Walking through Bournemouth gardens during the Arts By The Sea festival’s opening weekend it’s easy to feel a part of something beautiful. During the day caped creatives peddle something outside of the everyday experience. The festival brings together talent from all disciplines and spray paints it onto Bournemouth town.
It would be easy to get lost in the decadent exhibition, with such a constant stream of distraction and delights the mind can easily wander in the wonder. For this reviewer it began on Friday night, at the Key West on the pier. The press pass tied around my neck was in stark contrast to the neck ties of the collected suits that were celebrating their part in putting this all together. The open bar helped to calm my nerves as we were encouraged to mingle and schmooze. Taking my wine onto the balcony to smoke a cigarette sound tracked by the incredible sounds of the Jack Macguire & Don Kipper Balkan Duo I lose myself in the incredible scenery trying to ignore the stale scent of tourism board.
Saturday begins on the poetry bus, which by all rights should be a celebration of the incredible talent of the local poets whose work is showcased. However the machinations of the bus itself obscure the words a little, taking a pew on the comfortable yellow bus I read the words of Bob Hill, Aaron Lowney and Nkech Nwokolo. It would have been a more impressive feature had the poets been there to read their work, perhaps I had just come at the wrong time. Moving on we follow a band dressed in an array of ghoulish garbs as they lead a funeral procession through the gardens. We join in the impromptu Dia De Meurtos having a little boogie before moving deeper into the gardens. Next up we’re greeted by some giant vibrating, humming blue balls. Their purpose unclear we give one a cuddle trying to immerse ourselves in this offering, shouting through the confusion it’s clear they’re simply hear to inspire a child like sense of curiosity, their lack of explanation itself justification. Next up we settle down in front of the bandstand and we’re greeted once again by the Jack Maguire & Don Kipper Balkan Duo, perhaps the hardest working band of the weekend this is neither the first nor the last billing for this fusion band who once again amaze with their swingtastic grooves.
As dusk slowly descends upon the gardens a new atmosphere takes hold, we start off by watching the spellbinding performance by Highly Sprung of their piece The Urban Astronaut. A dystopian sci fi story told through dance and innovative prop use, watching the crane propelled astronaut slowly soar towards the protagonist as if in zero gravity was truly mesmerising. Setting up our minds for the suspension of disbelief we now take another walk through the gardens which are now alight with a neon glow. On our journey we take in the Secret Life Of Trees by Will Simpson and Toby Wiltshire, a deeply unsettling soundscape accompanies the strobe communication set into the greenery of the gardens. This dissonance reminds us how uncomfortable we are when faced with a resonance perhaps outside of our usual existence. Further along we take the trip through the Travelling Light piece by Ithaca. Visually arresting you cannot help but linger in the curious space created atop this bridge, surrounded by the dangling neon glow and audio from a separate space all together it’s possible to get lost inside this bubble outside of reality for a moment or two.
We finish by following the Sea Of Freaks procession from the Triangle down to the finale on the seafront. The samba march is a festive affair and a true celebration of all that came before. The Jellish element by Thingumajig is especially distorted bringing up the rear of the ensemble, we spent more than a few minutes enveloped in their otherworldy jellyfish umbrellas. The march finishes at the finale show, something that seemed oddly unspectacular and it was a very curious decision to black out the fence surrounding what was billed as a free event, turned away by the congested funnel towards the show we could only watch the peak of the pyrotechnic display as we sat on the beach and reflected over all the other fantastic sights we’d seen over the course of the day.
Sunday served up much the same as the day before. Highlights included the opening by local party starters the Mother Ukers. With incredible enthusiasm they infected the entire audience as they deftly deployed ukelar fusion covers, their unforgettable rendition of ‘Firestarter’ left us whistling the entire weekend. Later on we were left speechless by performance art specialists Acrojou whose ‘All At Sea’ was honestly arresting. A suited man clambers into a boat atop of which a constant downpour of rain is attached via a raincloud mast. We watch his journey through life, the expectations of society and his struggle with anxiety and depression as he struggles to row his now drenched self, tugging his water laden vessel along with him. An incredibly powerful examination of the human condition leaving the audience with something to muse upon long after the spilled water had dried.
Arts By The Sea Festival is an amazing celebration of the artists involved and honestly, I wish these opportunities and focus were something that was a year round initiative rather than what seems to be a tourism driven initiative. Whilst the bandstand was populated by a wealth of local talent, a lot of the rest of the festival was shipped in. Bournemouth and the surrounding area honestly has such a vibrant and bustling hub of creatives right here in town it would have been nice to see that showcased at the theatres and stages taking part.
Words by Matt Miles