A giant 20ft walking tree will be among the diverse range of cutting-edge street theatre that will bring the city centre streets alive during this September’s Derby Festé.

Arbor who looks like a tree but moves like a human – is the creation of award-winning theatre company Smoking Apples who are this year’s chosen commission for the annual festival.

Smoking Apples is a theatre company bringing together performers, musicians and puppet makers from across the UK.  They use puppetry and visual theatre to create innovative shows that they have performed across Europe – including at the Edinburgh Fringe.

They are currently creating the giant puppet and developing the walkabout performance ‘Arbors Journey’ which they will perform for the first time at Derby Festé on Saturday 30 September.

Smoking Apples’ Artistic Director, Matt Lloyd, explained that Arbor was an original idea – initiated by company member, George Bellamy, whose father is a retired Senior Conservation Officer for the Wildlife Trust.

The character is inspired by the Green Man from British folklore, as well as the historic local Thurvaston Stoop tree – an enormous ancient oak known locally as the Domesday tree, as it was supposedly mentioned in the Domesday Book.

As part of the east meets west theme of this year’s Derby Festé – the ‘Arbors Journey’ performance also mirrors the Indian Van Mahotsav or Festival of Trees where every citizen across the country is encouraged to plant a tree to counteract the effects of urbanisation.

Mr Lloyd continued that Arbor – operated by five people – would be roaming the streets, interacting with the crowds and handing out tree saplings from his giant cart.

Arbor will have a series of complicated joints enabling us to explore how a tree moves in human form. We will be challenging the crowds to make actions that he will have to copy which should be spectacular sight.

We are working with Derbyshire Wildlife Trust to source saplings native to the county and I hope that young people in particular take this opportunity to think about their local environment and get out and about to plant the saplings in their garden or local community.

Smoking Apples are extremely honoured to be chosen as the Derby Festé commissioned performance this year.

Derby Festé Artistic Director Stephen Munn, Director at regional dance house Déda which is taking the lead in fusing dance, contemporary circus and outdoor performance skills, said:

As well as attracting acts from across the world to perform as part of Derby Festé, we consider applications from local and regional artists to develop a special commission that is premiered at the event.

This support enables work developed here in Derby to then be taken out to festivals across the UK and beyond – showcasing our home-bred creativity and talent.

We have introduced puppetry to the Festé programme over recent years but Smoking Apples’ Arbor imagination and creativity will take this to a new level and we are very excited  to see how this commission develops in the coming months.”

Derby Festé has been a highlight in the city’s calendar for the past 11 years and this year’s festival will be held on Friday 29 September and Saturday 30 September with the theme of fusing western and eastern cultures in the most spectacular fashion.

Derby Festé will open on Friday night at Bass’ Recreation Ground which will be transformed into ‘Circus World’ from late afternoon.

The ticketed event will feature a wide range of contemporary circus acts from across Europe with visitors also able to enjoy an array of food and drink from around the world in a food village.

Cirque Du Hilarious

The excitement will then build up to the showcase which will be a show-stopping aerial performance of ‘The Altitude Show’ by European artists Gorilla Circus.

Saturday will see the return of the popular free programme of street entertainment across the Cathedral Quarter with dance, street theatre, comedy and contemporary circus acts performing throughout the day at various locations.

Then during the late afternoon, the focus will be on South Asian style cultural celebrations and the crowds will gather for the ‘Colour of Time’ procession.

Dancers and musicians will move through the city centre in a choreographed parade towards Cathedral Green with the audience invited to join the finale – painting the sky with an explosion of Gulal powder.

A team of dance artists will be visiting schools and different community groups in Derby, Leicester and Nottingham in the run up to Derby Festé to teach them the simple dance steps and they will then be encouraging the audience on the night to join in.

The Night Market, organised by Sheena Holland was a popular addition to the Festé calendar last year and will again feature a wide range of arts, crafts and vintage stalls as well as food and drink stalls.

Derby Festé 2017 is produced and presented by Derby LIVE, Déda, QUAD and Derby Theatre in association with the Without Walls Associate Touring Network, Artcore and Baby People. It is funded by Arts Council England and Derby City Council, with sponsorship from Cathedral Quarter, Intu Derby, Derby Riverlights, Park Farm Shopping Centre and the University of Derby.

For more information about the Derby Festé programme, please visit the Derby Festé website.