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Head over heels for river’s festival

MICHAEL DOLLAN doesn’t have much time for hanging around – he’s a busy community musician employed by The Sage Gateshead and has plenty on his plate.

A spectacular aerial show, Wynton Marsalis and Kris Kristofferson ... just some highlights of the SummerTyne festival, previewed by David Whetstone.

MICHAEL DOLLAN doesn’t have much time for hanging around – he’s a busy community musician employed by The Sage Gateshead and has plenty on his plate.

But with dozens of other volunteers, he’s making an exception this weekend.

He will be one of the aerialists recruited by Spanish company La Fura dels Baus to get the SummerTyne festival off to a spectacular start.

Last night about 75 volunteers had their first rehearsal for new aerial show Naumachia, which is to be performed on Friday and Saturday night from the theatre ship Naumon, which is moored at Spiller’s Quay on the Newcastle bank of the Tyne.

Tonight, in a dress rehearsal, Michael and his fellow volunteers will get airborne on a giant web and find out exactly what they have let themselves in for.

They have a reputation for this kind of thing, La Fura dels Baus. They were responsible for the central element of the opening ceremony at the Barcelona Olympics – and this new show is exclusive to NewcastleGateshead.

Michael, who is 31 and last rock climbed about eight years ago, signed up late to the Naumachia show.

He explained: “I’ve never done aerialist work before, although I did a lot of rock climbing when I was younger. I’ve used a rope to stop me from falling, but I’ve never been hanging from it.

“I work for The Sage Gateshead in its learning and participation department and I saw an email from the organisers saying they were a few people short. I thought wow, that would be a great thing to be doing. When are you ever going to get the chance to be suspended above the Tyne?”

The Spaniards handed the responsibility for recruiting and training to a company called Hang. Based at the Buddle Arts Centre in Wallsend, they describe themselves as aerialists exploring “the fusion of dance, circus and theatre”.

So it was there that Michael headed for an aerialist taster session, getting airborne with some of the intrepid performers from Hang.

Learning that the newly trained aerialists could expect to be in a state of suspended animation for 75 minutes, Michael was undaunted.

“I don’t think we’re going to be upside down for the whole thing, but there’s an interesting balance to be maintained when you’re up there. Sitting in a harness is like sitting on any hard seat – eventually the blood gets cut off from your extremities and you have to go upside down to relieve it. I remember being a kid and going on the swings. I expect it’ll be a bit like that. But I’m really excited about it.”

The aerial volunteers, ranging in age from about 18 to 50, will give a choreographed performance to new music composed by Alistair Anderson and fellow folk musicians. The show also involves giant puppets and projections onto large screens. Intriguingly The Sage Gateshead warn that the show includes “partial nudity” although as far as Michael knew, the aerialists would be wearing silver costumes.

There will be two performances of Naumachia on Spiller’s Quay – at 9.30pm on Friday and Saturday. The audience will stand for the 75-minute performances. For tickets, at £5 each, tel: (0191) 443-4661 or visit www.thesagegateshead.org

The shows by La Fura dels Baus mark the start of the 10-day SummerTyne festival, which is run by The Sage Gateshead with funding from Newcastle and Gateshead councils, Arts Council England and the Northern Rock Foundation. It is part of the NewcastleGateshead Initiative’s programme of world class cultural events.

You will see the SummerTyne logo attached to many attractions in the coming days. The festival incorporates big-name concerts, family events and the Americana Weekend, where you will find country, Gospel and other American music genres rubbing shoulders. Here are some highlights:

A Folk and World Music Stage will play host to acts from around the world in Performance Square (outside The Sage Gateshead) from 2pm on Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday at 11pm, after the La Fura dels Baus show, there will be a Latin Dance Party on the Sage concourse in association with the Vamos! Festival.

The Northern Sinfonia performs Cool Classics for Summer Nights at The Sage. Monday, July 23, 7.30pm.

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. The trumpeter, arguably the world’s best-known jazz musician, appears with his own orchestra, comprising 15 of the finest jazz soloists. In what sounds an unmissable concert for 2007, the ensemble will explore the rhythms and sounds of jazz with the atmosphere of the American railroad. Tuesday, July 24, 7.30pm, The Sage.

The Water of Tyne. A line-up including Jez Lowe and the Bad Pennies, Folkestra, Alistair Anderson, Billy Mitchell and vocalist Katie Doherty celebrate the river. Alistair Anderson presents the Sage’s own Tyne River Dance with new music for clog and rapper dancers. Wednesday, July 25, 7.30pm.

Americana Weekend: An embarrassment of riches for anyone interested in American music, with Glen Campbell (July 26), Nanci Griffith and Seasick Steve (July 27), The Blind Boys of Alabama (July 28), Laura Veirs (July 29) and Ricky Skaggs (July 30), all at The Sage Gateshead. The Jumpin’ Hot Club takes over Performance Square from noon on July 28 and 29 for a line-up including John Lewis and his trio, JC and Angelina Grimshaw, Jackie Leven and John Miller and his Country Casuals. It’s all free.

Perhaps the highlight of highlights, however, is the only UK appearance this year of music and film legend Kris Kristofferson. The singer songwriter, best known for Me and Bobby McGhee, Help Me Make It Through the Night and his co-starring with Barbra Streisand in the 1976 rock film A Star is Born. An Evening with Kris Kristofferson is at The Sage Gateshead on July 29 at 7.30pm.

A host of SummerTyne workshops, mostly aimed at children, and family ceilidhs will ensure there is something for everyone. A CoMusica Bands Day in Performance Square (July 26, 12.30-6.30pm) will see some of the bands nurtured by aerialist rookie Michael Dollan performing for a live audience.

SummerTyne also incorporates cinema – Americana screenings at the Side Cinema on July 28 and 29 and films related to the Water of Tyne project at The Sage Gateshead on July 25 – and an exhibition at the Side Gallery featuring photographs by James Perry Walker who spent six years documenting the Rev Louis Cole, a black Baptist minister in West Tennessee and North Mississippi.

For information and booking for all the above, tel: (0191) 443-4661 or visit www.thesagegateshead.org

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