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How Inside Out Dorset’s open-access events showcase performance in stunning West Country locations

Cirque Roage's Sodade – part of Inside Out Dorset. Photo: E+N

Inside Out Dorset attracts dynamic European companies to perform across the county, as its co-artistic director tells Nick Awde


Whether on the Jurassic coast or at a hill fort, the outdoor element is integral to Inside Out Dorset – and it’s also proving a big draw for cutting-edge European collaborators to show West Country audiences what they can do.

Organised by Dorchester-based Activate Performing Arts, the festival has been running since 2007 and brings urban and rural together with shows that are outdoors and mostly free (only one site this year is ticketed). It came out of a partnership between the county’s promoters and venues – many of them small-scale – who wanted to reach a new audience.

“We created the strapline ‘extraordinary events in extraordinary places’ and looked for the best time of year,” says Kate Wood, Activate’s executive director and festival co-artistic director with Bill Gee. “It was an invitation to audiences to come and see their rural and urban spaces in a different light.”

The free events aim to attract people who might not ordinarily go into a theatre or gallery space. International partnerships are key to widening that appeal with a programme of mid-scale performance works and installations with strong performance elements. It’s a perfect match for companies from countries such as France, Belgium and Spain, which have access to a wide range of creation spaces in making outdoor arts and street theatre.

Two UK premieres are Dutch: Waterlanders’ De Weide Wereld (Meadow World), an interactive installation about birdlife and the landscape, and Collectief Walden’s Olie (Oil), a show about how greed over natural resources affects nature. The latter has featured for several years at the Netherlands’ Oerol Festival, a major outdoor event that is one of Dorset’s main partners.

Another partnership is Green Carpet, a commissioning network initiated by five European partners: Activate, Belgium’s Festival International des Arts de la Rue de Chassepierre and France’s Le Citron Jaune, Domaine de Chamarande and Cirque Jules Verne festivals. Representing Green Carpet is Les Souffleurs Commandos Poetiques, a French company whose Manimal (Heaume-Animal) is a non-verbal, site-responsive look at the intersection between animal and human worlds.

A UK show with a European provenance is Furious Folly, created by Mark Anderson but commissioned by the Flemish town of Poperinge. Wood says: “This sort of collaboration between countries means that a large-scale piece of work made for the 14-18 NOW project is able to tour across this country as well.”

The strength of those relationships also brings support from big players such as France’s Institut Francais and Netherlands’ Fonds Podiumkunsten, which – like Arts Council England [1]’s funding for Dorset – are interested in ensuring that work takes place in the regions and isn’t centred on London.

“That sense of being here in your local community and being part of a wider kind of European and international community is extremely important,” says Wood. “We all do that on a daily basis through connecting to the internet, but we’re also interested in the live experience. What happens when you bring people together in a space to experience it? And being outdoors, it feels very different.”

“What is significant for us is the way our European partners are introducing artists and projects to us, and how we’re doing the same. And Now’s Wayfaring is part of a national programme we’re doing that premiered in Norfolk and then went to Oerol where it was the closing event. In industry terms it’s opening up new markets for artists across Europe.”

Inside Out Dorset runs from September 14 to 22 [2]