Thursday, 14 August 2014

Unlimited Festival - Southbank Centre

IN 2012 the Southbank Centre was asked to commission and bring together a host of disabled artists for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.
The result was the first Unlimited Festival, part of an unprecedented £2.4million, three-year initiative funded by Arts Council England, Spirit of 2012 and Creative Scotland which funds disabled artists to produce work which aims to transform our perception of the world.
More than 30,000 people saw 29 acts perform over the two weeks of the event. It was deemed such a success Southbank Centre is bringing it back for a second time.
Taking place over the course of six days between Tuesday, September 2 and Sunday, September 7 and across the organisation's entire 21-acre site, Unlimited Festival will showcase and celebrate the talents of disabled artists with an ambitious mix of theatre, dance, music, literature, comedy and visual arts.
"These days there is a real commitment to look at ways to make the world accessible for everyone," says head of performance and dance, Wendy Martin.
"There are so many exceptional disabled artists out there who are making a difference and the work they are doing is very much part of our arts culture.
"The 2012 festival was so successful Arts Council England made a commitment that it should not be just a one-off event which is fantastic.
"Also Unlimited Festival captures the essence of Southbank Centre’s core belief in the potential of art to change the way we see the world, so I am thrilled to again be presenting such an eclectic range of bold new work that values and celebrates difference."
The six days will feature more than 100 international disabled dancers, choreographers, theatre makers, cabaret stars, stand-ups, puppeteers, musicians, poets, film makers, visual artists, activists and thinkers.
It includes more than 20 performances, 11 exhibitions and installations and a wide ranging programme of talks, debates workshops and free outdoor and indoor activities.
Among the highlights of the impressive line up are a video dinner party with an alcohol-infused butler, a tender look at Alzheimer’s and family relationships, a frank and funny sex comedy, non-dancers dancing, an exploration of religion’s attitude to disability and a mass participatory signing and dance to Pharrell Williams’s hit song Happy.
There will also be post show discussions for audiences to meet with and talk to the artists about their work.
"It's quite a line up," enthuses Wendy. "There is a huge amount going on and it would be very difficult for me to pick out anything in particular so I would say people should just come along and see as much as they can!"
And although she is reluctant to be drawn on naming personal highlights she says artists such as Michelle Ryan, Claire Cunningham and Katherine Araniello should be in audience’s itineraries.
"Claire was one of the 2012 artists we had and has made an astonishing piece of dance theatre," she says.
"Katherine Araniello deals with the clich├ęs of disability in her show and then there is Michelle Ryan who is a leading contemporary dancer from Australia. She was diagnosed with MS 10 years ago aged 30 and this is her first performance in 10 years.
"So there will be a chance for people to see and hear from artists who were born with a disability as well as those who have had it come to them in later life.
"Also our family show, Edmund The Learned Pig which is based on an unpublished poem by Edward Gorey is lovely. It's a circus story and has been set to music by Martin Jacques from The Tiger Lillies and is just great."
"But because of the funding from the Arts Council, people can trust that what they are going to see or hear will be exceptional."
One thing Wendy is keen to stress is that most of the events and performances are free, including the final show on Sunday night, Graeae Theatre Company's Reasons To Be Cheerful at the Clore Ballroom.
"It's an extremely important part of the ethos of Southbank Centre that arts should be accessible to all and so as much as posible we try to make the work we do free," she says.
"So, there are workshops and free performances going on in the foyers and in our outside spaces and we hope that people might see and stumble across them even if they didn't know about the festival.
"It means they could be interested enough to explore the festival further and see and discover more going on. We hope it inspires them."
She also hopes people will come and think as well as be entertained by what they see and hear.
"There is a strong political point underscoring the events and performances but there is also a huge spirit of fun," says Wendy.
"It's about people thinking more compassionately and is a fantastic way of creating an understanding between everyone."

Unlimited Festival takes place at the Southbank Centre between Tuesday, September 2 to Sunday, September 7 September. Visit for full listings.

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