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4-Traders Homepage  >  Shares  >  London Stock Exchange  >  Portmeirion Group PLC    PMP   GB0006957293

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Portmeirion : 'There's a lot of pain out there... it helps to be flamboyant and act joyously'

09/05/2015 | 06:01am US/Eastern

You may think that since it is September and summer is almost over, it is now safe to put away the fairy wings and face paints.

But you'd be wrong because the party is just getting started here in Gwynedd. And it will involve a lot more than friends gathering around a freshly tapped beer keg (although there is nothing wrong with that!) This weekend the Welsh are taking on Rio, New Orleans and Venice as the ultimate carnival comes to Portmeirion.

Hundreds of revellers are expected to fill the Italianate village's cobbled lanes with colour and character as Festival No.6 plays host to its own carnival for the second year.

Organised by carnival planning company SWICA, the party atmosphere will include Samba dancers, glittering gowns, music and all sorts of other extravaganzas.

The man behind it all is Steve Fletcher, artistic director of SWICA. The organisation is best known for turning Wales' capital into a riot of dancing, drumming and drama every year for the Cardiff Carnival.

Steve is understandably excited when I call him. He loves a good parade - and the more flamboyant, the better.

In fact, Steve has been Wales's leading carnival arts expert for more than 26 years, collecting ideas, costumes and expertise from around the globe to camp up Wales, bringing SWICA's extroversion and excitement to hundreds of events.

"A carnival is a powerful mix of making movement and music to benefit both individuals and communities alike," he explains - adding that his own approach is to add a sprinkling of intercultural and intergenerational fun to the proceedings.

"I always love bringing people together in celebration but there's something extra special about Portmeirion."

Apart from the magic of the place, participants seem unfazed by the usual stresses and strains of putting on a performance.

"There wasn't a cross word said last year," he confirms. "We had the most fabulous group."

The No.6 parade is made up of a wide selection of festival-goers who sign up online for a costume in advance. Then, thousands of handmade pieces are folded into backpacks and brought to the party, complete with professional make up artists, choreographers, musicians and dancers.

"We bring the cream of the crop from Cardiff Carnival to create the most amazing transformations in less than a couple of hours," he explains.

This year, in addition to Brazilian Maracatu finery, there will be a tribute to Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood.

Volunteers are put in sections, dressed according to theme and taught how to move in minutes. It's a huge feat but one Steve and his team have down to a fine art.

"Success lies in the finer details," he explains. "It's all about logistics, answering questions and meeting expectations."

When asked whether the average parade is a bit like a gliding swan with legs frantically paddling beneath the water's surface, he laughs and replies: "Yes. It's very much like that. A massive amount of planning keeps the whole thing looking relaxed."

The carnival scene has been a personal odyssey for Steve, who founded SWICA as a result of community development work he did with Theatr Taliesin Wales in the late 80s.

"SWICA's first ever workshops introduced carnival arts and samba percussion at community venues across Cardiff - from these roots sprang Cardiff Carnival and Samba Galez, Wales's original Latin percussion community group," he says. Peter Minshall, a Trinidadian masquerade maker, became pivotal to the group's early success. "Minshall's flamboyant visions were made solid through his imagination and innovatory light-engineering," says Steve. Caribbean colour may seem at odds with the natural introversion of the Welsh but it does bring out a strong sense of community.

"When I set up SWICA, one key aim was to inject new forms of celebration into Welsh culture - acting as 'multi-cultural magpies' where necessary - filling the void in our national soul."

Today, carnivals are cool again and have moved on from the village floats and teen queens of yesteryear.

"Retro parades were all about being on top of lorries and maintaining a distance between the participants and crowds," says Steve. "These days it's about bringing people together. There's a lot of pain out there and it helps to be flamboyant and act joyously. I like the fact people seem to immerse themselves in the activities and have such a great time."

Seeing a sea of smiles is Steve's greatest reward. But it's not just about pleasing the crowds.

"One of the highs is the reaction when you thank everyone who make a carnival happen. I asked the crowds to shout 'we love Adam', our guru of glitter, pharaoh of feathers and sultan of sequins. More than 5,000 people bellowed the words and he burst into tears. It was wonderful."

A master of delegation, Steve says his team are truly inspiration in that they transform and transport so many people beyond the realms of normality. Mistakes are seen as learning curves and not even rain can dampen their spirits.

When asked about disasters, Steve recalls the time when a policeman directed the parade the wrong way during the first Cardiff Carnival.

"He'd never policed a carnival before and admitted that he'd treated it like a riot. Anyway, after that, ear pieces are always worn."

Ironically, despite being the ultimate crowd curator, Steve's downtime is spent hill walking and exploring the countryside.

"And my greatest secret is that I haven't changed my hairstyle since watching The Clash perform."

(c) 2015 ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved., source Newspapers

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