|South Korean Fan Dancers|
Sunday’s World Gala performance featured groups from Southern Chile, Mexico, South Korea and Northern Russia.
|I have your hat!|
It was an unlikely start for a celebration of world dance culture, in the New town of Billingham on Teesside all those years ago but with passion and dedication from its founders and supporters, the festival has gone from strength to strength. It still brings dance companies from all over the world together, to showcase their countries’ traditional cultures and involve the local community, in what is always a great fun week in August.
The Billingham Festival wasn’t always favoured by the Arts establishment but even the Arts Council have funded it now, so it must finally be cool.
|All the nice girls love a Russian sailor|
In the late 1950s and early 1960s Billingham Council had developed a new traffic free shopping precinct and to attract shoppers the Council organised entertainment in the centre as it was an ideal arena for this sort of event. This was the beginnings of the festival. Of course, town centres today aren’t what they once were, but BIFF is using this to its advantage. Shops may be struggling, but the former Dorothy Perkins shop is being used for some youth dance workshops and the international Dance Film Festival will take place in the former Savers premises! That’s what I call making the most of things.
|Skirt speed whirling champions|
|Dance Chile – with bells on!|
|Chile is hot!|
The Mexican groups were more familiar. The colourful whirling skirts and the sombreros conjure up a vibrant happy Mexico. Ballet Recreacion also performed a more unusual dance based on the real dances and costumes of the Aztecs researched for authenticity by anthropologists. The amazing costumes were real show stoppers and the stunning head dresses were made from tufts of quail, pheasant, macao, parrot and wild rooster feathers. After vigorous stage storming during the fire ritual dance, there were quite a few of the aforementioned feathers strewn across the stage in the aftermath.
|The Aztecs are coming|
|Banging the drum for South Korea|
One of the things I like most about the festival, apart from the dancing, is the chance to see peoples from different ethnic groups around the world side by side. Genetically we are a bit of a hotch potch here in the UK but to see the tall blonde slender Northern Russians contrasted with the small dark Peruvians or the Asian beauty of the Koreans is like having a potted geography lesson where physical characteristics historically adapted to the climates and topography of different parts of the world.