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Illuminate Festival, Durham

Durham University is set for one heck of a birthday party on Saturday, as Sam Wonfor finds out.

Plasticiens Volants

Durham University is set for one heck of a birthday party on Saturday, as Sam Wonfor finds out.

Durham University's 175th anniversary celebrations will continue in spectacular fashion on Saturday.

It's the latest in a year of events to mark the landmark birthday (which, incidentally, the university shares with The Journal).

Street theatre entertainment will kick off at 3.30pm in the Market Place before proceedings progress towards an evening of family-friendly performances.

Scheduled to complement the Durham Regatta and Palatinate sporting events over the weekend, the Illuminate Festival will offer entertainment featuring top street performers from around the world, culminating with a spectacular display of acrobatics and a large-scale firework display from the banks of the river, set to music.

Throughout the day, walkabout performances will take place, through various locations including the Market Place, Millennium Place and The Gates and Prince Bishops shopping centres. Look out for The Spurting Man, the Pirates of Menspants, Star Fish Wives, Punt, The Lifeguards, The Invisible Men, The Deep Sea Divers, The Tritons and The Valkyrie Vikings.

The hope is that this will create a Pied Piper mood, enticing visitors to the riverside where further entertainment will be on offer.

The centrepiece of Saturday's festival will involve the story of Pearl performed by visiting artistes Plasticiens Volants, a dynamic group who performed at the Sydney and Barcelona Olympic ceremonies and are bringing their cutting edge high aerial inflatable show from their commune of Tarn and Dadou in France to Durham.

Giant inflatable puppets and objects, operated by actors on the ground, will fly over the audience and mingle with urban areas - sliding up streets, escaping up alleys and squeezing out of porchways as they tell their story.

Organisers are hoping that the events will encourage visitors from outside the region, as well as locals of course, to join in the 175 anniversary celebrations, which are running throughout the year.

Highlights of the programme so far include a series of international alumni events in Paris, Hong Kong, Sydney, Tokyo and New Zealand; a concert with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra; an In Conversation event with Poet Laureate Andrew Motion; a Black Tie Gala Dinner; and a performance by Dame Gillian Weir.

Things to look out for throughout the second half of 2007 include a Sir Thomas Allen Recital at the Gala Theatre; a concert from Durham Brass soloists; an Art Garden Exhibition and Festival; the premiere of Jonathan Lord Composition at Durham Cathedral; a Chancellor's Dinner at Durham Castle; and an honorary degree ceremony.

Professor Alan Bilsborough, Chair of the university's 175 committee said: "The scale of this event is unprecedented in Durham. These spectacular acts have performed around the world to great acclaim, and we hope that people from across the region, and further afield, will come to Durham to join the celebrations."

The Illuminate Festival is part of North East England's world-class programme of festival and events supported by Culture 10, Arts Council England, North-East and One North East.

Stella Hall, creative director of the Newcastle Gateshead Initiative, which funds Culture 10, said: "Illuminate is just one example of how our world-class events are not only helping to make the region a great place to live, but also putting it on the international map as a great place to visit."

* For more information on Saturday's events and the full 175th anniversary celebrations programme, visit www.durham.ac.uk/175.

Illuminate Festival Programme

3.30pm-6.30pm: Street entertainment across Durham City Centre - Market Place, Millennium Place, Prince Bishops, The Gates, Framwellgate Bridge, Elvet Bridge and The Riverside

6.30pm-7.30pm: The Spurting Man and The Invisible Men will perform in front of the Boat House by the Baths Bridge

7.30pm-8.20pm: Durham University Chamber Choir perform from rowing boats for an audience on the banks of Durham's River Wear, close to the Baths Bridge. Take a picnic and blanket and enjoy.

8.20pm-9.00pm: Riverside Creatures from Neighbourhood Watch Stilts International will show you a Caterpillar and a Butterfly Collection like you've never seen before with an "extraordinary explosion of colour and movement".

9pm-9.45pm: Pearl Parade with huge creatures from the world renowned Plasticiens Volants and music by the Peace Artistes. They will parade through the streets of Durham from the Market Place, over Elvet Bridge, across to Old Elvet, past the swimming baths through to the Sports Ground on the Riverside.

9.45pm-10.30pm: The Pearl Finale - watch the awe-inspiring transformation of the Riverside into an aquarium as you are surrounded by an incredible story of a lost pearl trying to find its way back home. The outdoor show will feature huge inflatable sea creatures that will float above the heads of the audience.

10.30pm: Fireworks Extravaganza - the festival is set to go out with a bang as a dramatic backdrop of fireworks lights up the river.

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