Milton Keynes 50th anniversary
In its 50th year, Walk the Plank was commissioned to create the finale celebrations to mark this pioneering city's 50th birthday.
Derek Walker, the visionary planner for Milton Keynes, envisaged ‘losing a city in a recreated forest’. 50 years on from the city’s founding, Milton Keynes’ reputation as one of the most pioneering and daring of post war city new towns is evident for everyone to see through its innovative network of paths, roads, roundabouts and cycleways as well as its modernist buildings, grid pattern town-scape and its incredible greenery – no less than 250 million trees.
So, how do you celebrate a visionary city that has built a fascinating cultural heritage in such a short space of time?
Our answer was to bring the people of Milton Keynes together on to their streets in a shared celebration that tapped into the cultural diversity of the city through fiery installations, processions, our hugely popular Diwali-inspired show Spellbound and a crowd-pleasing rave in one of the city’s main car parks.
Feast of Fire was commissioned for MK50 by City Club and produced by The Stables through IF: Milton Keynes International Festival who invited Walk the Plank to mastermind the creation of the event. Our aim was to create a multi-sensory experience that gave local people the chance to have a party, but in a way which opened them up to new perspectives and enabled them to engage with a varied programme of events.
Below is a series of brief overviews of the individual components that made up Feast of Fire, using a range of public spaces and, in particular, the city’s iconic black steel framed portes cocheres which punctuate key crossing points in the city centre.
Installations – a great way to bring art alive in public spaces
Midsummer Boulevard East, the main thoroughfare that bisects the city centre, became a focal point for an evening Fire Garden centred around a new installation by renowned artist Denis Tricot. His work, an organic weaving of ribbons of poplar wood among the boulevard’s trees, was designed to reflect the city’s verdant tree-scape and provide a fluid counterfoil to the grids and squares geometry of the city.
Fire Garden – seeing a familiar space in a whole new light
Our Fire Garden is a hugely popular touring installation that is adaptable to a wide range of sites and locations. In Milton Keynes we used our full canon of fiery installations to animate the main boulevard and pavements with a sculptural weave of fire cans in the centre of the boulevard, along with a range of installations that provided various fiery spectacles positioned in places which, in the daytime, are familiar everyday spaces. It’s not often that you see a burning bush in a car park of a flaming flowers outside the entrance to a theatre. Sonic artist Dan Fox presented Fruits of Fire, an ingenious new work in sculpture, sound and light using sound samples of live fire as an instrument to and as a means of harnessed energy to control the lighting on his work. Dan also supported Milton Keynes sound artist Stuart Moore on the creation of new music compositions for the fire sculptures for the Fire Garden.
The surreal elements to the evening were given an added dimension with Festive Road’s ingenious steam-punk style mechanical moving sculptures and eccentric characters, supported by The Futurists roaming along the Boulevard.
Milton Keynes dance organisation MOTUS also created a dynamic dance piece danced by a trio of women in and around a porte cochere, playing with different qualities of and taking the street audience on a journey of mixed emotions through sparks and fire.
The People's Procession – people become part of the spectacle itself
A really great way to build public engagement and anticipation in our shows is to create a procession that gives local people the chance to become part of the theatrical event that they have some to see. With Milton Keynes we staged two processions. Our first, which marked the start of the evening’s proceedings, began from centre:mk, and led local people to The Point car park for the first part of our main show: Spellbound. Given the scale and diversity of the community in Milton Keynes, and the fact that our celebrations coincided with Diwali, we wanted to introduce elements that recognised the cultural heritage of its Asian community. Hence, the procession was led by our mechanical animated Bengal Tiger and a group of drummers from the local Dhol Academy. Light, rhythmic drum beats and an accumulation of people created a noisy and colourful overture to the evening’s line up events.
The second procession - The People's Procession - was an opportunity to engage more MK people in their celebration. Here we invited 25 people from across the city, representing each ward in Milton Keynes, to join in a procession through the main boulevards towards The Point car park for the second main element in this public space, a double act from Mr Wilson’s Second Liners and DJ Ritu. Originally intended as a torch-lit procession, safety concerns following the brief arrival of Storm Brian, meant that we changed our plans and swapped wax torches for glow sticks.
Spellbound – a Diwali-inspired theatrical tale of light over darkness
Spellbound is our hugely popular touring show that is a real winner with family audiences, using the magic of shadow and additional animation from pyrotechnics to tell the captivating Indian take of Rama and Sita. At Milton Keynes the show provided the first main part of our programme in The Point car park before crowds were invited to navigate their way back to Midsummer Boulevard to experience our Fire Garden installations.
A rave in the car park – Mr Wilson’s Second Liners and DJ Ritu
Two of the best ingredients for a successful party are music and dance, so the ‘party’ element to our celebrations focused around a new fiery stage which we are in the process of developing as a touring production for festivals. We wanted to take the people of Milton Keynes back to the 1990s and inject a 'rave scene' touch, so a feature part of this element was an energetic set from Mr Wilson’s Second Liners, with their New Orleans take on 90s club classics, followed by world music guru and pop pioneer DJ Ritu with a set made up of fire-related tunes from the past 50 years. Set against a backdrop of fire drawings created by young people, the stage was also animated with pop up dance performances from Pagrav Dance.
The climactic finale to the evening came with fireworks launched from the roof of intu Milton Keynes shopping centre to a soundtrack of feel-good party classics, and poignantly finishing with a recording of a train arrival announcement at Milton Keynes Central.
Feast of Fire was sponsored by Gallagher Estates, IDI Gazeley, centre:mk and intu Milton Keynes, and was supported by Arts Council England, Milton Keynes Council, The Rothschild Foundation, MK Community Foundation, PRS for Music Foundation, MK Dons Sports & Education Trust, YMCA Milton Keynes and Stantonbury Campus.