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Ønskelandet bursts open in Aarhus, European Capital of Culture 2017

Kids are in the front seat this year. Director Rebecca Matthews and programme director Juliana Engberg have said so themselves (watch here and here). Children have a creativity and spontaneity that adults could learn from, and that deserves its own place in the year that Aarhus is European Capital of Culture. Or: in Aarhus 2017, as the 'locals' say.

Children also deserve their own place in the programme. That is why children start the year of Aarhus 2017 a day earlier than the adults. There is a specially composed song (written by Alberte Winding, Jan Rørdam and Andreas Fuglebæk). There is also a specially made dance . All devised in consultation with children around the theme Ønskelandet, freely translated Wish World.

City and country

Curiously, the opening for children takes place not only in Aarhus, but also in all the other 18 municipalities of Mid Jutland.

But perhaps not so strange either, considering that one of the other pillars of the giant festival is 'engagement', according to the organisers. Involvement between Aarhus and all the other municipalities that make up the Central Jutland administrative region. Involvement between city and countryside.

In each congregation, children put their own spin on the theme Ønskelandet given. Children from the municipalities of Norddjurs and Syddjurs in the Djursland region have joined forces. The joint theme is 'children take you to Ønskelandet' and how better to do that than flying? Their imaginary airline Dream Wings is ready for it.

Pølsehorn and mini-pilots

Norddjurs and Syddjurs are rural and, by Danish standards, poor municipalities north-east of Aarhus. They mainly rely on natural beauty and tourism. In the middle of Syddjurs near the village of Tirstrup lies the airport now called Aarhus. The perfect scene for Dream Wings!

And that is why I am now at Aarhus airport, a 45-minute drive from Aarhus midtby, downtown.

More than a hundred children, and even more fathers, mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers populate the departure hall of the airport. It smells of pølsehorn, sausage rolls. Mini-stewardesses and ditto pilots step around confidently, while other children wait a touch nervously. A fleet of keyboards, marimbas, music stands and microphones stand ready - the hardware of the Great Children's Orchestra that is about to play.

Children's art - not a spectator sport

A lady taps the microphone, and slowly the murmurs in the departure hall quiet down. After speeches from local dignitaries, the Great Children's Orchestra bursts into a cover hit by the band Shubidua (a cross between Peter Koelewijn and the cocktail Trio, but Danish). 'Kylling med softice og pølser', chicken with softice and sausages, sings the girls' choir to the tune of 'Killing me softly'. The keyboard choir does not even sound unkind, but it becomes clear that art here is not so much a spectator sport,as a participant sport. Except for the beaming family members, that is.

After a play with stewardesses and pilots, it is the turn of a group of youngsters from Kulturakademiet, the music school. A rock band with five singers performs not undeserving covers of a.o. Silverflame by the Danish band Dizzy Mizzy Lizzy.

Despite that, I don't exactly feel transported and abducted into the world of children's wishes. Or even remotely moved, the way a voice, a sound, a turn of tone can suddenly bring tears to your eyes.

Dream Wings closes the opening by singing the song Ønskelandet. And then I understand that Dream Wings has taken me somewhere completely different. In a 'forsamlingshus' I am, a Danish community house. Every village has one, every neighbourhood often does too, and even city blocks have such a space. The place where Danes come together to celebrate socially and eat (and drink) together according to set rituals. One such ritual is fællessang, singing together.

Engagement and fællessang

Because the singing tradition is still alive and kicking in Denmark. No club, or even family gathering can go without a song, preferably with home-made lyrics-on-the-wisp. The Danish parliament, the Folketing regularly sings together (hear them here, at the beginning of the clip). Zentropa, the Danish film company, also starts the week with a few songs from the Højskolesangbog - the Danish version of 'Can you still sing sing sing along'.

Choir, orchestra, band and audience: all singing Ønskelandet's song together. I might have known, as the sheets with lyrics had been handed out earlier. At this very moment, children and their parents are singing the same song, but in Struer, Ringkøbing-Skjern and all the other municipalities of Central Jutland. A single passenger looks, smiles and walks on. The security staff presses their noses against the glass to avoid missing anything.

For some Danes, Ønskelandet lies in the forsamlingshus and the fællessang. For others, it is behind the next hill, in Aarhus, Copenhagen or Australia. The task for the organisation of Aarhus2017 is to give a place to all these Wish Worlds of children, adults, Danes and visitors.

A year full of art - from Denmark

This year, I will be reporting for Culture Press on Aarhus2017, a cluster of wish-fulfilment worlds. And in particular, I will be looking at two of the aims the organisation has set itself: what place do children and youth have in the programme? Do adults actually learn from children, or is it all about children's sanctuaries and occupational therapy? (And is there anything wrong with that?) And: how does this engagement between city and country take shape? Is there more than the opposition between the romantic, inspiring countryside and the dynamic city, where 'it' happens? What is the significance of Aarhus2017, also economically, for a city like Aarhus itself, and for a rural municipality like Syddjurs?

Good to know

Those curious about the programme (in English): watch here.
Anyone curious about an event and wants me to write about it: let me know.


Inger Stokkink

Inger Stokkink is a freelance correspondent in Denmark - in Aarhus, to be precise. Aarhus? Isn't that the 2017 European Capital of Culture*? Yes it is, and she writes about it for CulturePers. She is married, has two cats and a sailboat. * along with Pafos in Cyprus, by the wayView Author posts

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