As I was born in Odense - the same city as the fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen - and have lived here most of my life, I attend the H. C. Andersen Festivals that take place here each year and I have done so since their beginning in 2013.
The festivals are funded mostly by private businesses and they have some recurring problems, mainly regarding access for people with disabilities and then the public transportation, which is lousy with hardly any busses in and out of the city centre and events ending after the busses have stopped running at night. Each year the organisers have been confronted with these problems, but nothing has been done to solve them, so the festivals this year still suffered from them.
When that is said, I have to point out that the H. C. Andersen Festivals (I have no idea why it is “festivals” and not “festival”!) boasted 400 events this year from August 21st to August 28th, 2016. The events covered everything from concerts, stand-up comedy shows, art exhibitions, light shows, theatre and dance performances to singalongs, happenings, talks, lectures and much, much more including the chance to test your drawing skills against professional artists from the Japanese animation film studio Studio Ghibli! Several of the events were for children only, some for young adults and grown-ups and others for the entire family. Like previous years, many of the events were rather expensive, though, like £30 for a comedy day or a concert and £22 for a seat at a theatre performance, but others were free and those were the ones I preferred. The events that I review here were all free of charge.
As I’m still recovering from having had knee surgery three times within three years, I was only able to go to one event a day – or a couple if they were situated close to each other, so on the first day, a Monday, I went to see a few exhibitions in the city centre during daytime. I had to walk quite a bit from the nearest bus stop to the Amphi Square by Brandt’s Cultural Centre where I was to see what was called a “Harvest Party at Brandt’s”. Although I arrived two hours after the official opening hour, the organisers hadn’t finished decorating the square, so all that was visible was a few scarecrows and bales of hay. There was a little pen too with the cutest little mini pigs that you could kiss and cuddle. They were just amazing, but there was no harvest party in sight anywhere.
Two out of five stars: ** (one for each pig)
Not far from Brandt’s, the art street is located. Each year this street is furnished with a carpet and cushions on wooden pallets and then you are supposed to be able to enjoy art exhibitions in the street. But again: none of the stands were ready, so I ended up visiting one gallery only, Gallerie Rasmus, that displayed paintings and sculptures by the usual suspects, among them Narcis Gironell.
One out of five stars: *
My last stop was the art building “Filosoffen” that housed three different exhibitions whereof the open art exhibition with more than seventy selected works by different artists was the most interesting. The real highlight was, however, the artificial wood that had been constructed outside the building. When you went into it, you were surrounded by trees, paper lanterns and the sound of a nightingale singing. Fantastic!
Three out of five stars: ***
Tuesday I had to rest a bit, so I didn’t get to any of the events until in the evening, where I had to walk a bit again from the bus stop to the Amphi Square by Brandt’s. At the Amphi Stage more than a hundred young musicians and actors from the local HF Flow college performed their show “The Master of Poetry”. It was very good, but I had to leave early as my bus left at 7.30 p.m. – and there are no busses within my walking distance after this hour to my part of town (which is in the city centre!).
Three out of five stars: ***
Wednesday I relaxed again until 9.30 p.m. where I was able to take a bus two stops from my home to the police station and then walk the rest of the way to the town square where the main attraction of the H. C. Andersen Festivals took place. Each year “We Create Magic” make a new spectacular 3D light show on the façade of Odense town hall and this year it told the animated story of “The Little Mermaid”. As usually it was breathtakingly beautiful and furthermore in 4D as it included fireworks and other pyrotechnics as well as real live dancers and acrobats. The entire show lasted twenty minutes and I was lucky to be able to sit down on one of the sculptures on the square as the show is otherwise not suited for physically disabled people as it is standing room only. The show hadn’t been coordinated with the public transportation either, so it ended five minutes after the entire public bus fleet had left the terminal and as there was a 65 minutes wait for the next busses, I had to walk home. On crutches. It took me half an hours and luckily I was in the company of my sister as I wouldn’t have dared to walk home alone otherwise. Although I live in the city centre, the street that leads from the town hall to my home is fairly dark and dangerous and many people have been assaulted and mugged there, both during day and during night, myself included as I was severely beaten up by a mugger five years ago in that street. We made it home alright this time, and all in all the light show was the highlight of the entire festival.
Five out of five stars: *****
Thursday I had planned to see a crossover food market with restaurants, music and entertainment as well as a Hans Christian Andersen video fairy tale in the street Noerregade, so I took the bus to the station and walked the rest of the way. When I reached the street, nothing was there, though, nothing at all! What a disappointment.
Zero out of five stars:
In order not to have come all the way to town in vain I had to walk twenty minutes on crutches to another street, Vintapperstraede, where The Sandman had put up five hundred umbrellas to guarantee everyone pleasant dreams. Some of the umbrellas were used as a screen onto which a magic video animation was projected. It was very enchanting indeed.
Four out of five stars: ****
The last event I attended was the theatre project “Grin, Gys og Guns” by the theatre company “Det Skraa Teater” that took place at Brandt’s Museum Friday afternoon. Roughly translated the title of the project means something like “Fun, Fright and Firearms” and that was exactly what we got. Actor Henrik Blauner Clausen rounded up the audience in Brandt’s lobby and then we all had to walk to the second floor, me on crutches. Here we were herded into the permanent exhibition of the museum and seated on some boxes after which Henrik Blauner Clausen began his one man show aided by electronic musician Henrik Pahlke Moeller who created the electronic sound effects. Within fifty minutes Clausen retold three of Hans Christian Andersen’s most beloved fairy tales, but in modern updated version. “The Ugly Duckling” became a kind of “Into the Wild” story, “The Little Match Girl” reminded me of “The Grudge” and “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” of “Rambo” but with Justin Bieber as the ultimate villain. It was all a bit sophomoric, a bit cringe-worthy and not REALLY funny, but maybe we were just the wrong age audience. We were about twenty people between twenty to sixty, I guess, and a teen audience would probably have been better. Especially as there was a lot of audience participation where you had to bully, flirt with and shoot at the actor and he seemed to realise this problem so he singled out the four youngest of the audience to interact with him. He was a fairly good storyteller, though, although the stories were a bit long-winded and the frame story about the three paintings quite unnecessary. Furthermore, we were blindfolded during the entire second “little match girl” horror story, which seemed a very lazy and easy way out. Anyway, the two Henriks worked quite hard, especially the actor, and that has to be acknowledged. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photos and I had to wait forty minutes (and walk ten) to catch my bus home.
Three out of five stars: ***
Although there were still more festival to attend during the weekend, my knee had given up, so I didn’t get to see anything else. Despite the problems regarding public transportation and accessibility for disabled people, the H. C. Andersen Festivals are still worth a visit. Many of the events are in Danish, but you don’t have to be a Dane to enjoy the concerts or the art exhibitions or the different light shows. Besides, several foreign artists participate in the festivals, not only Studio Ghibli, but also musicians, performers and storytellers from places like Africa, America, China, Cuba, Egypt, England and the rest of Europe among them Nikki Hill, Dominique Kelly and Richard Bona. So there is no excuse not to attend the H. C. Andersen Festivals, and hopefully I’ll see you here next year.