Full programme announced ahead of IF: Milton Keynes International Festival 2023

    The full programme for IF: Milton Keynes International Festival 2023 has been announced.

    The full programme for the 2023 IF: Milton Keynes International Festival, Milton Keynes’ much-loved summer festival, has been announced.

    For ten days, from 21 to 30 July, unusual places and spaces in Milton Keynes and beyond will be transformed by live music, theatre, comedy, cabaret, outdoor events and family activities, including major commissions and UK premieres, creating unforgettable memories for all of who experience it. Outdoor installations, performance and family friendly work, free or deliberately low cost, are trademarks of the Festival…. French company Les Commandos Percu bring the pyrotechnics of Silence! to Campbell Park on Friday 21 July.  As the drummers and crowds process through the park, the powerful rhythms and low muffled rolling of their drums pull the audience towards a large volcanic sculpture. Gradually the drummers become one with this twisted metal mountain, the sky is set alight and the volcano erupts in a dazzling finale of pyrotechnics, special effects and percussion.  Also on Friday 21 July in Festival Square is Trigger’s Teabreak, a transportive audio piece and live dance work which takes the audience through the history and rituals of tea. With freshly brewed chai and peppermint tea served from a beautifully hand-painted Tuk Tuk, this gentle uplifting performance offers a moment of pause, an invitation to rest awhile and appreciate all that we have. For three days from Friday 21 to Sunday 23 July, Belgian company De Machienerie give the UK premiere of Carnivale - an ingenious, interactive ‘fairground village’ - at Festival Central in Campbell Park. It is a wondrous fantasy world of ecological wonder, full of extraordinary installations, curiosities, mechanical animals and attractions. By reflecting on the inventions and innovations of the past, Carnivale makes a poetic and powerful environmental statement about how animals are now threatened with extinction.  Also from Belgium are artists and scientists Captain Boomer Collective whose Pasture with Cows, inspired by traditional paintings of livestock, sets up in Fred Roche Gardens from Friday 21 to Sunday 23 July. Real-life cows – referencing the concrete cows for which Milton Keynes is famed – graze within an outsized gilt picture frame. Like a real painting, Pasture with Cows pauses time and draws its viewers in. The majestic rhythm of the cows creates a pleasantly pastoral environment that encourages peaceful rumination and camaraderie, punctuated with the occasional surprise turn of events.  From Friday 21 to Sunday 23 Gigs van Bon's computer sandwriter Blom will appear at various city centre locations. Slowly moving backwards, Blom draws an outline of a carpet of flowers on the ground. Families and passers-by are invited to fill small buckets with coloured sand and use it to colour in the drawings. Dutch artist Gjis van Bon previously presented his word-writing robot Skryf at IF: Milton Keynes International Festival in 2014.  From Friday 21 to Sunday 23 July, Dorset-based Gobbledegook Theatre bring their playful science fantasy Ear Trumpet to Fred Roche Gardens. Audiences are co-opted by Gobbledegook’s team of experts into their National Institute of Sonic Geology. Supplied with custom-built Ear Trumpets they listen in on the eons-worth of sounds trapped inside the Earth’s crust, only rarely perceptible in times of volcanic activity. In residential areas and the city centre, on Saturday 22 and Sunday 23, audiences can participate in Follow Me, a journey packed full of parkour and street acrobatics. The two urban acrobats of Be Flat from Belgium show them how to discover the city in a very unusual way. Others join the ‘flash mob’, wondering what on earth will happen next.  From Friday 28 to Sunday 30 July, the Festival’s final weekend, Catalonia’s LaDinamo bring their band on wheels Music on Cycles to various city centre locations. Literally funk on the move, they deliver a high-voltage moving concert and a frenetic street party. It’s an interactive show where the public participation makes every show unique.  On the nights of Friday 28 and Saturday 29 July will be a rare opportunity to experience the luminous Place des Anges, only seen twice before in the UK - at the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad and Hull UK Capital of Culture in 2016 – and the biggest show ever brought to the Festival. This aerial spectacle is written and directed by Pierrot Bidon and Stéphane Girard and produced and performed by leading French theatre company Gratte Ciel. A multitude of winged white angels – acrobats, climbers, dancers and circus artists - animate the night sky above central Milton Keynes. Suspended from invisible zip lines, they float and fly, defying gravity. As the angels start to descend to the watching crowds, they release swirling clouds of white feathers, cascading from the sky. 

    Also from Friday 28 to Sunday 30 July, Catalonian street arts company Tombs Creatius come to Festival Central in Campbell Park Plateau. Monster Colours is a colourful collection of 25 large wooden artisan games to challenge the whole family, testing puzzle solving, coordination and teamwork.  For 14 years and over, The Trip is an opportunity for an individual participant to travel to the final border of… something… as they lie down and slide inside a strange wooden trailer to undertake their own very particular journey. As short as it is intense, The Trip leaves everyone who experiences it with a secret to keep.  Following their popular appearance in the Circus Hub at the 2018 edition of the Festival, Belgium’s Sur Mesure set up Barrière in a city centre location and on Festival Central in Campbell Park from Friday 28 to Sunday 30 July. This curious old mechanical barrier becomes a stage where four street artists – musicians, singers, acrobats – draw audiences young and old into a surreal world without doors, full of humour and mischief.  At MK Rose in Campbell Park on Saturday 29 and Sunday 30 July, Milton Keynes-based Pagrav Dance Company perform Deva, created by Pagrav’s artistic director Urja Desai Thakore in collaboration with artist Hetain Patel. Deva challenges the myths and expectations of the South Asian body in Indian classical dance, playfully unravelling some of the complexities of British Asian identity, connecting dance, classicism and the everyday.  On Saturday 29 and Sunday 30 July in Campbell Park come two shows from contemporary circus and outdoor theatre company Dizzy O’Dare. Falconry Dismay on 29 July is an anarchic and wild flight into the world of falconry shows. These majestic birds of prey are portrayed by some very silly individuals while their expert handler holds tight to the tethers in this funny raucous show.  Kevin Tickle’s Dogs! sees Kevin walking the audience though categories such as Best in Show, Best Bitch and the ever-unpredictable Open Class, featuring bombastic breeds and classy canines. Expect theatrics and hijinks, acrobatic feats and impressive skills from daring dogs. Another family-friendly show, Mimbre and Daryl & Co’s Look Mum, No Hands! comes to the MK Rose in Campbell Park on Saturday 29 and Sunday 30 July. A tender tale of friendship and growing up, Look Mum, No Hands!  is a coming-of-age story about two friends testing their own boundaries. One in a wheelchair, one without, together they explore freedom, taking risks and independence. Using striking physical imagery, acrobatic shapes and unexpected choreography, the two friends gently push the boundaries of what is possible until together they find the perfect balance of each of their limits.  Also on that final weekend, 29 and 30 July, is Handpicked Productions’ The Promise at Great Linford Manor Park Canalside Dean. Part opera, part environmental event, The Promise is a multi-dimensional piece of family storytelling which places community at its heart. Inspired by the much-loved children’s story by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin, it tells the story of a lost girl who finds herself and encourages its audience to come together to take personal and collective action on the climate crisis.    The beautiful Spiegeltent in Campbell Park is the beating heart of the Festival and the perfect setting for live music, comedy, contemporary circus and cabaret….   First up in the tent this year is Barely Methodical Troupe’s award-winning show Bromance from Friday 21 to Saturday 23 July. Audacious and touching, this is a show about trust, intimacy and male friendships with jaw-dropping acrobatics, feats of hand-to-hand balancing and a breath-taking Cyr wheel routine, all set to a fresh soundtrack of original and found sounds.    Abandoman, Ireland’s finest improvising musical comedian, brings his Future Music to Milton Keynes on Friday 21 July. Using his trademark blend of audience interaction and razor-sharp improvisation, Abandoman creates an exhilarating live experience, transforming the audience’s likes, loathes and daydreams into songs and stories.  Lunchtime on Saturday 22 July sees The Nick Cope Family Concert make its Festival debut, following the success of his CBeebies show. For audiences of 2 years and upwards, he performs a one-hour acoustic set of his own distinctive songs with guitar and beautifully-animated projections.  Hailing from the Isle of Skye, the Peatbog Faeries mix jigs and reels with dance music, jazz and African influences. From the moment they take to the stage on Saturday 22 July, the mood is set for a no-nonsense feel-good atmosphere. Trailer: https://bit.ly/40lhAAX Following sold-out and critically-acclaimed Edinburgh Fringe and Soho Theatre runs, An Evening Without Kate Bush comes to the Spiegeltent on Sunday 23 July. Sarah-Louise Young and co-creator Russell Lucas pay glorious homage to the music, fans, and mythology of one of the most influential voices in British music.  Tex-Mex band Los Pacaminos, featuring Paul Young, are now in their 30th year and show no signs of hanging up their boots with this Spiegeltent gig on Monday 24 July. With an unmatched live reputation, two acclaimed studio albums and two live albums under their belts, they continue to explore and perform the music of the Southwest USA.  On Tuesday 25 July multi-award-winning comedian Suzi Ruffell presents her latest show, Snappy - all about settling down, becoming a mother and worrying about everything. Suzi Ruffell likes things snappy: her stand up, her decisions and her suits.  Multi-award-winning Scottish singer songwriter and festival favourite Karine Polwart is back this year with renowned jazz/folk pianist Dave Milligan in her new project, Still As Your Sleeping, on Wednesday 26 July. It’s an intimate, stripped-back collection of songs performed entirely with voice and piano.  Turin Brakes’ Festival performance on Thursday 27 July is part of a nationwide tour marking the release of the band’s ninth studio album, Wide-Eyed Nowhere. Music legends (and husband and wife) Toyah Willcox and Robert Fripp perform a joyful and upbeat set of hits and much-loved rock classics with a full band on Friday 28 July.  Family-friendly comedy comes to the tent on Saturday 29 July with Comedy Club 4 KidsSince 2005, the Comedy Club 4 Kids has been getting the best stand-ups and sketch acts from the international circuit to do their thing for an audience of children (aged 6+) and their families… but without the rude bits!  La Voix aka Britain’s Funniest Redhead is swinging into town on Saturday 29 July with her most ambitious show yet. Expect huge vocals, a live band and side-splitting comedy.  On Sunday 30 July is the award-winning, family rave sensation, Big Fish Little Fish, bringing the tunes to the family massive with an old skool drum & bass and jungle set from DJ Raks. A multi-sensory dancefloor is filled with bubbles, balloons, snow foam, smoke rings and topped off with a giant parachute finale. When the younger ravers need a break craft activity and a homemade playdough table are on hand.  The nightclub-influenced Monster Ceilidh Band push the boundaries of contemporary folk in all the right directions. They will be unleashing their infectious blend of folk and drum & bass to provide the soundtrack for a Festival Wrap Party on Sunday 30 July.  From Friday 21 to Sunday 30 July The Stables Sessions: Acoustic Stage in the sumptuous surroundings of the Arabian Bar Tent in Festival Central is a chance to hear new sounds and spot emerging talent and unsigned bands.   Other Festival highlights include…   The Place Between, a breathtakingly beautiful large-scale installation created by artist Rebecca Louise Law and sound artist Jason Singh. Law is known for creating colossal artworks with natural materials and her work has been seen worldwide. For this brand-new piece, she works with MK residents to find 20,000 examples of local plant life, adding their gatherings to her existing 200,000-strong collection. Together they sew and wire the stems and fronds into multiple trails of flowers and plant material which will transform the everyday of centre:mk’s Middleton Hall into a contemplative space for visitors that is simultaneously protective, potent and fragile. Meanwhile sound artist Singh joins them on location in Milton Keynes to record indoor and outdoor plants and trees, using bio feedback technology to capture the electrical activity made deep within their vegetative tissues and converting this data into immersive musical soundscapes that will envelop people as they make their journey through the epic hanging garden.  The Place Between is a special commission by centre:mk in collaboration with IF: Milton Keynes International Festival.  As the Festival’s Headline Partner centre:mk will host the artwork for an extra week from Friday 14 July until the end of the Festival.  The world premiere of a new commission for voice and chamber ensemble, a contemporary response to the globally renowned hymn Amazing GraceForever? is a collaboration between composer Roderick Williams and poet Rommi Smith. To create her powerfully moving text, Smith interviewed people, locally and internationally, about their personal response to the hymn, written 250 years ago by the Reverend John Newton, a former slave trader who became vicar of local parish Olney. Forever? will be premiered on Saturday 22 July at The Stables, one of the UK’s leading music venues and founder and producer of the Festival.  It will be performed by Chineke! Chamber Ensemble, part of Europe’s first majority-Black and ethnically diverse orchestra with the MK Sweet Sounds choir formed specially for the occasion, along with music by Florence B Price, William Grant Still and Tomaso Albinoni.  Forever? is commissioned by the Cowper & Newton Museum with The Stables and the performance is part of Amazing Grace 250, a year-long programme of activity led by the Museum.   At nightfall from Tuesday 25 to Thursday 27 July audiences will be collected from a central Milton Keynes location and transported to a secret woodland location where Catalonia-based artist collective Kamchàtka will give the UK premiere of their award-winning show Alter. Immersive and site-responsive, Alter is a journey into the heart of the night in search of a shared humanity. Seven characters appear, each carrying their own suitcase. Who are they, what are their stories? They expose our fragility and the fear of being displaced from everything we thought we knew and remind us of the power of connection and collective experience. Alter is an unforgettable experience that is profound and joyous, immersed in surrealism and the absurd, and heading towards hope.  During the day on Wednesday 26 and Thursday 27 July, in city centre locations, the Kamchàtka characters appear, lost. Naïve and curious, their emotions are barely contained. They know nothing of our norms, our rules and our way of life. A chance for interaction opens up, passers-by turn into spectators and become an active part of the exchange and the experiment.  For those curious to explore some of the Festival themes in more depth, there will be a programme of discussions curated in partnership with The Open University running throughout the Festival.

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