A FIRE-breathing dragon was the centre of attention at the launch of Basingstoke Festival 2014.

Fire-breathing creation The Dragon Heart Beat by Positive Productions, which was brought in from Brighton by Basing-stoke’s Proteus Theatre Company, made its way from the bottom of Wote Street to The Willis Museum, in Market Place, led by a team of talented young dancers from Kelly Hopkins’ North Hampshire Academy of Dance.

Kelly said: “We were thrilled to perform for the launch. It was a great experience for the children. We are so looking forward to performing on June 29 on the Festival’s family day.”

Crowds of shoppers and supporters gathered to take in the spectacle and to pick up a festival brochure.

Mayor of Basingstoke and Deane Councillor Roger Gardiner, on his first full day as first citizen, said: “What a fantastic introduction to Basingstoke Festival.

“The event is going to be amazing fun, and it’s something which really deserves to be supported. I hope everyone gets hold of a brochure and takes a look at what is happening.”

Proteus artistic director Mary Swan added: “As always, Proteus are committed to making Basingstoke a place of high quality culture and the Basingstoke Festival a vibrant success.

“An array of high-quality free acts will perform at the Top of The Town and in The Malls as part of the festival, including Motionhouse Dance Company and Scratchbuilt Productions.

“During the Family Weekend, ‘busk stops’ throughout the town centre will showcase national and local talent.”

Also in attendance at last Friday’s launch were representatives from other key arts organisations in the town, including Anvil Arts’ deputy chief executive Matthew Cleaver and Jenny Stevens, the area’s community museums curator for Hampshire County Council.

Jenny revealed that The Willis Museum will play a key role in the festival, offering exhibitions including a special event by the Friends of The Willis Museum in celebration of the Morris Singer Foundry.

Festival co-ordinator Julia Tymukas said: “The noise, smoke and drumming from the dragon, accompanied by the dancers of North Hampshire Academy of Dance, created a fantastic atmosphere.”

The festival, which is now in its third year, takes place all over the borough from Friday, June 20 until Sunday, July 13, culminating in Basingstoke Live.