OOPS Festival has returned to Brighton for another three days of performance, perspective, and passion. The festival itself, was curated by members of the Swallowsfeet Collective, who wanted to start a Brighton-based celebration of dance and performance art. OOPS aims to bring together exceptional contemporary performances and visual artists from all over the world, but what’s in store this year? Features Sub-Editor Kate Newton speaks to Swallowsfeet Collective members and festival curators Jessica Lea, Rosa Firbank, Sivan Rubinstein and Gordon D Raeburn to find out…
- Can you tell us a bit about the birth of OOPS Festival?
[Jessica Lea]: It started one evening in 2013. Fellow Swallowsfeet member Jessica Miller hosted a performance platform at Brighton Dome whilst she was still a student and decided that for the year after she wanted to expand the performance. She then asked several friends to come on board and start up what is now referred to as the Swallowsfeet Collective.
[Rosa Firbank]: Yeah everyone in the collective started seeing these performances as a sort of festival. We really got behind the idea of it being a festival and bringing lots of performances together – with the aim of turning it into something that could be unique for audiences in Brighton.
[Sivan Rubinstein]: And slowly the artists came to be the curators and the organisers of the festival which is what was so special about the Swallowsfeet Collective from the beginning.
[Gordon D Raeburn]: We could create something which represented what is important to us as artists.
- When the festival first started, did you expect it to grow into what it is today? How did it feel to watch an idea become an international celebration of contemporary and visual arts?
[Gordon D Raeburn]: Pretty good! But the middle part of that is all of the work involved. For me, the best part of it – even though it’s also the hardest part, is during the festival when you can see that people actually come along.
[Jessica Lea]: It feels great, it feels really great that it is international in that it enables people who may never have considered coming to the UK for other reasons, to come to the UK for OOPS Festival instead. There is that sense of pride in being able to bring in high quality artists and in doing so breaking the boundary of borders.
[Rosa Firbank]: Yeah, I agree with [Jessica Lea], I grew up in Brighton and became interested in dance in Brighton and so it felt really needed and really important to have that international input. The festival at the time wasn’t really large scale and mainstream but that was what made it different and so it showed people a different side to what performers were making and doing.
- How do you decide what works you’d like to showcase? Do you look for anything in particular (e.g. political or environmental pieces, performances that may shed light upon certain issues)?
[Gordon D Raeburn]: We’ll look at [a work] – and there’s quite a lot of works to go through so when you’re looking at work after work, if something stands out then that’s the first sign. But when you’re looking through tens of thousands of works in a day, if you get a few works that keep coming back to your mind then that’s also a good place to start.
[Jessica Lea]: It’s when you see a performance and it surprises you over and over – not only in the entertainment value but also in terms of the smartness and the quality of the work. It could be the expression of the dancer, it could be about how the piece is executed or even the lighting of the performance. It’s what keeps the attention and causes you as an audience member to spiral into wanting to know more about the artist – and not just their performance.
[Sivan Rubinstein]: We also research for over a year before curating the festival. We will discuss how we envision the festival for that year and ask what the themes are that we want this year’s festival to be surrounded by. For example, this year we focused a lot on what moves us as artists and what moves us as a society. We considered what is current, what is happening at the moment and how it affects the art field. It was this emphasis on current and contemporary which followed us through the whole curation process. We were also looking a lot at movement artists that are working in the multi-disciplinary field and expanding the dance form into more directions that we think is representative of these new ideas and approaches.
[Rosa Firbank]: As dancers ourselves we look a lot at the use of the body, so we are always enthusiastic when the body is represented in a new way or a collaboration that makes you see it in a new way. That’s something that we get very excited about and feel like we can use to create a festival that isn’t necessarily a dance festival, but a festival which puts the body as an expressive tool at the centre of its messages. We don’t necessarily feel like you have to dance or watch dance usually to get something from [the festival].
- It’s great to see such a vibrant and diverse movement of artists and performers coming together for the festival. Have there been any specific performances/moments in previous years that have highlighted to you personally what the festival is all about?
[Sivan Rubinstein]: We always have an artists’ dinner the night before the festival starts and for me this is the highlight. For so many months we are speaking with the artists and speaking about the artists and trying to figure out how to host their work in the best possible way. But [during the dinner] we have this moment when everyone is together in one house, chatting and eating, and that is the moment that it becomes real. When the adrenaline starts kicking in.
[Jessica Lea]: I also want to add the human exchange that we witness in facilitating the dinner and festival. Over the dinner and the days of the festival we get to see artists who share their common passion – their art. They go and see each other and get inspired from one another and so the festival is like a whole space and little world that we have created where an audience, as well as the collective, can become enriched in our own practice. This is something that we can then give back the following year, so there’s something about this human exchange which starts with the dinner which is the highlight for me.
[Gordon D Raeburn]: For me, it’s probably always around the time if we do a day where we dismantle the space and do performances all around the theatre – either on the stage, on the floor, or in the archway. It’s like there’s normally a moment where I can step back and see how we’ve arranged an audience and how they’re watching a work – that we’ve brought here, that maybe they would never have seen otherwise. It’s just that moment of realisation that we’ve actually created that. That [OOPS Festival] is something that is more than just creating dance itself, I think it’s the process of creation that pinpoints what it’s all about.
[Rosa Firbank]: For me it’s the moment where we have audiences coming and going from the main space. You get some people who just appear to be utterly confused and some people come out going “wow”. It’s when you know that you’ve made impact and in such a variety of ways. For us that’s really important, as long as the audiences are really active we encourage them to be critical, to love something and to hate something else, and to see the variety that we feel like the art form is offering.
- Without giving too much away – what can we expect from OOPS Festival 2019?
[Jessica Lea]: Expect an experience, journeys through varied states and different colours and textures. Expect to find yourself in different positions, seeing movement, dance and performances in different ways. Expect to be challenged but also to have fun, to have a glass of wine, to be one to one with an artist or see a performance in a massive crowd. Expect to be surprised and be open!
[Rosa Firbank]: The festival this year is three days and I think that that is really giving audiences time to immerse themselves in the programme and enjoy what is on offer in a way that was probably quite hectic before [when the festival was two days]. Even though it’s kind of cliché, the aim really is to make you laugh and to make you cry and to make you think and to provoke. I think also we really want the festival to be a celebration, a really joyful event that makes people feel together and become closer as a community.
[Gordon D Raeburn]: I think also expect to see a lot of different things and works of high quality. I think we try and bring the most exciting works that we see and present them in the best and maybe unexpected way.
[Rosa Firbank]: A kind of sneak preview is that we have a one-to-one performance from Boni Santé. It’s a very unusual piece about how to care more for one another and they wear full costumes made entirely out of condoms! But they’re very interactive with the audience and are very strong in their message of self-care and love for others which we are very excited about. It’s also a performance which has never been shown before, they’ve been developing it between France and DR Congo over the past year. We also have Maps by Sivan Rubinstein on Saturday night which is an amazingly visual dance piece where they use 50kg of salt to create a new map of the world. We also have Janine Harrington who we have just announced in our programme so that’s also very new and exciting. It’s a performance which portrays five dances and an entirely hypnotic installation based on ancient computer screensavers. It is both beautiful and mesmerising at the same time. Everything else is online and we really hope to see people there and show them something that they couldn’t see anywhere else in Brighton!
OOPS Festival will be Brighton from 22nd – 24th of March. For tickets and additional information visit oopsfestival.co.uk