In her latest blog, Artistic Director and Chief Executive Fiona Allan shares some of her personal highlights from this year’s hugely successful Birmingham Weekender Festival 2017 – a three-day cultural extravaganza which took place at venues across the city between 22-24 Sep.
Well, what a weekend!
Two years ago nearly to the day, my removalists arrived with my earthly belongings and I spent a Saturday lugging furniture around my new digs in the Jewellery Quarter. At the end of the day, I headed into the city centre, where the sky was blue and there was palpable excitement amongst the many people gathered in Centenary Square to watch the incredible spectacular of Maudits Sonnants. And I thought to myself, “well this is a city I can live in”.
Fast forward to the weekend just gone, the second Birmingham Weekender festival, and I’m still convinced that this is a simply amazing place to live – as over 175,000 people experienced at this year’s event.
My weekend started on Friday afternoon watching the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra perform on the concourse of New Street station, before heading up to Victoria Square to take part in Barbara Nice’s alternative office party, involving bad dancing (mine) to classic 80s tunes. This really set the tone for the whole weekend – an inspiring mix of the very best professional performers in the world with plenty of opportunities for the general public to get involved.
In the course of just a few hours on Saturday afternoon, I saw three new pieces of opera from Birmingham Opera Company in the Mailbox, Ex Cathedra singing hauntingly at Grand Central, some extraordinary Yakshagana dancers from India, local dance company Humanhood, and one of my absolute highlights – the Polish KTO Theatre roving performers with striking oversized masks. It was the random encounters with art (or perhaps, the encounters with random art) that were one of the most satisfying parts of the weekend for me.
Saturday night was the big free headliner event as Birmingham Hippodrome presented Clash of Drums, an incredible drumming and pyrotechnics show from the French company Les Commandos Percu and Spanish street theatre group Deabru Beltzak. As I stood in a field with thousands of other spectators, listening to the “Oohs” and “Aahs” following each volley of pyrotechnic genius, I heard many people say words to the effect of “I’ve never seen anything like this”. And I was so proud that once again the Hippodrome had played a part in expanding people’s artistic experiences in such an entertaining and spectacular way.
I’d love to say that I took it easy on Sunday, but with such a treasure trove on offer I headed back into the city centre to see Sonia Sabri Company and check out the Alternative Village Fete down at the open markets. And then my afternoon got really interesting as I tackled one of my biggest fears and volunteered to take part in Rosie Kay Dance Company’s performance. With a dozen or so others, we spent an hour learning an easy (for some!) dance routine, before parading into Grand Central and performing it in front of hundreds of people. The last time I was so scared was just before I bungee jumped.
Finally, back to the Hippodrome to see Seeta Patel perform in our Patrick Centre studio; an absolutely sublime evening of Indian classical dance and live music.
Once again, I’m hugely proud of this city and all we can achieve when we work together. Hats off to Culture Central for producing the weekend, and special shout out to the Hippodrome’s own Graham Callister, who was one of the joint Festival Directors responsible for the whole Weekender programme.
Fiona Allan (Artistic Director and Chief Executive)