Next week, the traditions of England and Brazil will collide on the streets of Watford – drums will crash, giant puppets will leap, and local schoolchildren will move you to tears as you witness the world premiere of the live music and dance spectacle that is The ‘Oss and the Ox, created by world renowned choreographer Kate Flatt especially for this year’s Imagine Watford festival.
“It’s absolutely wonderful to be making work in my own town – and walking to work to rehearse it,“ laughs Kate, who trained at the Royal Ballet School and whose notable productions include the creation of the original musical staging for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Les Miserables in 1985.
“I’d been living in Barcelona, the capital of street theatre, and I was thrilled when I first saw Imagine Watford four years ago. It’s been a dream of mine to make something for it.“
For The ‘Oss and the Ox, Kate has been working with Brazilian master percussionist and composer Adriano Adewale, whose wife Carolina is dancing in the project.
Kate explains how the idea for the ‘oss (horse) and the ox came about.
“I wanted to do something with a hobby horse – they’re originally from the south-west of England and go back to Medieval and Renaissance times – it’s really quite wild, quite anarchic, it’s a life force and it dances through the streets with wonderful drumming.
“I took Adriano to see this and he said ‘Oh, we have the ox in Brazil!’ and it turns out that the ox is just like the horse – it’s also a life force and it also dies and has to be revived. So we started planning this wonderful story.“
The ox and the horse puppets are each operated by a person inside them and will bound and spring through the streets of Watford with an entourage of a dancer and two musicians each – and they will come together outside Nando’s in the High Street where they have a battle and where they are cheered on by their respective teams of schoolchildren from Westfield Academy.
“The main event involves this battle of encounter about territory in the streets,“ says Kate, “but it comes to a denouement when the music stops – they die and they have to be revived.“
Kate is full of nothing but praise for the local children she and Adriano have recruited to take part in the piece.
“I was moved to tears the other day watching a ten-year-old stroking this giant ox puppet on the ground, she was chanting as if her life depended on it, with these other children, trying to bring it back to life.
“Adriano has been into Westfield Academy working with the children and I watched these shiny-eyed young people playing drums with him, so excited by the calibre of what they were able to do. And watching these little dancers learning their own traditional material and dances from another culture – they were totally engaging with it, so excited and so ready.“
Kate’s time in Barcelona, with its abundance of street theatre and open-air performance, has taught her the importance of providing the public with free and ready access to art and culture, which is why she is so delighted to be taking part in Imagine Watford.
“I’m really excited to be landing the project in the middle of an urban environment, in Watford, my hometown, and to see the reactions of the crowd. One of the beautiful things that always strikes me about the audiences for Imagine Watford is seeing children captivated by something larger than life, or by a story that reaches them that they wouldn’t experience by being inside a theatre. That’s the magic of the work.
“The actual process of making it has been as joyful as I hope you’ll find the result. Come and see us!“
The ‘Oss and the Ox will be performed in High Street, Watford on Friday, June 27 at 9.05pm, Saturday, June 28 at 5.05pm, Sunday, June 29 at 1.45pm and 3.30pm. Details: imaginewatford.co.uk