Saturday, July 26, 2008

The World comes to Billingham

Today the 44th Billingham International Folklore Festival opened under a glorious blue sky in Billingham Town Centre. The formal opening was preceded by a lunch for representatives of Stockton Council, the Festival organisers and sponsors and the performers. I was fortunate to be one of the council representatives and shared a table with representatives of the German group. This group comes from a village in Saxony and exists to preserve the culture of the Sorbian minority in that area. They give up a week of their holiday each year to attend a festival of folk music and dance somewhere. Their language is related to Czech and Slovakian but they also speak German. In school they learn English, though prior to the fall of the Berlin wall they learned Russian. I was interested to learn that whereas we keep alive the tradition of maypole dancing they have a tradition of maypole tossing!
The opening was performed by the principal of Stockton Riverside College who was keen to tell us about the exciting developments in Billingham to rebuild Bede College and maintain the 6th form provision there through their joint venture. The colleges have long been supportive of the festival and it was good to hear that the support will continue.
There were some unusual acts to watch in the opening concert, including a group of Renaissance Flag Throwers from near Rome (watch a little of their performance on the video clip) and the Sri Lankan drummers who seemed to be very young to perform with such aplomb. They're giving a workshop tomorrow morning in the town centre for children - a really good opportunity to share in the culture of one of the visiting groups. I almost wish I were a child again! When we lived in Billingham Town Centre many years ago it was a real joy to see the little performances which the groups would give at odd times of the day. It made the festival feel very much part of the town.

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