Performers push the boundaries at this year’s Cambridge Festival


11-03-2021
Family on an old fashioned photographic slide_ Image credit: Gemma Evans via Unsplash

The past year has been a challenging one for the performing arts, but challenge breeds innovation and the Cambridge Festival will showcase an array of exciting experiments in distance performing from leading artists and thinkers.

 The Cambridge Festival, which runs from 26th March to 4th April, brings together the hugely popular Cambridge Science Festival and the Cambridge Festival of Ideas to host an extensive programme of over 350 events that tackle many critical global challenges affecting us all. Coordinated by the University of Cambridge, the Festival features hundreds of prominent figures and experts in the world of science, current affairs and the arts, and has four key themes: health, environment, society and explore.

The Festival will hear from leading artists about everything from how they have overcome the limitations placed on them by the Covid pandemic to the role of art in understanding dementia and in rescuing music from conflict zones.

The line-up includes new works such as An Everyday Family Practice, which has its premiere at the Festival. An original short play based on a collaboration between Menagerie Theatre and A Good Death?, an academic research project, this touching, darkly humorous and at times challenging drama explores the impact on a family of a diagnosis of terminal illness. Inspired by literary, historical and sociological research into the experiences of those closely affected by death, dying and bereavement, it follows a young man’s attempts to create what he believes will be a true memorial of himself and of his relationships, even as they alter and are transformed by the extreme situation in which he and his family find themselves. It represents family relationships as they often are, in their ordinariness, rather than idealising them.

Written by Patrick Morris, Co-Artistic Director of Menagerie Theatre Company, it draws on the work of ‘A Good Death?’, a research and impact project based in the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge. Led by Dr Laura Davies, the project uses literature to open up conversations about death and dying and draws on historical death writing to inspire new ways of thinking and talking about life, death and dying. An Everyday Family Practice is part of a series of short dramatic pieces and an ongoing work-in-progress, in which research and theatre are in dialogue. The screening will be followed by a short ‘in conversation’ interview between Laura and Patrick, in which they will talk about the ideas and impetus behind their collaboration and discuss the research which inspired this new drama. 27th March

The Festival also features in conversation sessions with leading artists:

Benoit Swan Pouffer, Artistic Director of well known dance company Rambert, choreographer Wim Vandekeybus, cinematographer Emma Dalesman and Rambert Dancers will be interviewed about the creation of Draw from Within, one of the earliest new dance pieces inspired by the Covid-19 pandemic and conceived to be performed and consumed as a live stream event globally. This interview will include clips from the performance of Draw from Within and a Q&A session. 27th March.

Artist and film maker Suki Chan will be talking about her 2020 film HALLUCINATIONS which will be screened during the festival. An immersive journey into the personal experiences of two people who are living with dementia, juxtaposed with the perspective of two carers, the film reveals intimate details that convey how dementia changes perceptions – resulting in hallucinations, altered experiences of time and sense of identity.  HALLUCINATIONS is the second film from Chan’s multi-platform project CONSCIOUS bringing together the diverse, subjective perspectives of scientists and ordinary people, whose stories unwrap layers of thinking and preconceptions about individual and collective consciousness.  28th March

Iraqi-American producer, musician and audio-visual archivist Mark Gergis will talk about his ongoing project,  Syrian Cassette Archives, which aims to document Syria’s cassette era, dating from the 1980s to the present day. At the heart of the collection are 400+ audio tapes acquired by Gergis between 1997 and 2010, reflecting years of research and personal connections with local music shops, producers, distributors and musicians around the country.  The collection is broad in scope and features an overview of musical styles from Syria’s many communities, including Syrian Arabs, Assyrians, Kurds, Armenians and Iraqis who were displaced by US/UK-led sanctions and war throughout the 2000s. The event is organised by the 'Archives of the Disappeared' Research Network at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities. The Archives of the Disappeared is an interdisciplinary research initiative for the study and documentation of communities, social movements, spaces, lifeworlds, literatures and cultures that have been destroyed through acts of political repression and mass violence.  26th March

The Festival will also show how, with the help of technology, artists from across the world have been able to collaborate to produce works which not only break disciplinary boundaries but provide new perspectives on the world and some of our biggest global challenges.

They include Musical Mosaic, a virtual concert hosted by the Centre for Intercultural Musicology at Churchill College (CIMaCC), which has been especially curated for the Cambridge Festival. Showcasing the artistic creativities of accomplished performers, composers, dancers and photographers from different parts of the world, Musical Mosaic aims to bring global communities closer together through sound-art. The programme features 11 works from various cultures with first performances of new compositions and arrangements designed for this virtual medium. Performing groups include members of the Trans-Nebraska Players, Frahm-Lewis Trio, Turning Worlds Dance Company, Fei Song Erhu Ensemble, ASWARA and UiTM Chamber Choir. Flautist Laura Falzon pays tribute to the late African composer Akin Euba and Tim Cribb narrates poems by Australian poet, John Kinsella, inspired by the iconic sculptures and stunning landscape of Churchill College.

Opera Aperta is a collaborative performing group formed by Anglia Ruskin University staff, students and alumni which explores the relation between texts and approaches to music, sound and image. Each piece developed by the group examines text as a basis of a generative compositional process in an experimental manner.  The event will include extracts from recent works-in-progress, such as New-Gertrude Stein Piece, which draws on Stein’s famous repetitions, translating them into both a vocal and percussive mantra.   All the works were initiated and produced during lockdown and show how art can innovate against a background of distance performing. 31st March.

In Music of Women and Birthing, Cambridge academics and Jewish and Muslim cultural stakeholders from Morocco, will provide historic, linguistic, cultural and musicological context to the celebration of North African women's fertility through song. Coinciding with the launch of the online exhibition Sonic Accompaniment to Birth in the Jewish Sahara, each day between 26 - 31 March, at 12pm, a new video will be premiered on Cambridge University’s Faculty of Music YouTube Channel. These include the Honorable André Azoulay, Counsellor to the King of Morocco, on 'milk mothers' and Morocco's tradition of cross-religious nursing siblings. 26th to 31st March.

‘Bespoke Music and Narration’ is a collection of original music and pulse-based narration crafted by Professor Valerie Ross, Director of the Centre for Intercultural Musicology at Churchill College, and cardiothoracic surgeon Dr Abid Amir with the aim of promoting relaxation, health and wellness. Short session on 27th March and all day from 28th March to 4th April.

Several events focus on artists’ response to the climate change crisis:

The Future We Want: A World in Harmony is a poetic and musical journey reflecting on the choices that need to be made, both now and in the long term, in order to move towards a sustainable future for mankind and the environment.  Musical items, including works by Telemann, Schubert, Debussy and Wilson, will alternate with poetry, read by speakers including environmentalist Tony Juniper, that will include an abridged version of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner and poems by Angela Leighton and Sasha Dugdale, and the event will also feature key sustainability moments, building from the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 up to 2020. 29th March.

Cambridge Junction Associate Artist Zoë Svendsen, Lecturer in Drama and Performance at the University of Cambridge; Rachel Drury, Creative Producer, Director and Co-Founder of arts organisation Collusion Cambridge; and Marina Velez, researcher, artist and curator in the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Anglia Ruskin University will discuss the role of the arts in climate change action on 27th March.

Svendsen is also collaborating with Oliver-award-winning sound designer Carolyn Downing on Wild Dress, an interactive event that invites the audience to walk wild landscapes in their imagination with Kate Fletcher, author and Professor of Sustainability, Design, Fashion at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, University of the Arts London. 26th March to 4th April.  

On a lighter note, the Festival will include a number of comedy events:

In Martin Mor: Adventure Comedian, professional performer Martin Mor will regale us with stories from his experiences in an array of unlikely settings, from a show in the exercise yard of an Italian prison to performing the world’s highest altitude comedy show at Mount Everest Basecamp. Hear about his hilarious close encounters with bears, crocodiles and sharks (though not all at once) and his tales of performing on six continents. 31st March.

The Variables Presents is a hugely entertaining show with Cambridge's Science Comedy Troupe whose popular, sold-out stand-up routines on science and life as scientists have moved online during the pandemic. Past shows have featured researchers detailing adventures in the jungle, coworkers good and bad, bacteria in poo, trying to find an escape from science to relax, and animals both cute and terrifying. The Variables were set up in 2016 by Michael Conterio, thanks to his experiences as part of the Science Showoff Talent Factory to help develop science communication and performance skills. 1st April.

Other events related to music and performance include:

Mesopotamian mud: a journey through voice and vessel  which invites people to take a journey through art, nature, geoarchaeology and earth sciences to create and share in the adventures of the enchanted pot from the Mesopotamian Marshlands. Presenters from the Sedimentology-Fine Art research collective based in Iraq and the UK include Dr Nawrast Sabah Abd Alwahab - Sedimentology Lecturer, University of Basrah, Kelcy Davenport - Artist, Researcher, Teacher, Cambridge School of Art, Anglia Ruskin University, artist Sally Stenton, artist and musician Shaima al-Sitrawi and artist, marketer and researcher Sarah Strachan from Cambridge School of Art, Anglia Ruskin University. 26th March to 4th April.

Festival Evensong at Great St Mary’s is an online Festival Evensong service with keynote speaker Professor Tom McLeish,  a physicist, academic interdisciplinary leader and writer who is Professor of Natural Philosophy in the Department of Physics at the University of York. His scientific research in ‘soft matter and biological physics’ has inspired collaborations with chemists, engineers and biologists to study relationships between molecular structure and emergent material properties. He currently leads the UK ‘Physics of Life’ network. 21st March.

View the full programme via www.festival.cam.ac.uk from 22nd February. Many events require pre-booking, please check the events listings on the Festival website.

Keep up to date with the Festival on social media:

Instagram: @Camunifestivals | Facebook: @CambridgeFestival | Twitter: @Cambridge_Fest

The Festival sponsors and partners are AstraZeneca and RAND Europe. The Festival media partners are BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and Cambridge Independent.

 

To read more information, click here.

The University of Cambridge is acknowledged as one of the world's leading higher education and research institutions. The University was instrumental in the formation of the Cambridge Network and its Vice- Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, is also the President of the Cambridge Network.

University of Cambridge (cam.ac.uk)