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Inside Out Dorset: Coastal Encounters review – ‘eclectic, ephemeral installations’

Les Souffleurs Commandos Poetiques performing at Inside Out Festival, Dorset. Photo: Elliott Franks
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This is kind of cool. Over nine days of watery September sunshine, Dorset’s Inside Out Festival offers a varied roster of arts events, all focused on landscape and ecology and all spread out across the south east of the county. Marshalled by Dorchester-based production company Activate, it’s a proudly outward-looking festival with a distinctly European flavour.

There are several hubs. In Dorchester, And Now brings its Life Cycles and Landscapes project to a close with Wayfaring, an evolving installation using found materials at Maiden Castle. In Weymouth, Mark Anderson presents Furious Folly, his outdoor, pyrotechnical exploration of war. And in Poole, France’s Cirque Rouages open proceedings with its storytelling circus show Sodade.

Inside Out’s flirtation with European performance is best observed in Boscombe, however, where the festival’s Coastal Encounters programme spreads a collection of site-specific installations across Shelley Park and Boscombe Cliff – all free of charge. Of these eight diverting projects from three different countries, dispersed across a leafy suburban park and a windy cliff-top heath, some are compelling, some entirely alienating.

One of the most ephemeral works comes from choreographer Sarah Shorten’s contemporary dance company Stacked Wonky. Those Who Are Not Here Are Here takes place on some of the 60 commemorative benches surrounding the festival’s Boscombe site. Artists, dancers and musicians perform at these benches at random intervals, their performances inspired by the people remembered upon the benches plaques.

Choreographer Sarah Shorten: ‘It’s not about doing the high kick, it’s how you make people feel’

A woman balances battered old suitcases on a bench looking out to see. A suited man sits in contemplation, before bursting into exuberant movement on a cliff-top. A violinist migrates from bench to bench, playing slow, mournful solos. It’s quaintly amusing, thoughtful stuff.

From the quaintly amusing to the downright bewildering. French company Les Souffleurs Commandos Poetiques brings Manimal, a seriously strange project that involves five performers popping up at random around Boscombe, donning wolf masks, taking them off again, then leaving as quickly as they came. It’s intended as a meditation on the collision of man and nature, but mostly its just French guys putting on animal masks for a bit.

The most stimulating work comes from five-strong Amsterdam-based group Collectief Walden. Olie (‘Oil’ in English) is a performative lecture and an installation: Thomas Lamers reads a philosophical message about humanity’s interlinked reliance on oil, water and soil – and how our consumption of one affects the state of the other. Meanwhile, his collaborators fill a chunky glass tower with barrels of oil, chunks of ice, and bags of compost. It’s a sculpture that will evolve over the ensuing 24 hours: the ice will melt, the soil will sink, and the oil will float. A really nifty, really thoughtful marriage of information and illustration, and the high-point of an eclectic, sporadically stimulating programme.

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Eclectic, ephemeral series of performances and installations spread out across a sunny stretch of Dorset coast