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We have LIFT-Off! Interview with Mark Ball, Artistic Director of LIFT Festival

LIFT Festival International directive. Mark Ball, Artistic Director of the LIFT Festival. Photograph: Courtesy of LIFT.

With LIFT going since 1981, I talk to current Artistic Director, Mark Ball, about what the 2016 LIFT festival is about and what it hopes to achieve.

Back in February, I was invited to the press programme launch of the LIFT Festival, and tweeted rather over earnestly about it. The LIFT Festival is a biennial performance festival that brings international artists to London to showcase their work over two months. This year’s LIFT Festival programme includes an eclectic plethora of shows including: circus in a graveyard, Victorian drag queens, a Falkland veteran take-over of the Royal Court, and a hyper-Kawaii Japanese youth techno party. Tonight (Wednesday 1 June) see’s the LIFT Festival officially kick off with Taylor Mac doing a one night only performance, which I’m utterly gutted I’m unable to make. But there’s a whole wealth of other shows which I can’t wait to get stuck into.

LIFT Festival

International directive. Mark Ball, Artistic Director of the LIFT Festival. Photograph: Courtesy of LIFT.

But what is it that the LIFT Festival is trying to achieve by bringing this mixed-bag of often off-the-wall cosmopolitan shows to an already international and culturally quirky city? At the February event, I was given a quick five minutes to quiz current Artistic Director of the festival, Mark Ball, about what the LIFT Festival means to him and to London.

Grumpy Gay Critic: The LIFT Festival has a very diverse programme of shows that wouldn’t come to the UK otherwise. Some of the shows certainly seem a bit avant garde. Is there a particular piece do you think is going to have the most challenging reaction?

Mark Ball: It’s always very difficult to pick a piece. It’s like trying to pick your favourite child or your most difficult child. One of the things we know about our audience is that they like to be the first to try new things. They have an innate curiosity which makes it a little bit easier to programme work that is a bit more “out there” and sometimes a bit more experimental. I think there’s a power of storytelling that will bring people in, [despite that] on the surface, none of this is an easy sell.

GGC: What is the one thing you want anyone who comes to a LIFT Festival show to take away?

MB: That they found out something new about the world. Perhaps a preconception has been challenged, or they have learned something, or they have seen something different. That, for me, is the absolute power of the LIFT Festival. It shines a light to the corners of the world and into our understanding we perhaps wouldn’t ordinarily focus on. Why is it the young Japanese, in a country where there’s a real crisis happening, spend their time in this very escapist culture? If you’re Greek, and absolutely on the edge of Europe, what is your perspective on the rest of Europe from the margins? I think these are the kinds of provocations that we want people to be thinking of. As soon as you put yourself in the mind, the experience, and the shoes of the other, you have more empathy and you start to understand and engage with these issues.

LIFT Festival

Hyper Japan. Scene from ‘Miss Revolutionary Idol Bersker’, playing as part of the LIFT Festival. Photograph: Courtesy of the company.

GGC: Being the Artistic Director of the LIFT Festival for the fourth time now, what is the biggest development that you’ve seen LIFT make?

MB: An absolute commitment to new work. Half of the programme being new work feels really, really important because it means that we can really respond to who are the great artists making really innovative work. How can we support them? What are the big issues of our time? How can we support artists to respond to those? It also enables us to find artists to make work about London. This gives the festival a kind of authenticity, a value, and a personality. I’ve got a lot of people who have said to me, “Oh, does London need the LIFT Festival? There’s a lot of international stuff going on. If you look at the pages of Time Out you can see the Paris Opera Ballet at Saddler’s Wells. ” My riposte is how much Indian work, Arabic work, Filipino work, Chinese work are we seeing in a city which is saturated with those communities? We have a responsibility to bring that work to London.

GGC: What would you say to someone on the fence about coming to a LIFT Festival show?

MB: That there’s a lot of joy and a lot of fun in the works as well as some intellectual provocation. I think, for me, this is one of the interesting things about this year’s festival. It has a kind playfulness and fun about it. It’s still looking at issues, but it wears those issues a bit lightly and that allows people to find a different way in. Also, trying something new feels a bit difficult, but if you don’t try something new you don’t learn anything new and you don’t experience anything new. The LIFT Festival audience think its absolutely worth it, so why not give it a go?

The LIFT Festival runs from 1 June – 2 July 2016. For more information about the festival and show, visit

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