Contemporary dance meets Army life in free outdoor performances in Woolwich

Before it starts its UK tour at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe next month, Rosie Kay Dance Company is coming to Woolwich to perform a unique 25-minute outdoor version of 5 Soldiers on Friday 7 and Saturday 8 July.

As part of the GDIF festival strand All Roads Lead to Woolwich, the company will perform in the bombed out St. George’s Garrison Church opposite Woolwich Barracks, giving the work a site-specific poignancy.

5 Soldiers dance team resting during operation Solway Eagle

5 Soldiers explores the role of the body in warfare and the experiences that soldiers have, both mental and physical. When asked why she’s looking forward to presenting this re-working of the piece at Greenwich+Docklands International Festival, choreographer Rosie Kay said:

It’s such a pleasure to be bringing our unique version of 5 Soldiers to GDIF this weekend. We’ve done outdoor shows in past with 5 Soldiers; in the street, shopping centres, outside Army bases, but once I heard what the location was going to be I had a serious re-think. Dancing a work about war, in a bomb destroyed church has real meaning and power, and I think that can be reflected in the show.

I wanted somehow to capture some of the mystery and atmosphere of the full length show, and I wanted to have some of the sound-score. Because of this, I decided to do a totally new re-work, with a similar structure to the full length show, in three parts, and a bit more of the journey; from training and drill, to messing out in PT, to the thrill and fear of being in an alien and hostile environment and the threat of injury. I think we’ve achieved that, and there are moments of fun and beauty, and great music with Annie Mahtani’s sound-score, The Clash and Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. I can’t wait to see how it looks in the church, and to see what it does to the work; I think it could be quite moving and powerful.”

Woolwich has a particularly rich military history, being home to numerous military establishments with stunning architecture. The Royal Artillery Barracks, which housed the Royal Artillery for nearly 300 years, shows off the longest Neoclassical façade in London. The Royal Military Academy at the south end of Woolwich Common also has an impressive façade, this time in Mock Tudor style. Despite its current grandeur, the Royal Military Academy initially gained the modest nickname ‘The Shop’ because of its first location in a converted workshop. Historic England now cites it as ‘one of the most important pieces of military architecture in the country”.

The Garrison Church of St George was hit by a V-1 flying bomb during the Second World War and only its shell remains today. Amazingly, several mosaics survived the bombing, the largest being an image of Saint George and the Dragon which was part of a memorial dedicated to Royal Artillery members who’d been awarded the Victoria Cross.


To prepare for the upcoming performances, the five dancers recently worked alongside the Army on three days of combat exercises deep in the Scottish countryside. For this, they joined Exercise Solway Eagle, involving members of The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards who are soon to be deployed on an overseas peace-keeping mission.

Dancer Reece Causton, from Norfolk said

Talking to the troops and seeing them at work is incredibly valuable, it’s gold dust. As dancers we absorb it all, so the movements and the way they interact all comes out in our performance and gives a strong sense of realism.”

Here’s a clip of the dancers rehearsing in the studio today.


In previous years, 5 Soldiers attracted 5 star reviews from The Scotsman, The Herald and The Observer, as well as receiving a Special Commendation from the Royal Society of Public Health in recognition of its excellent contribution to arts and health practice.

Rosie Kay Dance Company has recently become one of Arts Council England’s newest National Portfolio Organisations, so come and see them in action this Friday and Saturday in Woolwich!

5 Soldiers will return to London in September with full hour-long performances taking place inside military venue Yeomanry House, presented in association with Sadler’s Wells.

St. George’s Garrison Church, Grand Depot Road, Woolwich, SE18
Friday 7 July, 1.45pm & 5.45pm
Saturday 8 July, 1pm & 5pm
Free & un-ticketed

Click here for details of how to get to St George’s Garrison Church

Click here to see what else is in store in Woolwich during the final weekend of Greenwich+Docklands International Festival

Greenwich and the Moon

Dr Marek Kukula
Public Astronomer, Royal Observatory Greenwich

Museum-of-the-Moon---Greenwich, 23-25 June

When a luminous floating Moon moors itself beside the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park this weekend it may seem as though our planet’s natural satellite has fallen to Earth. The Museum of the Moon by artist Luke Jerram is a spectacular seven metre wide lunar globe that uses detailed NASA photography to reproduce the Moon’s surface features at a scale of 1:500,000. This glorious fusion of science and art, with a dash of magic mixed in, has been enchanting audiences around the UK but perhaps here in Greenwich the Museum of the Moon has found its natural home, as this visitation is only the latest in a long line of lunar manifestations in the Royal Borough – so many in fact that Greenwich has a strong claim to being London’s most lunar district.

As a settlement on the tidal Thames, the twice daily rising and falling of the river at the behest of the Moon has always been a familiar part of Greenwich life. This tidal influence is embodied on the ceiling of the Old Royal Naval College’s Painted Hall in the form of the lunar goddess Selene, her brow crowned with a silver crescent. Also commemorated on the ceiling is the eclipse of April 22 1715, accurately predicted by Greenwich resident and first Astronomer Royal John Flamsteed, based on his painstaking observations of the Moon’s motions.

The ORNC, then known as Greenwich Hospital, features prominently in The Thames and Greenwich Hospital by Moonlight painted by Henry Pether in the mid-nineteenth century and now on display in the Queen’s House art gallery. As an artist Pether was famous for both moonlit scenes and views of the Thames so this ethereal canvas combines his two abiding interests.

On the right hand side of Pether’s painting is another structure with a lunar connection: the 1855 obelisk in memory of Lieutenant Joseph René Bellot. Bellot was a French naval officer who won the admiration and gratitude of the British for his efforts to discover the fate of missing arctic explorer Sir John Franklin and his crew (soon to be the subject of a blockbuster exhibition at the National Maritime Museum). But Greenwich is not the only place where this mariner is remembered: in 1935 a 17 kilometre wide crater on the Moon, on the edge of the Sea of Fecundity, was named Bellot – giving him the rare honour of a monument on two different worlds.

Several other lunar features have Greenwich links. There are craters named after Astronomers Royal Flamsteed, Halley, Bliss, Maskelyne, Airy, Dyson and Spencer Jones, while Maunder Crater honours the nineteenth century husband and wife team of Walter and Annie Maunder whose pioneering work on solar variability is still relevant to studies of climate change today. Rather than a crater the third Astronomer Royal, James Bradley, who proved that the Earth moves around the Sun, has a lunar mountain named in his honour.

Arguably the Royal Observatory itself owes its very existence to the Moon: it was founded in 1675 by King Charles II to measure and predict the complex motions of the Moon across the sky so that they could be used to improve marine navigation (although for several months, while the Observatory itself was being constructed at the top of the hill, Astronomer Royal John Flamsteed conducted his lunar observations from the Queen’s House). This lunar legacy is reflected today in two of the Observatory’s iconic buildings: the elegant Altazimuth Pavilion, built in the late nineteenth century for observing the Moon, and, on the side of the neighbouring Astronomy Centre, the allegorical terracotta bas relief of Astronomia holding a crescent Moon in her outstretched hand.

The Moon also features heavily in the Royal Observatory’s world-class collections of maps, globes and scientific instruments. Among these is the wonderful Selenographia– an astonishingly detailed and accurate globe of the Moon by the eighteenth century artist John Russell. Russell was most famous for his pastel portraits of Georgian celebrities but he had a lifelong obsession with all things lunar and, in an age when science and art were not quite as separate as they are today, he was well acquainted with Astronomer Royal Nevil Maskelyne and President of the Royal Society Sir Joseph Banks. One of Russell’s delicate pastels of the Moon – a portrait as much as a scientific recording – is also in the Greenwich collection.

Russell’s lunar globes and portraits only show one side of the Moon, since our satellite always keeps one face permanently turned towards the Earth. Humanity had to wait until 1959 to see the mysterious Far Side, when the Soviet Luna 3 probe made a circuit of the Moon and beamed back the first grainy pictures. Amazingly, just ten years later Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left the first human footprints in the soft lunar dust. Among the hundreds of thousands of people who contributed to this historic achievement was Welsh engineer and amateur astronomer Hugh Percy Wilkins, whose 300-Inch map of the Moon, painstakingly compiled from lunar observations made in South London, was used by NASA to help select the landing sites for the Apollo missions. Reputedly, engineers designing the spacesuits worn by the Apollo astronauts also studied the construction of Henry VIII’s suit of foot combat armour made by the craftsmen of the famous Greenwich Armoury.

It’s just two years until the fiftieth anniversary of Armstrong’s ‘one small step’ and Royal Museums Greenwich is planning to celebrate in 2019 with a programme of exhibitions and events. Also on the horizon are plans for Aluna, a unique tidally powered lunar clock proposed for the Greenwich riverside. Greenwich’s links with the Moon are set to continue for many years to come.

Of course, the Moon’s influence extends beyond science and art into stories and folklore, and perhaps nowhere more so than in the terrifying legend of the werewolf – a human being transformed into a ravening beast by the occult power of the Moon. It’s worth noting that the 2010 remake of classic horror movie The Wolf Man, starring Benicio Del Toro and Emily Blunt, was partly filmed here in Greenwich. Might the digitally-rendered features of Luke Jerram’s Museum of the Moon be capable of triggering a bout of twenty-first century lycanthropy? Who knows? But it’s something to ponder as you make your way home through the darkening groves of Greenwich Park.

Dr Marek Kukula is the Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich. He received a PhD in Radio Astronomy from the University of Manchester and carried out research into quasars and distant galaxies with the Hubble Space Telescope. Marek is the author of The Intimate Universe and the co-author of The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who, both published in 2015.

Museum of the Moon
The Old Royal Observatory Garden, Greenwich Park

It’s free to visit at the following times:
Friday 23 June 6pm-9pm
Saturday 24 June 2pm-9pm
Sunday 25 June 12pm-7pm

There are ticketed night-time shows at the following times:
Friday 23 June 10pm and 11pm
Saturday 24 June 10pm (SOLD OUT) and 11pm
Tickets £10
Click here to book in advance (please note advance sales end 24hrs before the show).
There will also be a queue for free entry on the night. Capacity is limited and entry unfortunately cannot be guaranteed to all those in the queue for free tickets.


Eyes down for Bingo Lingo at GDIF

Hiya one and all in that there London,

Let us introduce ourselves.. I’m Beryl – 4ft 10 with blonde wavy hair, brown eyes wearing a leopard print suit


and this is Cyril – he’s 5ft 4, dark brown hair, brown eyes wearing a dapper oil slick colour jacket and black trousers.


It’s been a bit of a year I can tell you. September 2016 saw us playing Bingo Lingo at the Liberty Festival in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park down in London and it appears that we have created a bit of a buzz with our Bingo. We have gone Grande (according to Cyril that means large on that there incontinence).

Our Bingo Lingo (we added the lingo bit ourselves) is our attempt to make Bingo an official Paralympic sport. We were sat in the Labour Club in Barnsley in 2012 watching the Paralympics and it was such a wonderful opening ceremony, all about being equal, inclusive and creative…

But then the games began and they started going on about being Super Human and we don’t like that. I’ve never felt super human even with a few G&T’s inside me. No, we don’t want people excluded. Everyone should be able to participate and feel amazing!

We had been running our regular Bingo nights at the Barnsley Labour club for many years. It’s how we met. And the nights do get a good turnout. So, put two and two together… we decided to play Bingo on a Paralympic scale for the Non-Super Humans.

As charisma and style are our middle names our mobility scooters got pimped up – Cyril’s has a large red cage for his balls and I have hooks for me prizes to dangle off.  We enlarged our bingo cards to help them who are visually impaired and we also got loud speakers to help the ones you have to shout at. In no time at all, Bingo Lingo was born! It’s a team game where you support each other and have to share a prize… now that’s what we call inclusion.

bingo lingo

We even pimped up our Bingo calls and they inspired by the lives of ordinary people who are all just a little bit different. Bingo Lingo is a game for everyone, where disability politics meets cheeky end of the pier humour.

Bingo Lingo, a reinvention of a great British tradition. So it’s eyes down for a game like you’ve never played before. … eh and Just remember when you’re stuck indoors and feeling quite low, get off your fat arse and come and play Bingo Lingo!

bingo 3

In 2017 we have already played Brighton Festival and Norfolk and Norwich Festival. Beautiful weekends away and made us realise that people in the South do actually have a sense of humour. It’s been great and we look forward to many more games of Bingo Lingo.

This is what people have been tweeting on that there Twitter thingy:

Bingo Lingo at the @NNFest Garden Party was absolutely hilarious, I laughed til I cried”

Awesome bingo calling @BingoCyril @LingoBeryl “Amputee: 83” “Theresa’s Den: number 10” “Guide Dog Poo: number 2”

I looooved this! A fun game for kids but also so many political and adult jokes thrown in. Highlight of my day”

Best Game of Bingo I have EVER played”

bingo lingo 2

Keep updated with all things Bingo Lingo, follow us on that there Twitter using @LingoBeryl and @BingoCyril or like on our FaceBooklet page @BingoLingoBingo

Come and play Bingo Lingo at Greenwich Fair on Saturday 24 and Sunday 25.
Find out more at



STRONG LADY at GDIF’s Out In The Streets

I am excited to be bringing my show STRONG LADY to GDIF for the Out In The Streets event – a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK.  What better way to celebrate the freedom of queer visibility than to fill a public space with joyous queer art.


My work celebrates that what makes us unique, odd or different is special and important (in my case an unusual physical strength).  At the same time it delights in the knowledge that we are all much more the same than we are different.  When the law changed 50 years ago, it was a huge leap in cultural acceptance that queer love is just love, that queer people were still just people. To me this is key in creating art (and in life): being free to celebrate who you are in all your uniqueness AND at the same time, enjoying the connected-ness that we are all basically the same.

Through my work in outdoor arts I hope to bring together a diverse public, to invite them to laugh together to build connection, and to offer an example of self-acceptance and celebrating diversity.  STRONG LADY is an array of feats-of-strength inspired by vaudeville strongmen and strongwomen of the past, performed with a surprising mix of strength, elegance and comedy.  2017 marks 10 years since I first packed up my suitcase labelled STRONG LADY and left Australia to tour this show around the world.

The show has always played with duality (the truth is usually more interesting than anything you can make up, and I never did well with fitting into boxes).  In the beginning it was the play between strength and elegance that was most interesting to me.  Then there grew layers of playing with power and gentleness, or athleticism and being a curvy lady. Now, in this year’s evolution of the show, those things remain but I have added some new elements to the show to investigate the duality of strength and vulnerability. Come join in the celebration!  I hope to see your lovely face on the streets of Greenwich on June 25th. Xx Charmaine  (AKA: Betty Brawn, Strong Lady)

Strong Lady - carry - Credit Strong Lady Productions

See STRONG LADY on the corner of College Approach and King William Walk on Sunday 25 June at 1.10pm & 3.50pm

Click here to find out more about Out In The Streets

We’re delighted that Out In The Streets is part of the Pride in London festival.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram – @GDIFestival




Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures to perform at GDIF

This post from Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures is the first in a series of guest posts from companies and artists performing at GDIF 2017. Enjoy!

Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures are very excited to be performing at Greenwich+Docklands International Festival on 1 July.

We will be performing an adaptation of Country from Town and Country which has been touring as part of Matthew Bourne’s Early Adventures since February 2017. Early Adventures is a collection of hit pieces that launched Matthew’s career and first toured in 2012, as part of our 25th year anniversary. This year it has toured to celebrate 30 years of New Adventures and we’re looking forward to giving even more people a chance to see Country.

new adventures 2Country is the second part of Town and Country, first created in 1991 and where we in fact received our first Olivier Award nomination for Outstanding Achievement in Dance. Moving and hilarious, this heartfelt pastiche explores notions of national character from a bygone era, through the evocative music of Percy Grainger. With an unforgettable clog dance and recognisable images of rural Britain, Country is a much-loved piece of Matthew’s. Quintessentially British, Country portrays all the quirky characteristics of Brits in the countryside, drinking tea, milking cows, sowing seeds and farm life with the intense wildness of the English moors.

In conversation with Alastair Macaulay, renowned dance critic, in his book Matthew Bourne and his adventures in dance, Matthew said:

“although it’s very frivolous at times and I was much less mature when I made it – by the end I am much more moved. I feel very, very connected to all the things in that piece. I’m like that now when I watch it on video, and was like that in 1991 when I was dancing it. I wasn’t on in the last section, and I would stand in the wings, and always shed a little tear. I love the music so much, as well.”

 new adventures 1

During the Early Adventures tour a Spotify playlist of the music that is inspired by the world of the production was put together with Matthew.

You can listen to it here:

What the critics say:

★★★★★ “Unmissable” THE OBSERVER

★★★★ “A witty delight” SUNDAY TIMES

See Country at Dancing City on Saturday 1 July 
Westferry Circus, Canary Wharf

Performance times 2.20pm and 3.45pm

GDIF awarded EFFE Festivals label 2017-18

We are delighted to have been awarded the EFFE 2017-18 label by the European Festivals Association. GDIF has been recognised alongside festivals from 39 countries and we’re proud to have received this feedback from the international jury headed up by Sir Jonathan Mills, President of the EFFE International Jury

of the UK Outdoor Arts festivals, this is one of the best examples of bold and innovative international programming in the country and the choices of work are exemplar.









As part of the EFFE festival community, facilitated by the European Festivals Association, GDIF joins a stellar roster of festivals that stand for artistic quality and have a significant impact on local, national and international contexts.

Read more about the European Festivals Association here
Explore all the 2017-18 EFFE festivals

R&D funding for Mayor of London’s Liberty Festival

Before Christmas we announced the latest round of R&D funding for the Mayor of London’s Liberty Festival. We’re delighted to confirm that the two successful projects for this funding are Planted Symphony by Drake Music and Arts and Gardens and Admiral Pullen’s Party by Vital Xposure in collaboration with Access All Areas.

Planted Symphony is an interactive performance where music technology meets nature, and which aims to make Assistive music technology playful, accessible and magical to all.

The Liberty R&D is a wonderful opportunity for Drake Music and Arts and Gardens to collaborate and explore the use of music technology as a tool to engage new audiences within green spaces. It’s a great way to develop new music-led outdoor performances that move beyond a band on a stage. Daryl Beeton, Drake Music

Drake Music is the leading national organisation working in music, disability and technology.


photo © Christian Sinibaldi

Admiral Pullen’s Party is a promenade theatre piece featuring a giant puppet created from authentic designs by artist, carpenter and Victorian asylum resident John Henry Pullen.

We are absolutely delighted to have received this R&D grant. At last we get to work with Access All Areas and hopefully get to play at Liberty Festival on a much bigger scale, bringing Pullen’s giant puppet to life. Pullen was an extraordinary man, discarded as an ‘idiot’, who was clearly a wonderfully talented artist with a unique imagination. Julie McNamara, Vital Xposure

Vital Xposure is a touring theatre company based in Hackney, East London, operating under the creative leadership of disabled artist Julie McNamara. The company promotes hidden voices with extraordinary stories to tell.

More info will follow soon, including exclusive blog posts on these new works as they’re developed. In the meantime, we recommend you follow the companies via social media for the latest news:

@Drake_Music and @artsandgardens

  • explore #PlantedSymphony for the latest photos and videos

@VitalXposure and @AAATheatre

For updates on Liberty Festival 2017 follow @LDN_Gov and @GDIFestival

New shows for 2017 supported by Without Walls

Greenwich+Docklands International Festival is a proud member of Without Walls, a consortium of leading arts organisations and festivals dedicated to the development of the UK’s outdoor arts sector.

BLOCK by Motionhouse Dance and NoFit State Circus – a Without Walls show from 2016

We are delighted to share with you details of the new shows supported by Without Walls for nationwide touring in 2017. Several of these companies will be performing at this summer’s Greenwich+Docklands International Festival – more details coming soon! 

Avant Garde Dance – Table Manners
Bootworks Theatre – The Jukeboxes
Cocoloco – Willy & Wally
Company Chameleon – Witness This
Deaf Men Dancing – Corazón a Corazón
Dizzy O’ Dare – Baba Yaga’s House
Horse + Bamboo Theatre in association with Lempen Puppet Theatre – Theatre for One
Humanhood – Orbis
Luke Jerram Ltd – Museum of the Moon
Matthew Harrison – The Actual Reality Arcade
The Thrill Laboratory – VR Playground
Unlimited Theatre – How I Hacked My Way Into Space
Wild N Beets – Bingo Lingo
Wired Aerial Theatre – To Me, To You…

For more information on each of these companies and their new shows click here

Luke Jerram's Museum of the Moon will feature at Greenwich+Docklands International Festival in 2017. More details coming soon.

Luke Jerram’s Museum of the Moon will feature at Greenwich+Docklands International Festival in 2017. More details coming soon.

Find out more about Without Walls

Building my ship – making Sailing Through The Dark by Amelia Cavallo

Two years ago, Liberty Festival commissioned me to make a one woman show under the direction of Paul Evans, a fantastic choreographer, director and performer for NoFit State Circus and his own company, Flying Diplodocus. We called it I Breathe and put everything I love into it. I sang and played music I had written, talked about some of the odder things in my life, made people laugh and got to swing around on a trapeze while singing. Two years on, I was approached by Liberty to make a new show that could be similar to or completely different from I Breathe. I was basically given free reign to create whatever I wanted, a situation that is like gold dust in the arts community. This being my first time fully in the driver’s seat, I decided quickly that I did not want to do this show alone. I also quickly realized why people hire their friends. Being in the driver’s seat is scary! I am not a general manager and I am normally TERRIBLE at admin, yet here I am managing budgets and tech specs and employers insurance and risk assessments and access requirements… And this is before I get into the rehearsal room.

Amelia Cavallo 3 credit Oliver Cross

I brought in Tina Carter from the get go, because we know each other very well. She was one of the first to teach me how to do aerial, and is to whom I attribute a lot of my skill and my love for the art form. She also choreographed the first aerial show I was in as well as multiple pieces afterwards, AND she is a brilliant performer. I brought in Ben Goffe because he is one of those people that can literally do everything. He sings, he acts, he dances, he plays multiple instruments, he’s an acrobat, he’s a great MC…. And he makes us Oreo brownies. Always a win.

Our first weeks of rehearsals were about working out the aerial and acrobatic sections of the show and figuring out what we wanted to talk about. Liberty is a disability led festival, so how do we address disability if we address it at all? Do I talk about being blind? How does Tina position herself as a non-disabled but also not conventional (older) aerialist?

I started with the music. This is usually my process. I was very inspired by traditional sounding circus music, and old Hollywood musicals which is a bit of a leap from the type of stuff I normally write. It was extremely fun to translate this music onto the instruments Ben and I play and to see where it took the choreography and the story. We ended with an up beat, sassy opening number, a nostalgic ballad akin to something Julie Andrews might sing for my act, a light jazzy dance number for Ben, a clowny circusy number for Tina, and a mash up of everything for the finale.

Amelia Cavallo credit Oliver Cross

Now, at the end of our process, we have made what I would call modern theatrical circus performance. We have an overarching concept/metaphor for the piece that shifts into individual acts for each performer. We decided we are all “sailing on the ship of life” which sounds a bit cheesy, but given that the show is loosely based on old musicals, that didn’t bother any of us. It also gave us tons of imagery to play with physically and lyrically.

One of Tina’s strengths as director/choreographer has been to use the aerial silks as pieces of set or costume. We use the fabric to turn our space into a big top style tent, or to give us comfortable looking seats in the air and on the ground. Tina uses the fabric to accentuate various parts of her body, and I build images of sailing and sea. Tina also has included a lot of what I might call “aerial nerd” choreography. Those who are new to the skill may miss this, but so many of the transitions and moves are not done conventionally. I hope those who know silks go away with at least one moment of, “ohhhh! I didn’t know you could do that move in that way!”

Being a blindy, I was also very keen to make sure audio description was included. This is particularly difficult when working in a physical medium like aerial. You kind of need to know what you are doing in order to know how to describe it! Luckily, Ben and Tina are pros at this meaning the AD came fairly quickly. Some of the AD is included in the lyrics, some of it as asides. All is out loud, proud and integrated without headsets.

As for the dilemma about how to discuss our identify in relation to this particular festival, we just decided to talk about ourselves and things that we go through. Disability does come up in multiple ways, but it’s really about people. It’s a piece that I could see in future having more performers making it even more diverse and exciting. (This may happen in future) Over all, it is a piece that hopefully will bring everyone a bit of joy and laughter, maybe a few tears, and hopefully some good old fashioned entertainment.

Don’t miss the premiere performances of Sailing Through The Dark by Amelia Cavallo
Saturday 3 September
South Lawn, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
2.25pm & 4.55pm
More info here

Enlightenment: Four Years On

Four years ago today, Jenny Sealey and I took our seats in the Stadium control room as the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games began. Professor Stephen Hawking’s opening words from “A Brief History of Time” invited the world to reflect on what “breathes fire into equations”, as a theatrical Big Bang was enacted with a mass volunteer cast of 600 carrying illuminated umbrellas. It was a seismic occasion, launching the most successful Paralympic Games ever held, and watched by a record breaking national TV audience of 11 million people on Channel 4. With the overarching theme of “Enlightenment” the Ceremony placed Paralympians and disabled artists centre stage, culminating in a joyous reinvention of Jerry Herman’s “I am What I am”.

POC by Deck Accessory FLickR Commons 7915695000_540229ecc4_o

POC Ziya Azazi_GettyImages_150952070_small

This week, as the world’s attention turns towards Rio for the fifteenth Paralympic Games, GDF is finalising plans for the 2016 Paralympic Heritage Flame Ceremony, which will be shown on Channel 4 News on 2 September. Supported by a range of partners including Arts Council England and Aylesbury Vale District Council, the Ceremony will tell the story of Stoke Mandeville, the spiritual home of the Paralympic movement.

It was here that in 1948, the Stoke Mandeville Games were first held, thanks to the inspiration of Ludwig Guttmann, a refugee doctor from Nazi Germany, who established a radical programme of rehabilitation for patients with spinal injuries, encompassing, amongst other things, sport. The original 1948 Stoke Mandeville Games took the form of an archery competition between two teams of disabled athletes, but year by year the Games gradually expanded, introducing new sports, international competition and in 1960 evolving into the modern Paralympic Games, which were first held in Rome.

Whilst the Torch Relay for the Olympic Games has always begun with a Ceremony at Mount Olympus, until recently, nothing similar has been in place for the Paralympics. So following the success of the London 2012 Paralympic Games, the International Paralympic Committee decided that for all future Paralympic Games there would be an iteration of the Paralympic Torch Relay at Stoke Mandeville: the place from which the Games originated, providing global recognition that this is the home of the Paralympic movement.

Devised and directed by Bradley Hemmings, the Ceremony is entitled “The Seeds of Diversity” and will reunite many of those who were part of the London 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremony and Cultural Olympiad: Choreography is by Laura Jones from StopGAP Dance company, swaypole performers are from Graeae Theatre Company, visual content has been created by artist Rachel Gadsden working with film makers Draw and Code; and design is by Rebecca Brower, who also designed GDIF’s opening night production this year, “The House”. Music is by BAFTA award winning composer Dan Jones, with narration performed by Nicola Miles Wildin, who played the role of Miranda, alongside Sir Ian McKellen in the 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremony.

“The Seeds of Diversity” also continues in the spirit of 2012 by bringing together a large volunteer cast of disabled and non-disabled people, who have given up their time to be part of the occasion. Volunteers were very much part of the unforgettable, celebratory atmosphere of 2012, so it’s been truly inspiring to be in rehearsals with volunteers once again, bringing together old friends who were cast members from 2012 with new faces from Buckinghamshire and beyond.

heritage flame 2 heritage flame 1

And the inspiration for all this hard work and creativity has been growth, seeds and gardens. The Ceremony imagines that back in 1948 a seed was planted at Stoke Mandeville, which has subsequently gone on to be disseminated across the world. Whilst science was at the heart of the 2012 Ceremony, this time plants and seeds provide the inspiration, reflecting the way in which the Paralympic Games took root from its early post-war beginnings at Stoke Mandeville, to become a global movement, championing enlightening ideas about human diversity and potential.

So, on 29 August, a day to look back and look forward, here’s to everyone who was part of that phenomenal night back in 2012 and looking forward, a special wish to all our cast members and creative team for a fantastic 2016 Ceremony!

Bradley Hemmings 29 August 2016