Odense, my native town in Denmark, is famous for its festivals. It is in Odense you'll find the international OFF film festival, the world's largest Harry Potter Festival, the prestigious Carl Nielsen International Music Competition and Festival as well as the Mix Odense Film Festival, the Harbour Festival, the Flower Festival and probably some more that I can't remember. Anyway, in its infinite wisdom, the local business industry decided that we needed yet another festival. As Hans Christian Andersen was born in Odense, the festival was - of course - going to be called the H. C. Andersen Festival, but to my surprise it shouldn't have anything to do with Hans Christian Andersen. The H. C. Andersen Festival is just a name and the festival logo - a laughing Chinese made by the Chinese artist Yue Minjun - has nothing to do with Andersen either.
Despite the Andersen festival having nothing to do with Andersen, it was pretty good. For a week from the 17th to the 25th of August, there were more than 270 events of which 250 were free. The ones where you had to pay, were the "big" ones like the opening show, the Leonard Cohen concert, and the combined dinner and cabaret show. Here prices were up to £75! Pretty steep, but the free events were good too. Before the festival, local celebrities were asked to pick three events that they wanted to attend, and my pick was:
1. The Canadian street theatre Corpus performing the show "Les Moutons".
2. The big light show at the town hall walls made by "We Create Magic"
3. The art street where art would move out of the galleries and into a carpet-clad street.
I started out with "Les Moutons" that was performed by Canadian Corpus in the Fairy Tale Park and in my opinion it was one of the best events of the entire festival. It was funny, strange and surprising. Three people dressed as sheep and behaving like sheep were tended to by a shepherd. We saw sheep-shearing, milking, feeding, mating and a fierce visit from a wolf, all very realistic and very, very funny. Five baas
out of five for this performance!
Next up was the light show and I must say that I have NEVER seen anything like it! Different 3D photos and animations were screened onto the town hall making it come to life. We saw the town hall change colours, turn into a Chinese pagoda and an old castle, being smashed to pieced by a giant and being visited by Thumbelina and The Steadfast Tin Soldier (Yay! Finally some Andersen!). At one point the windows popped out and the town hall sprouted legs and walked away! It was SO amazing and impossible to explain. It had to be seen. Again: five lights
out of five for this amazing light show by We Create Magic.
Then there was the art street and that was a bit of a disappointment. I liked the idea of carpeting the street, but the art… As the week went by, tables, chairs and small shops selling coffee, tea and light meals were to be found in the street, but not much art. You still had to go inside the galleries to see it and then it wasn't very good! One exhibition at the Gallery Rasmus was okay, I guess, the works made by different Danish and international artists and the theme being Andersen's fairy tales (more Andersen!), but it was much too little and not at all what I'd expected from reading the programme. Two paintings
out of five to the art street.
Luckily there were a lot of other great events and one that also had to do with Andersen was a contemporary circus performance called "Ida's Flowers", a paraphrase over the Andersen fairy tale "Little Ida's Flowers". Six acrobats and actors took the audience on a walk around the Munke Mose Park where on different locations they sang and performed. Especially impressive were the acrobats Rune Andersen and Katja Somasevic who did amazing performances using ropes and trapeze. Four flowers
out of five to the circus.
Although the circus acrobats did their best in the robes, it couldn't compare to the Italian brothers Andrea and Luca Piallini who did a performance on the wall of the 63 metres tall tower of Odense Cathedral! For half an hour the two brothers, who call themselves Evènti Verticali, danced, jumped, ran and did acrobatic stunts on the outside of the tower. It was elegant, beautiful, funny and scary at the same time. The best air acrobatics I have ever seen. Five carabiners
out of five to Evènti Verticali!
Theatre Gyda's Pink People street theatre performances were another great feature in the festival. The stereotypical Pink People performed all over town, marching from one venue to the other under the strict guidance of the pink policewoman and stopping from time to time to applaud the shops and the pedestrians. I watched them perform both as a choir and as actors and they were funny and very professional. Especially the short pink hair opera singer impressed me. Four pink wigs
out of five to the Pink People.
Other things I attended during the festival week were Mr. Vita's acrobatic TNT-show on the town square, "Classical Music and Fairy Tales" by Danish and Finnish musicians and actors in Lotze's Garden, the "City Polyfill" graffiti and skateboard square by the local youth club, "The Fairy Tale Parade" by local school children, "The Bottle Boys" playing pop songs on bottles in the pedestrian street and the censored art exhibition in the Art Exhibition Building. Some of it was okay like Mr. Vita, some was not like the censored exhibition, but at least it showed how diverse the festival was.
All in all I think the H. C. Andersen Festival is a good idea, but it has a lot of "teething trouble" that has to be dealt with before it becomes great. First of all the festival is squeezed in between the Odense Flower Festival and the Odense Film Festival OFF in August, so now we have festivals 3 weeks in a row. It's a bit overwhelming, not to say exhausting to attend festivals in 3 consecutive weeks. Furthermore the city centre is closed for public transportation during the festival making it difficult to get from one venue to another and impossible to live a day to day life if you happen to live in Odense. There needs to be installed big screens at events like the light show on the town hall, there needs to be better disabled access to several of the events and the festival needs a theme so that the audience knows what to expect. But first and foremost the festival needs better attendants! The ignorance of the attendants was what people complained about the most and I witnessed it myself, asking not one or two, but four attendants about a venue and none of them knowing where it was. Most of the attendants didn't know if performances had been cancelled or moved, they didn't know what time the shows were on or who performed, in fact they didn't know a thing. It was appalling. I realise that the attendants are volunteers, but I still think they ought to know the basics. In my opinion, the festival would have done a lot better without them. Oh well, it'll be interesting to see if there'll be a H. C. Andersen Festival next year or if it was just a one-off event, but I suspect that depends on how much money the local business industry made!
P.S. The reason why I'm using baas, carabiners, pink wigs etc. to rate the events is that I refuse to use "little China men" like the local newspaper! I don't care if the newspaper bases them on the Yue Minjun logo. I still find it racist.