Arts festival brings Big Top to tiny village

A tiny Norfolk village with a huge artistic pedigree saw its population swell to ten times its normal size as the community welcomed crowds to this year's Welborne Arts Festival.

The 9th annual festival drew about 1,500 visitors to the village, near Dereham, this weekend for a dizzying programme of cultural entertainment on a meadow next to the village church.

Among the ambitious highlights were two daily shows by Circus Ferrel in a Big Top, where performers wowed the audience with trapeze, unicycling and juggling acts.

This year's festival was given a physical arts theme of 'circus, sport and dance' as part of the cultural Olympiad in the run-up to 2012.

It was opened by high-jumper and Olympic hopeful Matthew Roberts, himself a keen painter, who launched a weekend of live music, art exhibitions, readings and book signings, dancing and horse-riding demonstrations.

The exhibition tents included work by many local painters and sculptors including Ruthanne Tudball, a Californian artist who moved to Britain 40 years ago and now lives in Welborne.

Despite exhibiting worldwide, she said there was still something special about being able to display her collection of soda-glazed stoneware in her home village.

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'The village has a lot of artists and, in fact, so does Norfolk,' she said. 'It is a very inspiring place.

'This is all about people sharing their love of art and that is wonderful wherever it happens. People have amazing insight whether they are famous critics or your next door neighbour.

'This festival has become a very well-known art event, and there are always new activities and new people to keep everybody interested. Art enhances your life and makes life better - and that's what we want to give people.'

Many of the festival events were announced by Tony Nelson, the Sheringham town crier, who said: 'This is a marvellous little event because it is so imaginative.

'The circus is something we think of as being different, but it is really just theatre in a tent. It is still art and it is just one of the things around the fringes of what we call the arts, but they all contribute to this hugely successful festival.

'At the same time it is really intimate because here it is in this small village. I always look forward to coming here.'

As well as the Big Top shows, circus performers mingled with the crowds to show off their stilt-walking and juggling skills and also joined in with a ceilidh dance on Saturday night.

Children from Garveston, Yaxham and Mattishall primary schools also performed a dance routine in the Big Top, which they had choreographed themselves with the help of Norfolk Dance.

Festival co-organiser Mike Webb said: 'It is part of our mission to encourage children to experience the arts and then come to the festival and see other arts which they may not been aware of before.

'Lots of people have been here enjoying themselves, and the appeal is much wider now. We have to put a lot more signs on the road for those few people in Norfolk who don't know we are here.

'There are more than 100 people from Welborne and other local villages either directly involved or helping in some way.

'Generally, it is a community event which gets people together doing things. In many ways all the arts stuff is an extra bonus. It is more than that now, and has gained its own momentum and its own objectives.'

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