Khan is on the first day of a trade mission to India,Sunday 3rd Dec 2017 Mumbai,India

Four young players set to train with Queens Park Rangers and Sadiq Khan confirms that for the first time two girls, as well as two boys, will head to the Championship side

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced the names of the successful youngsters on the first day of his trade mission to India. Khan was attending the ninth annual finals day of the Mumbai Soccer Challenge and watched a challenge match to win the inaugural Mayor of London Cup. He confirmed that, for the first time in the scheme’s nine-year history, two girls as well as two boys will be heading to London. The Mayor was joined at the finals day by Bollywood screen legend and the co-owner of Mumbai City football club, Ranbir Kapoor, as well as the Chairman of Queens Park Rangers, Tony Fernandes. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “This initiative is another example of the close links between India and London. It has been fantastic to see the passion and skill of these young footballers, and to be able to announce that two girls as well as two boys will be travelling to London to train with Queens Park Rangers. I wish them every success and it is heartening to see how grassroots sport can inspire, thrill and change the lives of young people all over the world. “The power of sport in bringing people together and encouraging healthy competition is a wonderful thing. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, once you’re on the pitch, on the court, in the ring or on the track how well you do is down to the drive and talent of the individual and their team – and those valuable lessons are transferable to so many other situations in life.” The event is the initiative of local politician and former Minister, Milind Deora, and the children selected to train in London were chosen from the thousands of competitors who took part in the soccer challenge based on their footballing ability. Next year they will spend 10 days training with QPR at their academy in Cranford.

Co-owner of Mumbai City football club, Ranbir Kapoor, said: “This event has given a platform to kids who love football. The professionalism and commitment by the organisers and the vision of Milind Deora is commendable. As owner of ISL Mumbai FC we will explore avenues to partner with QPR Mumbai Soccer Challenge. It’s great to have Mayor Sadiq Khan with us today.”

Milind Deora, patron of the Challenge Event and a former Indian Minister of State, said, “I am grateful to London Mayor Sadiq Khan our chief guest for today. Sadiq’s presence is huge encouragement to us and the kids. In the last 9 years we have strived to create a level playing field for those kids who have keen interest in football. Year after year we have realised the wonderful talent Mumbai kids have in playing football. I deeply appreciate Queen Park Rangers for their continued support and our innumerable sponsors who have been great encouragement.”

Co-Chairman of QPR, Tony Fernandes, said: “QPR is a football club with the community at its heart. While most of our charitable efforts are focussed on our home in West London, we are delighted that the Mayor of London has come to visit one of our fantastic international projects. I’m particularly delighted that next year we will host some Indian girls as well as boys at Loftus Road. Girls’ and women’s football is a big growth area for us, and we look forward to working with the Mayor and the GLA to promote it even further in London in the years ahead.”

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Documentaries from Ukraine: Life Amidst Conflict

Ukraine’s right to national self-determination is being violently desecrated by Russian colonialism. Putin’s invasion threatens not only the immediate safety of the Ukrainian people, but also their very culture and identity. For those of us with the time and means, learning about local cultures is a way to resist the cultural erosion that Ukraine faces as Russia attempts to expand its borders.

In Britain, this war has been swathed in media coverage quite unprecedented in recent history; notably, neither the conflicts of Afghanistan, nor Yemen, topped the Guardian’s headlines for nearly as long. Amidst this frenzy and endless political commentary, documentaries from pioneering film-makers have provided me with much-needed solace, redirecting my gaze to the actual lived experiences of people disrupted by seemingly endless conflict. The documentary form is unique in its capacity to transport the viewer to faraway places without recourse to fiction. They are easily transmittable and for this reason, politically powerful: documentaries of life in Ukraine comprise a precious archive of the very cultures that are today being jeopardized by war. For me, watching these films has helped me to picture that it is the very fabric of people’s lives that is imperiled: their homes, their environments, their very ways of being.

I spoke over Zoom with the Ukrainian film-critic Daria Badior, who helped me better understand the context and history of documentary-making in Ukraine. Daria explained that Ukrainian documentaries have accrued international recognition only during the last ten years or so. Avant-garde film-makers, said Daria, turned to the documentary in order to eschew the social conservatism of traditional Ukrainian theatre and professional actors. Of course, when conflict broke out in Eastern Ukraine in February 2014, film-makers from around Europe also travelled to Crimea and the Donbass in order to capture on screen the lives of people stuck within these war-zones.

One of the most poignant reflections that Daria shared with me was her confusion at how to continue living life now that war has overtaken the whole country. The way she put it was this: ‘Is it right to enjoy a slice of cake now in Ukraine?’ This question lies at the heart of many of the films I watched. Each of them, in their own way, evokes how strange it is that life continues despite war, and yet how quickly uncertainty and loss become familiar, even expected. They testify to the resilience of the local people as they continue even the most mundane of activities, like shining shoes or going for a walk as their communities are being destroyed. Remarkably, people even go on staging cultural events: Mariupolis (2017), for example, features a theatrical performance and a wedding. Each of these moments takes on a new political significance against the background of conflict. Such films beget the question: Is eating that slice of cake when your country is at war an act of political rebellion, personal stubbornness or a psychological necessity? Every one of these documentaries offers a nuanced answer.

I was startled (and quite concerned) to find that neither of my favourite films were directed by Ukrainian film-makers: The Distant Barking of Dogs (2016) was created by a Danish production team led by Simon Lereng Wilmont, whilst Mariupolis (2017) was filmed by the late Lithuanian director Mantas Kvedaravicius. I was worried that this rather undermined my chosen focus on Ukrainian culture. Yet having mused for a while, I realised that it was perhaps becausethese documentaries were created by film-makers so enmeshed in local life, yet irrevocably alien to it, that their films moved me so much.

Both films offer a profound intimacy into the lives of the families they take as subject; the camera is invited inside people’s homes and records personal conversations over the course of a year, if not more. In The Distant Barking of Dogs, there are moments when the handheld camera shudders as the cinematographer runs to catch up with ten-year-old Oleg and his younger cousin Yarik as they run home from pond-dipping, their towels flying in the wind. Yet at other moments, the camera affords the family a certain privacy; we watch at a distance as Oleg and his Babushka walk home alone.

Similarly, Mariupolis captures a moment of joy as a group of girls dance around a beautifully frescoed town hall to traditional folk-song; the scene is beset by movement and laughter. But when the screen shifts, we are repositioned outside the building and beyond the community, in immense stillness. It is beautiful; serene. The only movement detectable is that of the dancers’ shadows as they glide behind the small window separating subject from audience. Away from the immediate laughter comes a distance with which to pause, reflect, and inevitably grieve.

What particularly struck me about either film was the lack of commentary presented by either director or editing team; we are simply shown the way of life of a few local people, their families and communities, without narrative imposition. There are, of course, clips that elicit an awareness of the film-makers’ presence: in The Distant Barking of Dogs, I suspect that the teenage Kostyas shows off for the camera. Moments of gently tragic comedy arise in Mariupolis, like when Ukrainian soldiers conglomerate in their make-shift barracks that still bears its former name – ‘The Library’ – to which the camera cleverly directs our gaze. It would be tempting for a director to forge a narrative from the events that we witness; The Distant Barking of Dogs could be reduced to a story of boyhood lost to war, or Mariupolis turned into a story of one community’s resistance to its destruction. Yet neither film succumbs to this temptation, and I suspect that this symptomises the status of film-maker as guest in these communities, with little claim to foreground his interpretation of events as they unfold.


In Mariupolis, tranquility is soon to dissipate as soldiers approach. (Credit: Mantas Kvedaravicius)

These juxtapositions between proximity and distance illustrate the film-makers’ sophisticated handling of their chosen task, one ridden with ethical quandaries. How can we film, or write about, or by any means attempt to share the stories of vulnerable communities not our own? This is something that resonated deeply with me, a journalist who works with displaced people. These film-makers, like me, bear the privilege and responsibility of sharing stories belonging to people we have come to know deeply and, in some way, can never understand.

For the director of Mariupolis, Mantas Kvedaravicius, loyalty to his adopted community led to tragedy. Kvedaravicius was filming a second documentary in Mariupol when he was shot dead by Russian soldiers on the 2nd of April, camera in hand. This year, Cannes showcased the footage from this unfinished work, which has been edited by his fiancée and co-director Hanna Bilbrova and given the title Mariupolis 2. The first time I watched Mariupolis, Kvedaravicius was still alive and Russia was yet to launch a full-scale war. Upon second viewing, with this feature in mind, I felt the notes of elegy roused by the film in new intensities.

Mantas Kvedaravicius

Mantas Kvedaravicius in 2016, around the time he filmed Mariupolis. (image taken from

The difference between viewing these films before and after February 2022 is a subject that Daria and I also touched upon. Most of the documentaries I’ve watched were filmed before the short-lived ceasefire of 2016; of course, no one could have then predicted with certainty the immensity of the war that was to follow. The experience of watching these films today is overcast by tragic foreshadowing and a transience that for Daria makes watching too painful to bear. A professional film-critic, Daria has not viewed a Ukrainian documentary since the war began. Yet for me, a privileged newcomer to Ukrainian culture and arts, watching these films has given this war a newly acquired human face. Where are Oleg, Yarik and their beloved Babuskha now? Do the girls from Mariupolis still have the energy to dance?

Oleg looks out to the horizon

Oleg looks out to the horizon. (Credit: Simon Lereng Wilmont)

Sadness takes on many shades in these documentaries; grief and loss certainly make strong appearances. But these are not war-films. They are films before war, within war, around war and in spite of war. They are slow in pace, beautiful in abundance, and undeniably human. With lenses both intimate and distant, they provide their audiences with the chance to revel in the immediate glory of local life; and then, when the lens pans out, to appreciate with distance that soon these people, like us, will be far away from the places the camera depicts. Moments of joy and love in the harshest of conditions are what keep subjects and audience alike from despair: when Oleg’s grandmother suffers a nervous breakdown, Oleg manages to stoke the furnace alone and softly places a cup of tea on her bedside table. Yarik strokes her hair. This is the human face of living within a war-zone: helplessness, desolation, and the love for people and place that makes endurance worthwhile.

The Distant Barking of Dogs is freely available on BBC iPlayer:

Mariupolis is also available on ARTE, which showcases select award-winning European films:

Sophia Sheera is a writer interested in migration, cultural citizenship, displacement and queerness with a focus on Central Asia and Northern India. Sophia is inspired by talking to the people whose stories are sidetracked by sensationalist headlines, and as such aspires to share those counter-narratives through political journalism.


In Conversation with Directors of Sadler’s Wells’ Family Weekend’s ‘Underwater’ Xenia Aidonopoulou and Georgia Tegou

Underwater is part of Family Weekend 2022 (15-16 April) at Sadlers Wells in Angel and is suitable for babies and toddlers aged 0-24 months and their grown-ups. We caught up with Directors Xenia Aidonopoulou and Georgia Tegou about their multi-sensory show and dance theatre piece ‘Underwater’.

We loved watching the trailer of ‘Underwater’. What stimulated your imaginations to create this beautiful dance theatre piece?

XA: Since I first attended -as a young mother back in Athens, performances for babies and their families, I knew, one day I was going to create a show for this specific audience. When I moved with my family to the UK, four years ago, this idea started to take shape in my head and the right moment had come for me to put my thoughts into words and create the script for Underwater. By that time, I had a career break and the opportunity to spend more time with my baby daughter and focus on exploring her world.

Underwater was conceived as an attempt to visualise our relationship to water, which is our first environment while living in our mother’s womb, a common experience that connects us all. I was lucky enough to meet Creative Producer Lia Prentaki who specialises in dance for family audiences. Lia introduced me to director/choreographer Georgia Tegou and that’s how the journey began.

What thoughts and ideas went into choosing the soundtrack and how important was it to use some familiar melodies?

XA: Sound played a central role in creating the right atmosphere for Underwater. From the beginning we have discussed with Jeph Vanger, our composer, the idea of using ambient and womb sounds in combination with remixed versions of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ to form the soundscape for Underwater. ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ was chosen as a point of reference because it is a global lullaby, with different verses from countries all over the world. Therefore, it is a tune connected to many people’s babyhoods even if they were born miles apart.

Tell us about any similar projects you’ve worked on in the past?

XA: This is the first time I created something for babies though I have worked as an associate director on productions for CYP Audiences in Greece.

GT: This is the first time I have worked on a project for early years audiences after an invitation by Xenia. My other choreographic work follows a similar aesthetic of embodied visuality, driven by my practice of dance-as-design. It is an expanded approach to choreography which blurs the boundaries of dance and movement with other visual and spatial arts more readily associated with design, highlighting their interdependent relationship. Dance-as-design uses volume, movement, embodied rhythm, textures, the connection to the space, sculptural and architectural mediums to reveal and portray aspects of the human condition, an approach that has also been incorporated into Underwater.

Is this the first time you have worked with Sadler’s Wells and Family Weekend?

XA: Yes, it is the first time and we are very excited about it. Sadler’s Wells is one of the world’s leading dance organisations and we feel honored and privileged to be offered this opportunity to participate in Family Weekend with Underwater.

Congratulations on selling out at your premiere at Watford Palace Theatre in February. What’s the secret to your popularity and your success on stage?

GT: One of the facts that inspired us to make this project is that as parents ourselves we were also seeking out this type of experience. After two years of staying at home, families with babies are welcoming the opportunity to experience something creative together. Underwater is a dance theatre piece that takes our audience through a mesmerising story, with a beginning, middle and end, while layering a variety of sources for sensory stimulation for babies and their grown-ups.

How would you suggest children to get involved in Underwater ideally? How can they get the most out of it? Would this kind of dance theatre appeal to children with special needs?

XA: The piece is made to be viewed from close proximity, we invite the audience to sit close to the action so that the sounds surround them. Each family has different ways of introducing their babies to theatre however, the auditorium is a difficult barrier. Therefore, we invite the whole audience onto the floor on special sensory islands we have created for the show. The gentle multisensory approach makes the work accessible.

What is it about lights, bubbles and sound that engage babies and children do you think?

GT: I think they engage babies, children and adults alike. For me these are elements that take you closer to that little bit of magic, a bit of fairy dust around the space by creating illusions, engaging the senses in a calming way and triggering the imagination. During creation, our research was supported by a baby focus group who took part in a series of sessions and offered feedback on their baby’s experience with ideas and tasks we were trying in rehearsals. This dialogue helped us to develop ideas and sound frequencies that are highly engaging for our baby audience.

Can you tell us about your online workshops for babies and grown-ups that accompany your performance?

XA: This is an idea by Creative Producer, Lia who has over the years delivered many parent and baby activities. The workshops aim to offer the chance to revisit the world of Underwater from the comfort of the home and to explore creative play using the soundtrack and some of the creative devices of the show.

When did you start working as artists? Has being a mother inspired your artistic creations?

XA: I started my career twenty years ago. I have worked extensively in dance, including large-scale projects for the National Theatre of Greece, Athens & Epidaurus Festival & other institutions, mostly for adult audiences. I believe all our lived experiences define us and affect the way we create but mostly in a subconscious way. I guess being a mother has affected me but I am not a different person or a different artist. For me, art is a way to communicate thoughts, ideas, and emotions, and my objective is to do it in the most imaginative, inclusive and powerful way.

GT: I started directing my own choreographic work in 2011, having worked as a dancer before. When we started making Underwater I was a new mother experiencing the incredible moments of the first months of my daughter’s life that strongly informed the work. In many instances, I felt I was making work for her and her friends to enjoy.

Are you working on any other exciting artistic projects at the moment?

XA: Actually, Underwater is the first part of a trilogy for early years and now I am working on developing the script for the second part, Skydiver, again a multisensory experience during which we will be transported up to a fluffy sky. I am also involved as a Dance Dramaturg in REVERIE, an amazing work by Georgia and Michalis Theophanous.

GT: I am restaging REVERIE, a multidisciplinary dance-led work with some exciting collaborations. The piece was previewed in 2020 just before the pandemic started and it is now coming back to life to premiere at Dance Umbrella International Festival and The Lowry in Autumn 2022. I’m also developing a new dance theatre work that uses VR technology and movement aiming to premiere in 2023.

Underwater image by Nikolas Louka.

Books tickets and watch the trailer of Underwater here:

For more information about Sadler’s Wells Family Weekend (15-16 April) click here:

By Julia Nelson who does operations and marketing for Abundant Art.

Interview with Chronic Youth Film Festival’s Young Barbican Programmer Abiba Coulibaly

Chronic Youth Film Festival 2022, a festival programmed by young people (16-24) is taking place at the Barbican 12-13 March. This year the films look at the theme of ‘Home’ – and what that means to those facing adversity around the world and here in the UK.

Highlights include the San Dominican drama Bantu Mama, in which a young woman is on the run from a drug deal gone wrong; Mother, a Brazilian documentary celebrating the queer community there; and Crossroads, the teenage cult classic (starring Britney Spears) about three friends on a cross country road trip.

We talk to 24-year-old young programmer Abiba Coulibaly about her experience programming for the Barbican.

Tell us about Chronic Youth Film Festival 2022

Chronic Youth is the 7th edition of the Barbican’s annual film festival curated by its Young Film Programmers, but this one is particularly special as it marks the festival’s return to the physical cinema space, since the two previous editions were online owing to the pandemic. This year our theme is ‘Home, Hope, and Hostile Environments’ as we found ourselves gravitating towards films that evoked the ideas of home and belonging, but in ways that were often complex and ambivalent, and not necessarily fixed, literal, or welcoming. We felt this resonated both locally with the UK‘s socio-political landscape, but also globally allowing us to showcase some really exciting films from across the world.

How did you become part of this festival as a young film programmer?

I responded to the open call for applications in 2020 and after getting through to the interview stage wasn’t successful. For this year’s edition there was no public advertisement as it was meant for the two previous cohorts who had missed out on the physical event, but I got in contact with the programme coordinators and was able to join the alumni.

When did your love of film start and how has it evolved over time?

I’d pinpoint it to the first time I went to Film Africa in 2012 and saw L’Afrance by Alain Gomis which dealt with the psychological aspects of irregular migration status, and postcolonial migration patterns in France, two issues which are deeply personal to me, but which I never really saw fleshed out in cultural depictions. Film Africa were screening a lot of films at the Ritzy in Brixton, at the end of my road, which made it really accessible. Then when I started going to university (SOAS) I was within walking distance of the ICA and Bertha Dochouse where screenings were incredibly cheap for students and I could try out all sorts of genres and retrospectives and strands at a really accessible price. I was studying Geography and took one module called Hollywood and the Post-Industrial City which explored how the industry of Hollowood intersected with the urban processes around housing, gentrification and civil unrest that were taking place simultaneously in the wider Los Angeles area, and I think this method viewing film as part of inherently political processes situated in the real world, rather than a vehicle for fantasy or evasion, continues to inform my approach to and taste in films today.

How did you acquire programming skills and how did you move on to programme, market and deliver Chronic Youth film events?

I think for me a lot of it has been osmosis through attending so many different film events over the years, I never did any formal training prior to Young Film Programmers, in fact, it’s really, really hard to come by any training programmes for this field, let alone free ones. I also think the fact that we’re a group of 12 has meant you really have to discuss and justify your film choices, and often need to convince the others, which is completely different from choosing films one likes individually, and that has definitely strengthened my programming ability.

What is it you love about film and the cinema?

My favourite aspect is the immersive experience of being in the cinema. In the 21st century, there is no other activity where we sit and concentrate, fully absorbed by something without other distractions for 2 or so hours, which makes cinema for me a kind of meditative experience that other creative mediums can’t really rival.

What do you think makes the best cinema event?

I’m a big believer in cultural democracy and accessibility, so my primary response would be an event that is affordable and understands the needs and context of the community in which it’s being screened. Cinema shouldn’t be elitist or inaccessible, so I think this should always be kept in mind when organising related events.

What are your top favourite 5 films?

Sorry, I can’t choose 5! The Last Black Man in San Francisco by Joe Talbot, Mediterranea by Jonas Carpignano, Beau Travail by Claire Denis, Omar by Hany Abu-Assad, Timbuktu by Abderrahmane Sissako, Shakedown by Leila Weinraub, Four Lions by Chris Morris, Les Sauteurs by Abou Bakar Sidibe, 120 BPM by Robin Campillo

Do you see yourself curating your own film events in the future? What according to you would be the fun element of the experience?

In an ideal world, 100% – it’s not just a hobby it’s my dream career path. That being said it really isn’t easy to get regular and/or paid work in, so I don’t see a future in film programming as being guaranteed. For me, the most fun part comes once the screening is over and you get to discuss it and hear all the different reactions and interpretations that might contradict or add to your own understanding of what’s just been viewed.

What have you gained from being a young programmer?

I’ve gained really valuable experience in every aspect necessary to run a film event, which was particularly meaningful because it was with an institution that I’ve admired and attended for a really long time, so it was great to switch from audience member to someone behind the scenes. 12 months ago I would’ve had 0 clue, capacity, or contacts for things related to film rights and marketing for example, but now I feel really equipped. I’ve been able to watch all sorts of films I would never have come across as well as develop more of an appreciation for short films which I was previously reticent about. I’ve also been able to discuss at length the programming and film festival industry with people who are as invested as I am, which was also a first.

What can we expect at the festival and what made you choose the line-up?

Variety – while staying under one theme we’ve taken it in all possible directions meaning there’s really fun, lighthearted, and celebratory viewing as well as more sobering, or contemplative moments. You can also expect our zine, which includes short written and visual responses to our programme, and look out for the Young Barbican Late that we’ll be curating in a few weeks’ time which will allow for more active participation from attendees.

Photo credit info: Mother
UK/Brazil 2020, Dir. Jas Pitt & Kate Stonehill

For more information about the Chronic Youth Film Festival 2022 visit

Interview by Julia Nelson who does marketing and operations for Abundant Art. Thanks to the Communications team at Cinema Barbican. 

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