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Europe Sets Stage for Cross-continental Arts Festival

The European Union and China are celebrating three decades of diplomatic ties with a massive street festival in the Chinese capital. All 25 members of the European Union will send delegates to the international culture fest, which will highlight everything from Europe's ancient diversity to its increasingly integrated future.

It will be the biggest cultural event ever staged by the European Union in China, according to Felicia Schwartz, press and cultural affairs officer for the EU's Delegation of the European Commission to China.

"Sixteen live acts are being flown into Beijing for the festival Europe Street will showcase music, dance and street theatre in the form of mimes, jugglers and clowns," says Schwartz.

The open-air arts show is officially sponsored by the EU and the British Council, and will be held inside the south gate of Beijing's Chaoyang Park on September 10 and 11, from 9 AM to 9 PM. Admission requires only a 5-yuan (62 US cents) park ticket and that can be purchased on site.

A miniature European Union will be created inside the park, with each member setting up a cultural outpost that will highlight the country's native arts, tourist attractions and technologies.

Many will offer samples of their homeland's food and drink, in addition to information on universities and trade.

But the main focus will be on storytelling: a fantastic spectrum of European minstrels will showcase everything from centuries-old fairy tales to modern drama and new-millennium ballads via digital music.

"Most Chinese probably now see the European Union as a trade or political partner, but we want to present the human face of Europe at the festival," says Schwartz. "This event will be very interactive we hope Chinese and foreign families will come here with their kids to get an up-close look at the diverse cultures of Europe."

Even performances aimed at the young will feature world-class acts. Modern-day bards and contemporary clowns will walk through the Chinese-turned-European park all the weekend, creating an ever-moving center of entertainment and fairy tales.

Shi Qin, a scholar on northern European literature and translator of children's books, will provide selections from Hans Christian Andersen during the 200th anniversary of the Danish myth-master's birth.

Luxembourg's street artist Frix Elting has already fascinated audiences across the world with her mix of juggling, dance and clown acts. Frix Elting, trained at Britain's Center for Contemporary Circus and Theatre, says she aims to hurdle language and cultural boundaries with her arts and acrobatics.

Circus Klomp from the Netherlands performs "circus theatre from the land of the windmills." The act includes surreal, gravity-defying movements and dance by a Dutch couple attired in farmer clothing and wooden shoes.

Meanwhile, "Finland is sending a cutting-edge electro group called Ovali Virta to the street festival," says the EU's Schwartz.

The Helsinki-based group's promo states that Ovali Virta's music "is a combination of indie rock and electro music, performed with analogue synthesizers, electric guitars, saxophones, samplers and sequencers it has been compared to almost everything from Joy Division to Chicks on Speed."

Two stages will be set up in the park to accommodate the rush of acts and artists that are coming to the Chinese capital.

From southernmost Europe, the Greek section of Cyprus, the Oi Las group will sing timeless tunes to the accompaniment of violins and lutes. The ensemble was formed to help preserve traditional Greek Cypriot music and culture.

From northern Scandinavia, the Brass Ensemble of the Royal Danish Guards will "pause" its busy schedule of recording and performing for Denmark's aristocracy to entertain Beijing residents. The brass quintet includes two trumpets, a horn, trombone and tuba, and ordinarily plays at royal weddings and banquets.

From the east of Europe, Hungary will send its Brass in the Five chamber orchestra. The quintet, which has already graced stages from Germany and Italy to France, Austria and Poland, features a trumpet, piccolo trumpet, horn, trombone and tuba. Brass in the Five's music ranges from Baroque to modern.

Hungary is also dispatching to China the gypsy group Romano Drom, which will showcase traditional gypsy music and lyrics written in the Romany language.

Romano Drom was formed in Budapest, "at the crossroads of east and west" Europe. Members of the group bill themselves as "nomads of the 21st century because of their work as musicians, the band members are also often on the road, just like their ancestors were."

Western Europe will send a cacophony of cultural couriers to Beijing ranging from British comics and musicians to traditional Irish dancers, French singers and Italian flag-wavers.

Schwartz says that this pan-European arts festival is partly aimed at building on 30 years of diplomatic ties between the European Union and China with a strengthening array "of people-to-people and cultural contacts."

She adds that co-operation across the EU countries in staging this first-time festival "is helping get the cross-European movement going."

(China Daily September 5, 2005)

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