Hans across the oceans

The Danish author Hans Christian Andersen is given a Creole twist
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The Independent Culture

"As a storyteller, I'm constantly trying to unearth the parallels between African/Caribbean stories and European folk tales," says Jan Blake. It's appropriate, then, that she is artist in residence at the South Bank's third Imagine children's literature festival, gluing together the twin themes of Danish and African folk-tales.

"As a storyteller, I'm constantly trying to unearth the parallels between African/Caribbean stories and European folk tales," says Jan Blake. It's appropriate, then, that she is artist in residence at the South Bank's third Imagine children's literature festival, gluing together the twin themes of Danish and African folk-tales.

The world premiere of her show, in which she appears with the Ivory Coast singer and arranger Kouame Sereba, celebrates the bicentenary of the birth of Hans Christian Andersen, and draws on African and Creole influences for the venue's Africa Remix season.

Big Claus, Little Claus and Ti-Jean came about as a result of Blake working alongside other artists and children from schools in the London Borough of Lambeth to create the Imaginarium. An installation using models, words and images, it retells nine traditional stories from Africa and Denmark.

Two years ago, Blake read Patrick Chamoiseau's Creole Folktales, a collection of lyrical retellings of 12 stories from Martinique, and was drawn to the story "Ti-Jean Horizon", in which a plantation owner is constantly outsmarted by his slave son. "Then when we came together to talk about the Imaginarium," Blake recalls, "I discovered Andersen's 'Big Claus, Little Claus' and realised it was more or less the same story. It's two different characters, but the tricks Little Claus plays on Big Claus are similar to those played by Ti-Jean on his father."

Sereba's involvement is crucial, says Blake: "I wouldn't have put the idea together without this particular musician, because of the French link and because he speaks Creole." The two have come up with contrasting versions of the story for Imagine. "Big Claus, Little Claus" is performed in a bare, stark way, with Sereba using only a "bow" [a string-based mouth instrument] and a spring drum. "In 'Ti-Jean', we go for a full-blown African-Caribbean retelling, with lots of rhythm and sound," Blake says.

The poet Michael Rosen is appearing at the festival, with Val Bloom and John Agard, to read verse in Creole and "standard" English. So is the Barnsley FC poet-in-residence Ian McMillan, with his Big Family Show, and the illustrator Anthony Browne. For most youngsters, though, the novelist Jacqueline Wilson will be the biggest draw, when she previews her novel Clean Break.

Meanwhile, across town at the Barbican, the Book Me! children's literature festival, retells the Greek myths. It opens with Daniel Morden and Hugh Lupton recreation of Homer's Odyssey. Geraldine McCaughrean reads from her tales of Prometheus, Phaeton and Icarus, and finishes with the Wee Stories Theatre for Children's Labyrinth: Mystery of the Monster in the Maze, a reworking of the story of Theseus and the Minotaur.

Imagine 2005: South Bank Centre, London SE1, 15 to 17 Feb, and the Imaginarium, to 27 Feb (0870 380 0400; www.rfh.org.uk/imagine); Book Me!, Barbican, London EC2 (0845 120 7550; www.barbican.org.uk) 15 to 18 Feb

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