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Belfast Children's Festival invites youngsters to explore their place in the world via art

Children and young people are encouraged to think about the contribution they make to the world around them, in the 21st Belfast Children's Festival, which will see 90 events taking place across the city in March. Jenny Lee finds out more

The Launch of the 21st Childrens Festival. The Belfast childrens festival is a wonderful mix of theatre, dance and music combined with visual arts story telling and more. The festival aimed at children and families runs from From Friday 8th of March -Wednesday the the 13th of March with over 90 events across the city. Pictured with children from Seaview ps are Keithiticus and Jazziticus worldwide explorers. Picture Mark Marlow

A ROLLER-skating soldier, a magic bear, and dancing aliens are just some of the highlights of the 21st annual Belfast Children’s Festival, the theme of which is Our Place in the World.

The largest children’s arts festival on the island of Ireland, this year it runs from March 8 to 13, with a packed programme of theatre, dance, visual art, music, literature and comedy aimed at inspiring creativity and cultural curiosity, taking place in 12 locations across Belfast.

Eibhlín de Barra, director of Young at Art, which runs the annual festival, has travelled the world to source the best in international children’s theatre and art.

"Access to art is a basic fundamental human right for everyone. Our vision is that all children's lives are enriched by art from birth to adulthood. I whole heartedly believe that the best-quality art helps children understand their own lives better, the wider world around them and their own place in it," she says.

"The best work is relevant, important, and rigorous and doesn't shy away from difficult issues. It's part of the world we live in and that's exactly what I hope this programme encapsulates."

As well as a host of fun and inspiring events designed to unlock creativity, this festival certainly doesn't hold back from tackling the more complex subjects in society. War, immigration, refugees, climate change and children in care are all explored, as children are invited to hear stories form other cultures and encouraged to explore themselves as global citizens.

The Belfast Children’s Festival opens with a powerful piece of theatre from the award-winning Theater Artemis, from The Netherlands, at The MAC theatre. Oorlog (War), explores the challenging subject of the effects of conflict and the chaos that this has on people and their surroundings, and ultimately, how the human spirit endures.

"It's an extraordinary and important piece played out for an audience aged seven plus, right here in the heart of a city still coming to terms with it's past conflict. I guarantee you will never have seen anything like it before,” Eibhlín says.

Other international highlights include We Come From Far, Far Away from Norway, based on the true stories of young refugees, Expedition Peter Pan by Het Laagland (The Netherlands), and the Catalan production Loo, for young audiences aged two to five.

"This non-verbal exploration of climate change is set around the bow of a sunken ship and uses stunning visual effects, to give it's young audience first-hand understanding of this destructive force,” explains Eibhlín.

The festival also celebrates the breadth of talent in Northern Ireland, with Replay Theatre Company bringing Baby Daddy, a piece of sensory theatre and live music specifically designed for babies aged six-to-18 months.

One of the most anticipated productions is Removed, by Prime Cut Productions. For three years, writer Fionnuala Kennedy has collaborated with VOYPIC (Voice Of Young People In Care), working with looked-after young people across the north to explore their experiences and learn from them.

The result is a funny yet moving piece of theatre, for those age 11 and over. It gives a shocking insight into the experiences of a young man sharing his story of life in the care of the state.

“The play is inspired by their stories. It's no-one's individual story, rather an amalgamation of them all. These young people are campaigning for change and improvements to the care system here and I'm hoping it can be another platform for them to share their experiences,” says Fionnuala.

This powerful one-man show, starring Conor Maguire and directed by Emma Jordan, is part of the EU Collective Plays projects, and later this year the it will tour to Montenegro.

TYANI (Theatre for Young Audiences NI) is a four-day showcase profiling some of the finest performance work for young audiences being created here. It features a unique work-in-progress horror opera from the Belfast Ensemble and Milo’s Hat Trick from Cahoots NI, where young audiences can expect magic, music and mischief within a charming tale.

Local contemporary dance company Maiden Voyage Dance return with a new show. The Alien’s Guide to Dance Gone Wrong is created by world-renowned choreographer Lea Anderson and promises to be a feast for the senses, as aliens attempt to rediscover a thing humans used to do called dancing.

“We have a dance floor within a dance floor, where three amazing performers create an other-worldly form of dance,” teases Nicola Curry, Maiden Voyages artistic director.

The festival features more home-grown talent in the shape of comedian Paul Currie with a new Family Comedy Club, and the return of baby Rave for the under-four’s, in the impressive surroundings of Belfast Cathedral.

On Saturday March 9, the inSPIREd family fun day brings a host of activities to Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter including free children’s art workshops exploring home and the urban landscape around us, digital animation with Can Do Academy, augmented reality workshops with Art Cart and theatre workshops with Northern Ireland Opera.

:: The Belfast Children’s Festival runs from March 8-13. For programme and tickets visit Youngatart.co.uk

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