A Freedom Festival like no other

The city has been celebrating the concept of freedom with an arts festival like no other.

Playing host to the 12th edition of the award-winning Freedom Festival, artists from across the world converged to delight, challenge and mystify audiences with jaw-dropping circus, weird and wonderful street theatre, thought-provoking performances and talks, music, and mischievous projects to engage all ages. 

Over five days and nights audiences enjoyed extraordinary exhibitions and productions played out in the city’s streets, squares and public spaces, celebrating Hull’s rich heritage. Visitors were encouraged to discover and rediscover a city of unparalleled potential, fuelled by hope and humanity, as Hull city centre came alive as multiple commissions and events explored themes relating to human rights, affirming Freedom Festival’s position as one of the UK’s and Europe’s finest and most distinctive arts festivals. 

Freedom Festival’s Artistic Director, Mikey Martins, scoured talent from across the world to bring some of the most sought-after festival shows from as far afield as Australia, Argentina, Catalonia and Belgium to Hull, he said: “Freedom Festival explores concepts of freedom deeply across the entire programme, highlighting the realities of modern day slavery and discussing the multiple barriers to Freedom which are so prevalent in many aspects of our society. We aim to empower our audiences and participants as we celebrate the extraordinary power of creativity. We believe art can change and alter the narrative and in these challenging times we all need to come together and strengthen our communities.

“I wanted everyone to come together, look each other in the eye and explore this wonderful place, discuss the challenges we all face and discover a city of great heritage and unparalleled potential.”

  • Freedom Festival  Un Poyo Rojo credit Tom Arran
    Un Poyo Rojo.

All photos by Tom Arran.

Bivouac by Générik Vapeur – On Friday, the night time rhythm of the festival was fast and furious, as French street art titans Générik Vapeur burst onto the city’s streets with it’s processional show Bivouac, mesmerising audiences with a wave of smoke and sound. Joined by a cast of local people, an enormous troupe of blue men and women lay siege to the city, with smoke, flame, oil drums and mayhem, transporting the Hull into a punk-infused daydream.

Humans by Circa – A thrilling, breathtaking and heart-stopping performance from the most in-demand contemporary circus company in the world, opened the festival with this incredible show as 10 of the world’s finest acrobats took audiences on a stirring journey of what it means to be human and how our bodies, connections and aspirations all form part of who we are. Created by Yaron Lifschitz, the stage was stripped bare as the vulnerability of a team of highly skilled acrobats was exposed. With incredible strength and integrity, they connected each moment seamlessly with the next in a thrilling, breathtaking and heart-stopping performance. Audiences saw a glimpse of their humanity as they found redemptive power in strength and celebrated what it means to be fiercely human.

Un Poyo Rojo – Bravely directed by Hermes Gaido (Mexico), performers Luciano Rosso (YouTube lip syncing sensation) and Nicolas Poggi have toured worldwide for the past 10 years. Argentinian physical theatre performance at its finest, Un Poyo Rojo is kitsch, camp and hilarious. Fusing acrobatics, dance and physical performance and exploring masculinity and bravado. The two performances were packed as audiences crowded in to the big top to watch this incredible story. Much to the audience’s delight, their standing ovation was received with a treat from Rosso, who delighted the audience with a sensational lip sync of Wannabe by the Spice Girls. A performance and night that will most certainly be remembered. 

Fidelis Fortibus by Circus Ronaldo – Award-winning circus legend Danny Ronaldo was in Hull with the UK premiere of Fidelis Fortibus, a highly unusual, comical and poetic solo performance which celebrates the grandeur of the circus. A comical and poetic circus performance with warm humour and slight melancholy, Danny appeared in the ring alone, surrounded by a circle of buried circus artistes. The powerful illusions he created brought the dead souls back to life. With the audience complicit in maintaining the illusion of the grand spectacle, giving applause and waves of laughter, it still sounded like a reality. He will never leave. Or perhaps he might. But would that be to give up? To be disloyal?

Fidelis Fortibus provided recognisable metaphorical images for many of today’s human situations, because we never have to look far to recognise old patterns that are kept alive by an unconscious loyalty to the past. Winner of the Culture Prize for Best Circus Show 2017 in Barcelona and nominated as Best Production of 2016 at Theaterfestival in Belgium.

Session presented by Still House, Empire Sounds and Steppaz – With their stage set beneath the imposing Hull Minster, Bristol-based performance company Still House joined forces with Tottenham-based Steppaz Performing Arts Academy and north London’s music production powerhouse Empire Sounds to create an explosive outdoor gathering and high-energy night of dance and live music that left the whole audience moving to a new rhythm. Dance party, gig and social rolled into one, the show was led by an ensemble of young dancers who moved across hip hop, contemporary folk and Afrobeats, as they celebrated community, youth and belonging. Described by The Independent as “One of the most original talents around,” Session was produced by MAYK and is a LIFT Tottenham Original co-commissioned with Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, Bristol Old Vic Ferment, Pavillion Dance South West and Théâtre National de Bretagne. 

K-Veewagon Terrace and Vespaua presented by Swoolish Garage – Freedom Festival’s charming Dutch friends at Swoolish Garage were back with three installations as they created the ultimate festival hang out and theatrical wellness experience. Inviting audiences to take a load off in one of the 10 designer wheelbarrow loungers with a wonderfully warm footbath and the possibility of being treated to an award-deserving foot rub by one of their accompanying charmers. This year they also brought with them their K-Veewagon, the Scania jewel from ’71 and refurbished cattle wagon from ’61 which created the most unique theatre and stage, with resident DJ and bar to boot. Plus, Vespaqua – the world’s smallest, but most exciting bathhouse (because it’s mobile!) – was back by popular demand after its debut at Freedom Festival 2016. Three minty green bathtubs were towed around by a 1966 Vespa Ape, providing bathers with the most relaxing, yet thrilling dip they will ever encounter. 

Teentalitarianism: Night walks with teenagers by Mammalian Diving Reflex / Darren O’Donnell – A social-specific performance that invited adults to enter a very different world where the tables are turned and the teens are in charge. With a return to Freedom Festival following Haircuts by Children in 2017, Freedom favourites Mammalian Diving Reflex worked with a group of local teenagers to create a series of performances, events and interventions to positively disrupt this year’s festival, creating teen-infused environments where the youth rule the roost. In Nightwalks with Teenagers, the Teentalitarianism operatives planned, designed and lead public walks through the city at night, exploring the neighbourhood with members of the community. Focused on the power of walking together, and bringing teens and adults together to have a unique social experience in a shared place and time, where everyone can let loose, and where silences offer moments for contemplation.

Freedom Festival 2019 opened on 28 August and closed on 1 September 2019 in Hull city centre. For more information about the festival and the full programme, visit www.freedomfestival.co.uk

[Laura Andrew – Home PR]