• Jun 17,2014
  • In Review
  • By Abundant Art

IF: Milton Keynes International Festival- 18 -27 July 2014 In conversation with Monica Ferguson, Chief Executive of The Stables and Festival Director

IF: Milton Keynes International Festival returns for its third edition from 18 to 27 July. The Festival will take place in locations across Central Milton Keynes exploring the cityscape and parklands, the built environment and the great outdoors.

From large-scale spectaculars to intimate experiences,international performance and dance, contemporary circus, installations, live music, comedy, cabaret, talks and many free events. IF: Family Focus, a special programme of family-friendly shows and experiences for children and grown-ups.

Produced by The Stables, developed with support of Arts Council England and Milton Keynes Council.

What’s the inspiration behind the Milton Keynes International Festival?

Milton Keynes is one of the fastest growing cities in Europe. There is an acknowledgment in the city that investment in cultural infrastructure and not just physical infrastructure is vital to ensure Milton Keynes grows as a vibrant and exciting place to live, work and visit.

Milton Keynes has always had a great community spirit. There are lots of local artists working on a range of projects, though IF provides a showcase for extraordinary artists working nationally and internationally that can help to drive inspiration and ambition.  By asking artists and companies to work in unusual spaces, it also shines a spotlight on the lesser known and often really special places in Milton Keynes, as well as breaking down traditional barriers between audiences and artists.

What is the key focus of the festival?

The Stables is one of the UK’s leading music organisations and we set out to engage people with music and sound in all its diversity. By commissioning work with a live music element or a soundscape that is integral to a piece of dance, visual art or even contemporary circus, the Festival gives us the opportunity to reach and engage with audiences in new ways.

While choosing the line up does the festival also look at providing a platform to upcoming talents besides presenting established artistes?

We absolutely do try and look to the next generation of artists when putting the programme mix together, looking for quality and ambition, and for artists who can benefit from working alongside established artists. We also try and work with and mentor producers at various stages to help support their development.

Is there a possibility that in future The Stables could tie up with other music organisations outside Milton Keynes to extend the limits of the festival?

Of course. We are always open to partnerships and we have successfully teamed up with organisations such as the National Theatre and The Southbank Centre in previous editions.  We are also part of a commissioning consortium of other Festivals called Small Wonders which specifically supports the development of new outdoor touring work aimed at the under 5s.

What are the highlights of this year’s festival?

Always a difficult question as it’s a matter of perspective. Our new commissions are always exciting ventures and this year Under The Vaulted Sky is the result of 2 years work by our Artist-in-Residence, choreographer Rosemary Lee. It features live music by composer Terry Mann and 100 dancers in a new promenade performance for the Cathedral of Trees.  The Cathedral of Tress was planted over 30 years ago and modeled on the architectural footprint of Norwich Cathedral with different species of trees and plants to represent different elements of the building.

We are also pleased to have the Brisbane-based contemporary circus company Casus presenting the brilliant Knee Deep as the anchor show in the beautiful Belgian Spiegeltent  over the first 4 days. It’s an exquisitely beautiful show with breathtaking skill and really traverses the ground between circus and contemporary dance. And of course the opening spectacular Fous de Bassin (Water Fools) by the French company Ilotopie is promising to transform Willen Lake with fire, pyrotechnics and floating cars so it’s proving a hot ticket already!

What are your expectations with regards to community involvement?

I think our goal with community involvement is to try and make the interaction between our artists and audiences meaningful. Whether you are a participant in a project, an audience member or a passer-by who happens across something, we want it to be a memorable experience.  Around 50% of our programme is free to attend and in addition some projects involve more direct engagement with the community over longer-periods than others.

For example, Under The Vaulted Sky has required significant rehearsal commitment from community participants working with trained professionals over a number of months. However, even the more fleeting moments should still be special and make a difference.  Kaffe Matthews’ sound installation The lock shift songs – a new commission – saw her walk from London to Milton Keynes along the Grand Union Canal, recording sounds from above and below the water. She also drew together a small pop-up choir of interested singers who came together for just a couple of rehearsals to record work that will be woven into the sound track hear in the installation. The resulting composition will be played in ‘sonic beds’ which audiences will lie in to not just listen to but experience the physicality of the sound through their whole bodies. Kaffe’s interaction with the choir was important at the rehearsals and her description of her journey and her vision vital in helping to inspire the participants.

Special features that according you would attract audience?  

Hopefully there is something in the diversity of the programme that everyone can relate to and enjoy, and we have a special focus on work for children and families this year.

Surprisingly though, it can be the most contemporary and experimental work that attracts audiences and I expect that Kaffe’s sonic beds in an empty retail unit along with the colourful luminarium by Architects of Air – both presented inside centre:mk – will be hugely popular with audiences.

Your message or an invitation to the community on behalf of The Stables and the festival.

If you fancy a day out with a difference, give IF a go… we guarantee you will find something that surprises and inspires you.

                                                                                                        Protima Chatterjee

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