Fierce Festival director Mark Ball gives Terry Grimley a preview of plans for its tenth anniversary.
Fierce Festival, the region-wide spring festival of experimental, controversial, edgy or just downright odd arts events, is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year.
So Mark Ball, creator and director of the event which in past years has brought you The Great Swallow, a human bird nesting on the side of the Rotunda, and a video-linked performance taking place simultaneously in the Mailbox and Colchester Arts Centre, is naturally planning something special for this year's festival, which takes place between May 18 and June 4.
"It's a great opportunity to celebrate what we've achieved but also to look forward to the next ten years," he says. "We've been successful this year in raising significant additional funds, and that's enabled us to produce a lot more commissions and more large-scale projects and events that will bring a sense of magic and wonder to the city."
This year's festival is programmed around three strands, the first of which is new collaborations.
"We've worked with lots of arts organisations in the city and there were some organisations I was determined to work with for some time, like the CBSO and Birmingham Royal Ballet," says Mark.
The CBSO project will be the third flight of the Sky Orchestra – a fleet of hot air balloons which first brought a dawn chorus of recorded music to slumbering Birmingham at the start of the 2004 festival.
Last year it was revived to help launch the RSC's Complete Works festival in Stratford-upon-Avon, with the addition of Patrick Stewart's recorded voice.
"There will be a significant difference this year in that the music will be played live," says Mark.
Composer Dan Jones is writing music for 14 or 15 musicians.
"With Birmingham Royal Ballet, I was able to get access this year to a red Routemaster bus.
"I was interested in how, following on from Ballethoo, they could make ballet much more accessible. How do you get it to work in the restricted space of a bus? We have 30 stops lined up in three days."
Three other notable organisations making their first appearance in Fierce are the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, the Alexandra Theatre and Compton Verney.
"The second strand was to ask who were the artists who made a significant impact on Fierce in the last ten years," says Mark. "I wanted to celebrate their work with new commissions. So we have new pieces by Gary Carter, Franko B, Ron Atthey and Gob Squad."
Franko B provided Fierce with its first controversy with his performance featuring nudity and self-inflicted bleeding. His new piece Don't Leave Me This Way at the CBSO Centre will keep the nudity but, some might be thankful to know, leaves out the blood.
Finally, the third strand looks at up-and-coming artists with a particular focus on the West Midlands.
"I always had an aspiration to programme a lot of artists from the region, but I found that difficult because although there were a few exceptions like Stan's Cafe and Talking Birds, people making experimental work were thin on the ground," explains Mark. "This year we have a strand called Fierce Futures, and the majority of places in that I've given, not necessarily by design, to artists based in the region.
"Those artists are making quite political work about ethnic identity and sexual identity. The work coming from those artists is much more significant this year and has quite a radical bite to it.
"One of the things I've noticed in ten years of doing this festival is how much Birmingham has changed. There is clearly much more of a creative industries sector. When I moved into the Custard Factory ten years ago, it was half-empty and dilapidated. Now there is a waiting list. Tesco just opened a 24-hour supermarket in the Jewellery Quarter.
"A number of organisations over the last ten years have really emerged – what Rhonda Wilson is doing with Rhubarb Rhurbarb, Punch Records.
"There’s definitely an exciting creative industries sector, with people that have an economic stake in the city. When I came to Birmingham, the creative sector was defined by the mainstream organisations, and the mainstream is still what's promoted by the city.
"We are a really small organisation but because of the events we do we get quite a lot of profile, and I think we punch above our weight. The Great Swallow got a lot of national coverage – those are things people see outside the city."
* Fierce Festival 2007 runs from May 18 to June 4. To find out more, visit www.fiercetv.co.uk.