Preview: The Yorkshire

International in scope, local in approach – Ali Schofield
learns about the ethos behind the Yorkshire Festival

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The Yorkshire Festival kicks off this week with hundreds of performances, events and exhibitions across the county. The second bi-annual international festival finds companies from 22 countries delivering an eclectic programme.

Rather than “parachuting work in” artistic director Matt Burman wants to attract audiences who might not normally engage with the arts through collaborative community sewing and recycling events, free open-air performances and shows like Chipshop, the musical that tours a fusion of UK grime and brass band music to local chippies.

Burman says: “It’s something which we hope will make us distinct from other big international festivals – giving equal value to community and international, to professional and participatory, so that you’ve got that real balance and inclusivity, that sense of access to work as well as there being work by international artists that we’re bringing to the country often for the first time.”

New commissions for this year include Garden Within A Garden, in which Indian artist Imran Qureshi will paint directly onto the paving in Bradford’s Lister and City Parks, and the dystopian multimedia Opera For The Unknown Woman in Huddersfield.

The Nile Project, which brings together traditional musicians from 11 African countries, will premiere its first European performance at Bradford’s Alhambra this Saturday.

“The Nile Project has that sense of inclusion through representation of voices or countries that might not often be seen on stage in this country. We’re welcoming them to Europe for the first time and hoping to attract audiences from migrant communities across Yorkshire,” says Burman.

“I think we are all guilty of looking to London and feeling the need to be validated by London audiences. But for me it’s equally as important to engage with communities and audiences in Yorkshire as it is bringing people in from the rest of the country.”

Adult cabaret performance The Raunch tours from London’s Southbank to nightclub Batley Frontier and celebrated French aerial theatre spectacle Places des Anges will bring the festival to a close in Hull ahead of its 2017 City of Culture status.

Burman says: “I think we’ve forgotten how to talk about how the arts feed us in different ways, you know. There’s a really interesting academic at Leeds University, Dr Ben Walmsley, who talks about the spiritual value of the arts – walking into somewhere like Tate Modern or walking through the landscape at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, there’s something spiritual about how that feeds us.

“One of the privileges of doing the job that I do is imagining these journeys for people and imagining how we can affect people through that work – how we maybe change their opinion on something or just make them see the architecture or the landscape around them in a different way.”

He is already planning the 2018 programme and hopes the Yorkshire Festival will contribute to Leeds’s case for its Capital of Culture bid in 2023.“ We’re developing such a strong sense of artistic community – why wouldn’t you give Capital of Culture to Leeds? It’s a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned, but that’s a Leeds boy talking!”

The Yorkshire Festival runs from 16 June to 3 July at various locations

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