FROM ITS earliest days, Galway International Arts Festival has wowed audiences by transforming city streets into sites of magic and bringing the visual verve of circus to indoor venues. This year’s festival again delivers a feast of spectacle and who better to give the lowdown on the hoedown than GIAF artistic director, Paul Fahy.
Over an amiable afternoon coffee Paul talked me through some of the thrills and spills in store, beginning with this year’s double helping of circus shows from Australia; Humans, by Circa, and Backbone by Gravity & Other Myths.
“Circa were last here in 2009,” Paul begins. “They first played the festival in 2007 with The Space Between which was one of their first international bookings and they very quickly went on to catapult themselves onto the world stage. Humans is their latest show and it is phenomenal. They have such a unique style and what is great about combining Humans with Backbone, from Gravity & Other Myths, is that they are both leading circus acts at the highest level yet are very different from each other.”
Paul expands on the contrast between the two shows; “Backbone uses a huge amount of objects and props. It’s rough and ready and raw, with thrilling edge-of-your-seat routines. They keep hitting you with all these amazing moves; just as you are catching your breath having watched some feat of physical impossibility, they go at you again. Very often a circus show will have just three or four ‘peaks’ but Backbone is constantly peaking and they are presented in different ways than to circus acts people will have seen here before. Humans is all about human strength and there is great grace and beauty but at the same time it is also thrilling. Circa have a very different aesthetic to Gravity & Other Myths, there is a beautiful choreography to it." Both shows are in NUIG’s Bailey Allen; Backbone from July 17 to 21 and Humans from July 24 to 29.
'Eyre Square is going to become a big cultural footprint for us this year, as we’re introducing a festival garden'
Also in NUIG are two theatre installations; Enda Walsh’s Office 33A and Tania El Khoury’s powerful Gardens Speak. “Office 33A, which runs throughout the festival, is the fifth in our series of theatre installations from Enda Walsh,” Paul notes. “It features the voice of Donal O’Kelly and takes place in Studio One in the O’Donoghue Centre. You walk into an institutional style hallway, open a door, and enter an office that could be from 40 or 50 years ago. We then hear the voice of this man who is an office administrator of a waste management company. There is also a lovely unrequited love story in there about this other person in the office above him that he shows great care for. It’s a strange love story because it goes on more in his head than in reality. It’s a great piece of writing and Enda has written it especially for Donal O’Kelly’s voice.
“Gardens Speak, in the Bank of Ireland Theatre, is by Tania El Khoury, a Beiruiti London artist. This is an unusual installation in which the audience numbers are limited to 10 for each show. You arrive at the venue, remove your shoes and socks, and are given a plastic raincoat. You are given information on what happens next, including a card with a person’s name on it. You then enter the next room which reveals a back garden-cum-mass grave. In one sense it is very bleak but what is amazing about it, is that it also attests to the human spirit and the will to survive.
'Gardens Speak is incredibly powerful and the hope you feel from these people is just extraordinary'
"There are 10 graves and 10 stories and each person hears one; for example the one I heard when I first saw it, was that of a 23-year-old Syrian architect from Aleppo, who is describing his hopes of one day raising his children in the city that was once beautiful and that he loved, but it now destroyed. He was one of the people killed in the war; all 10 characters are based on real people and their stories were put together by their friends and families. Gardens Speak is incredibly powerful and the hope you feel from these people is just extraordinary."
Outdoors, on the street, and on the moon
Moving onto the outdoor events, this year sees some exciting new developments along with the usual ration of spectacular shows. “Eyre Square is going to become a big cultural footprint for us this year,” Paul reveals. “We’re introducing a festival garden which will be a place to hang out and socialise and get information on events. There’ll be a bar and food concessions there, a pop-up stage for performances, and our media centre. That will be up near the fountain.
"At the bottom of the square will be the Miracoco Luminarium, which is like a big inflatable walk-in sculpture. There are separate chambers so you enter these beautiful various shaped interiors which are in primary colours and there is light coming through them. Some of them are like being inside a Gothic cathedral, others are spheres and the colours are all melding and blending into each other. It’s gorgeous; it’s a great place to chill out but also exciting because you don’t know what you see when you turn the next corner.”
Paul moves on to describe the festival’s al fresco performances; “We’ve invited back Olivier Grossetete who people will remember from last year’s The People Build in which hundreds of volunteers helped him create a big cardboard model of NUIG’s Aula Maxima in Eyre Square. I’ve always loved the railway struts on Waterside that once supported the old Corrib Viaduct and last year I asked Olivier was there anything he could do as a visual homage around them. So for this year’s The People Build he’s creating a bridge from cardboard boxes that will be floated out on boats next to the struts. He will also construct another building that will be erected in Eyre Square on Friday July 20, and the bridge on Saturday 21. On Sunday 22 they will both be demolished. As with last year, volunteers are invited to assist with the creation, erection, and demolishing of the pieces.
“From the Netherlands we have Close-Act and a beautiful piece called Birdmen. It’s a stilt-walking act but it is like watching moving sculptures they move so elegantly. I saw them recently in Melbourne and they were incredible. We also have a gorgeous piece by Luke Jerram called Museum of the Moon. It’s a large inflatable replica of the moon using loads of 3D laser prints from NASA of the lunar surface. When you see it up close and it is lit it’s just like you are looking at the craters of the moon, it’s incredible. That is going to pop up in a few different places around town, both indoors and outdoors during the festival, including the festival garden. It is joyous. I love getting things like this and the bridge and Luminarium that will appeal to a very wide array of people but are still extraordinary works of art in their own right.”
Full details of times, venues, and other specifics are on www.giaf.ie