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Doncaster Cultural Festival 2008

The Point, Doncaster
Sunday 13 July 2008

The Doncaster Cultural Festival, which this year celebrates its 10th anniversary, was a most pleasant way of spending a Sunday afternoon here in my home town. Held in The Arts Park, which is sandwiched between the Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery and The Point, Doncaster's cultural centre for the arts, the festival brings together diverse aspects of the arts including film, photography, theatre, crafts, music and dance from all around the world. Organised by Doncaster Voluntary Arts Network, the festival presents an ideal opportunity for local voluntary art and cultural groups to perform, display and demonstrate their craft and for Doncaster people to enjoy. 

The Doncaster Youth Jazz Orchestra, coincidentally celebrating their own special 35 year anniversary this year, was asked to kick off procedings on the main stage in the Arts Park, on what turned out to be a much appreciated sunny afternoon. The standard of musicianship within the ranks of both the jazz and swing orchestras never fails to impress.

Several spaces were given over to the festival, which includes rooms and galleries within the Museum and Art Gallery and spaces within the Point complex, as well as out in the open in both the Arts Park and the Museum garden. Whilst John Ellis's Orchestra filled the Arts Park with the sound of jazz on a summer's day, the Chinese Elders were warming up for their performance of traditional Chinese music and song in the Museum Garden.

Traditional food was available from the Doncaster Chinese Elders Interactive Centre, whilst Caribbean cuisine was being served by the Doncaster Ujima Collective at their sampling table, offering something hot and spicy. The Hindu Society of Doncaster also had some Asian food on offer, so there was no need to go hungry during this five hour festival, and I most certainly didn't. 

The Cusworth Singers performed a tribute to Vaughan Williams in the Gallery at The Point, which is just a short walk across the park and through a wrought iron gate leading to small peaceful outer yard, which is essentially the rear entrance to the main building on South Parade. The Cusworth Singers have 12 singing members and perform a wide repertoire from early music to the twentieth century; including madrigals, folk, traditional, sacred and 'pop'. Today they concentrated on the folk songs of Vaughan Williams. 

The Point was originally two listed Georgian terraced town houses but has now been converted into one building with an additional steel and glass extension to the rear. As I entered through the Arts Park, I was greeted by a series of galleries and exhibition spaces, with the unmistakable smell of fresh coffee, which I treated myself to more than once during the afternoon.

Whilst Linden Lea echoed throughout the Point. the main stage in the Arts Park was preparing for some contemporary rap and reggae with the Doncaster Ujima Collective.

Today the Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery served as the central focus for the festival with dance events being performed throughout the day in the Museum Garden, which is right in front of the main entrance. The entrance canopy provided some shelter from the sun and under which crafts such as wood carving and Chinese brush painting were being demonstrated and displayed. 

Inside the museum, visual exhibitions were on display in the form of films by CSV and BBC Radio Sheffield whose film 'Region on Film' included archive footage of Doncaster and South Yorkshire as well as an interactive display provided by Doncaster Movie Makers Camcorder Club. 

Outside, the familiar sound of an accordion being squeezed and sticks being cracked together came courtesy of the Hilltop Morris Dancers of Edlington who were performing some traditional English dances.

In stark contrast to the Doncaster Ujima Collective and the young Morris teams of England, audiences were gathering in the upper galleries of the Museum and Art Gallery, where the Doncaster Choral Society performed a programme under the title 'Gems of the Renaissance and Baroque'. It wasn't strictly black tie but there was certainly a more refined sense of occasion up in those galleries, where the Choral Society singers were flanked by some of the more imposing Victorian portraits, sculptures and paintings of the museums permanent collection. Folk songs were also represented by the Doncaster Folk Club during the afternoon.

The Doncaster Little Theatre opened their production of Alan Ayckbourn's Absent Friends at the Little Theatre in Doncaster last week and today the cast came along to the festival to perform a couple of scenes in the Studio at The Point. Already used to performing in a small theatre that usually seats up to 104 people, the theatre group were challenged to perform in an even tighter space at the Point, but quite successfully nonetheless.

Meanwhile downstairs in the Gallery, Janet Wood was leading the Quirky Choir, who specialise in various styles of communal singing. They do it for fun and they look like they're having fun doing it. I spoke to Janet during the afternoon and she told me the choir is doing very well but they could do with a few more men in the group. I took this as a thinly disguised hint, and I'm tempted. I particularly liked their treatment of the traditional African songs of Zimbabwe, a sound that just simply sends a shiver down the spine. 

The Xpressions Youth Theatre and the Hall Cross School demonstrated some of the different forms of modern dance from the street and from Bollywood as well as some Irish dancing courtesy of the Josephine Brady School of Irish Dance. There was also some freestyle disco dancing under the heading of 'Reach for the Stars', all taking place on the main stage in the Arts Park.

The Rainbow Connection Singers performed a vibrant collection of songs, which put a smile on the faces of everybody there present to witness. Delightful.

The Hallgate Chamber Orchestra performed a programme of music by Handel, featuring the soprano Elen Wyn Evans and baritone Carey Williams, bringing a very Welsh feel to the festival, as well as a special piece on two recorders played by brothers Ben and Matthew Latham. 

Closing the festival for this year was award winning dance troupe Optimum Limit, who attracted a younger gathering in front of the main stage in the Arts Park. Before the climax of what turned out to be a successful festival, especially in view of the fact that it is the festivals 10th anniversary, we heard the African drums of Upbeat filling the Arts Park with a memorable beat.

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky