When you think Woodford Folk Festival, you think music. But the 30 year old festival is a whole lot more than that. It promotes both emerging and world renowned acts, but it’s also been steadily forging links with other artistic communities, notably the dance and circus worlds. Considering the inextricable link between movement and music and the accessible nature of both, it's no surprise that this is the case.
These genres are now so prevalent throughout the six days of WFF that you could spend full time at dance and circus gigs and experience a whole other festival – the Woodford Physical Arts Festival, perhaps.
Given that the festival caters heavily to families, circus, especially the democratic sensibility of the Australian variety, was a perfect fit into the 2015-16 season. With the colour and plump of a good ole fashioned circus tent, Circadia was the hub for all things tumbling and acrobatic. With youth circus, Flipside, in residence there were round-the-clock workshops for kids and multiple shows from both budding troupes and fully-formed professional productions (Casus, Elixir). All day long, kids (and some adults) juggled, hula-hooped and spun diavolos on the front lawn. Circadia offered circus on tap – prominently located within festival geography, yet relaxed and unassuming in delivery.
While Circadia’s focus was more practice-oriented and casual, showy circus infiltrated the festival in the Grand Spectacular Circus filling the Grande venue nightly with packed houses. Bookended by music concerts, the showcase drew crowds from that programming, but plenty of punters trekked up the hill purely for this drawcard. Individual circus artists, both up and comers and established folk, solo-ed in trapeze, tissu and hand stands, all to accompaniment by Macedonian orchestra Uska Kan Orkestar. The music suited the individual acts to varying degrees, but what really stood out was the specialness of a Eastern European band, straight off the plane, sharing stage with zany Australian carnies. Only at a place like Woodford.
Circus for the masses continued at the pond, smack in the middle of the Woodfordia grounds. Every night Perched took up residency, literally, above and within the pond. Tightrope walkers balanced over the water, often ending up saturated before they teetered their way to higher ground. Ensembles on rowboats, acro-dueting in the water and live musicians (of course) on dry land around the aquatic stage made for a unique show. Perched was a bit rough around the edges, considering the volatility of the weather and the performing conditions, but it certainly was physically prominent in the festival and drew passers-by who didn't even realise they'd be interested in the entertaining antics of soaking wet acrobats.
Overall, the dance/circus programming struck a balance between professional and community offerings. A Brisbane salsa school shimmed through a showcase just steps away from Salted Caramel, a duo subverting gender paradigms through a framework of classical Indian dance. A mid-afternoon hip hop/circus competition drew a squashed-to-the-gills house while on the children’s stage comedian Tessa Waters taught kids how to channel their inner rock star, strike power poses and boogie hard to the Beastie Boys.
For dance saturation though, the dancehalll didn’t stop heaving. Open level dance classes ran from morning until evening. Great Gatsby 1920s flapper dance, Csango Romanian circus dance, Brazilian Frevo Dance and everything in between was packed with people of all shapes, sizes and rhythmic abilities giving the lessons a go. Tripping over children under foot and friendly jostling of neighbours was par for the course.
With a stage for bands and an open dance floor, the Dancehall venue worked a treat for participatory sessions and suited its headlining activity, The Inaugural Annual Dance Affair, like a well-worn ballet slipper.
Produced by Kate McDonald in collaboration with choreographer Bec Reid and director Ian Pidd, TIADA sought out local social dance groups to perform in the context of an old time community dance. There was a half-time supper of finger sandwiches and progressive dances that had the whole room on their feet. The Rooftops orchestra gave the production a sense of occasion and got the joint jumping. Woodford got to witness, among others, the Kilcoy Kickers, a rock-n-roll dance club, the budding ballerinas from Miss Julie’s school in Delaney and a FlashMob harnessing the 80s in an ode to Flash Gordon.
Far from the cerebral nature of much contemporary dance and equally distanced from the codes of ballet, the TIADA was the warmest, most celebratory dance around. There was celebrity love from Blanche d’Alpuget crowning the bell of the ball while corny gags and lemonade recalled days of yore. Channelling Tina Sparkles in a yellow sequin-ed ensemble, Reid led the enthusiastic audience in dances like Strip the Willow, nodding to Woodford’s folk history.
Part dance show and part participatory event, TIADA is a brilliant concept that can (and will) be produced in other locales. It worked especially well for Woodford’s inclusive crowd, culture of social engagement and strong standing as a town of recreational dancers. It’s a reminder that dancing for fun and happiness still exists. It may be tucked away in halls and RSLs, yet the inclusive spirit that dancing offers filters through an entire community.
The curation of WFF is continuing to highlight that dance and movement have many of the same uniting and democratic qualities of music. Festival punters may go for the music, but it's pretty near impossible to miss the abundant physical expression going on around them. There's a whole lot more than music keeping the Woodford Folk Festival rocking and relevant.
Further details – woodfordfolkfestival.com
Top right – Chris Ahern in Perched. Photo – www.kickthecowphotography.com