Midsummer magic: a life changing experience in the Botanics

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Susie Brown puts finishing touches to 600 bamboo poles: her sculpture Natural Progression becomes a stage setting for dance in the Botanics on midsummer night.

There’s a serious theme rippling beneath the music but right now enjoy the sheer, mad fun of it all. Listen to robots playing Chinese instruments in the Palm House and watch Tai Chi dancers on the lawn while Bamboo percussionists from Thailand beat out a trail of discovery to the Chinese Hillside. Fay Young reports from behind the scenes…

I have to declare an interest because I am helping to organise the spectacular Dialogues of Wind and Bamboo, now being rehearsed for the midsummer happening in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. On Saturday evening around 50 artists, musicians and dancers come together from Far East and across Scotland to create a uniquekimho intercultural experience in the Garden. And it is all free.

I sometimes ask director Kimho Ip (that’s him on the right) why he is doing it and he laughs, “I could make my life easier,” he admits. Trained in the classical western tradition this talented young composer musician could earn a good living if he just stuck to Mozart or Bach. But he is gaining a reputation for helping audiences rediscover traditional Chinese music – with a contemporary twist.

Instead of the concert hall, his venues are more likely to be museums, market places and cafes. And now, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh where he mixes experimental pop of the Edinburgh band FOUND with evocative Shanghai Jazz and old Cantonese melodies.

The serious purpose is to help people reconnect with both nature and culture in a fast changing world. “I am not particularly Chinese,” says Kimho who comes from Hong Kong but finished his education in Germany and Edinburgh. “But this culture is part of my DNA and it seems a shame if we lose such precious pieces from the past.”

The Botanics holds the biggest collection of Chinese plants outside China; a resource now being used to reintroduce threatened species to the natural world. In the same way, Kimho’s intercultural performance reconnects with Chinese cultural traditions that are fast disappearing in their original habitat.

Stephen Blackmore, the Regius Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, has welcomed Kimho’s production with the infectious enthusiasm of a man who enjoys music (he owns and plays a collection of guitars). For him, music adds a vital element to the Garden.

“We want people to engage with huge issues of environmental change in the world,�? he says. “So the richer the experience we can provide, the more senses we can connect with, the more likely we will achieve that life changing experience.�?

Find out much more on the website: Dialogues of Wind and Bamboo. There’s a YouTube video of the robots in the Palm House and both sculpture and sound installations are open until at least 29 June.

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Found’s Ziggy Campbell tests robots playing the Chinese dulcimer in the sound installation Three Pieces he has invented with Simon Kirby for Wind and Bamboo.

PS I also posted this report on Greener Leith website

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