An upstanding event
It's not the idiosyncrasies of the British summer. It's Lift (London International Festival of Theatre) which happens or rather takes off and carries us away for a few weeks into uncharted territories of theatre, dance, music and performance art. Lift, now in its eighth year, has just started its current season with an unprecedentedly far-reaching and well- developed education programme.
This year, Lift has co-ordinated four major education productions, bringing together children and young people from inner-city London and professional artists from this country and abroad; the kind of collaboration that has become ever more rare since local management of schools has cut deep into arts residencies.
It is a rarity, too, for arts organisations to have the luxury of working with schools for more than a day or a week at a time. Lift Education, under the direction of Tony Fegan, works developmentally with schools and youth organisations over a period of months. The planning for Rush! has taken two years and is a collaboration between the Weekend Arts College, a community arts training resource, and a Brazilian choreographer and musician. The show uses Brazilian rhythms, dance and drumming to tell a story about street children there.
The subject is not as remote as it might seem. Tony Fegan says: "People working with the predominantly black street children in Brazil help to give them a sense of their own black culture. We wanted to find a parallel organisation here that also works with young street people and others. And there is a parallel with WAC students, some of whom have lived on the street."
Cyril Nri, co-ordinator of Rush!, calls the project "an experiment and a work in progress. In it, we're looking for different approaches for people of the African diaspora working in the arts in Britain. We're looking for a new, non-Eurocentric way of creating theatre." The performance tours schools and youth centres and has been invited to perform at the Notting Hill Carnival in August.
A very different project is Sirk Uzay, which is Turkish for Celestial Circus. Involving one Hackney secondary and two primary schools, it was inspired by the visit of France's Cirque Plume to Lift. Sirk Uzay has been a four-month partnership between the schools and artists from Circus Space and Emergency Exit Arts. Year 6 children from William Patten Junior School in Stoke Newington are among those who have been improvising slapstick routines and working on circus skills, including mastering the high trapeze, while Stoke Newington Secondary School has been learning Turkish dance and music with percussionist and folk dancer Hamit Kartari. Their performance at Circus Space will be followed by an appearance under a real Big Top on Highbury Fields, Islington.
Deb Swallow, who is co-ordinating the project, explains the varied components of Sirk Uzay. "The theme is based on people's fascination with the stars and the cosmos within a circus context. When we first started discussions with Hackney schools, teachers thought it would be good to celebrate Turkish and Kurdish culture in the piece, reflecting the large proportion of children from those backgrounds. Integrating Turkish and Kurdish rhythms and modal scales into the music is giving those children something to celebrate and giving the other children a way to engage with it, too." Another project, Still Standing, brought together young people from two secondary and two special schools to work with Japanese and British choreographers on a performance piece.
When Lift ends on July 9, Lift Education continues. A training programme for teachers and artists on work related to the 50th anniversary of Indian independence in 1997 begins in September. Next year, among other things, there will be a season of work focusing on artists working with and for young people.
Jim Williamson, teacher of the Year 6 group "circus" group at William Patten, says: "Before it started, I was worried about the boys' response to certain things like dance.
"But the way it has been introduced and worked through - relating the movements to sports and not calling it dance until after it had finished so they wouldn't be put off - has been really successful. The children have shown unbridled enthusiasm for this work, although it's intensive.
"It's a more liberated a way of doing things than what they're used to at school."
LIFT events, various venues until July 9.
For information about LIFT education, telephone 0171-490 3964