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

Stu Mayhew – on photographing GDIF

Hi and welcome to my GDIF2016 photo blog !

My name is Stu Mayhew and I am an amateur photographer based in Greenwich where I help run Aperture Woolwich Photographic Society – one of the oldest camera clubs in the country. I have been photographing the Greenwich +Docklands International Festival for many years now and it’s always an honour to be asked back. In the build up to this year’s event I have been bust charging camera batteries, getting my memory cards sorted, cleaning lenses and dusting off my trusty GDIF Press and Media vest!

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The first event of this year’s GDIF took place at the Queen’s House in a specially commissioned show marking the 400th anniversary of this beautiful building right in the heart of Greenwich. The show consisted of digital projection onto the facia of the building, dance, music and narration by Sir Ian McKellen.

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I arrived at 8PM to allow myself plenty of time to talk to crew and production members about vantage points and so on, as well as to catch up with other GDIF photographers who I only get to see once a year. I spoke with Rebecca Brower, the costumes and scenic designer, and enquired into whether I could shoot the event from a platform on one of the lighting towers. A quick word with one of the riggers and I was up on my lofty perch with a perfect view over the whole crowd and production area. I set up my tripod, got my cameras (I shoot with two, a Canon 5D and a 6D) and watched the crowds gather below me. As dusk fell into night the show began – the front of the Queen’s House transforming in front of our eyes – the projections were amazing and there were dancers and a performance by Sharon D Clarke –  the whole show was transfixing. The finale was a cascade of pyrotechnics with fireworks shooting into the night sky. As smoke drifted over the audience a huge cheer went up and GDIF2016 was under way. I think it was one of the best opening nights of the festival that I can remember.

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Arlene Phillips on You and I Know

Ahead of their performance at Dancing City, legendary choreographer Arlene Phillips shares an insight into working with Candoco Dance Company on this newly commissioned work.

I’m so excited to be working with Candoco dancers Joel Brown and Laura Patay to create a new piece that seeks to play with and disrupt the structure of the love duet.


The wonderful thing about Joel and Laura is their ability as actors as well as dancers. My first day working with them was spent developing the intimacy needed for a love duet and finding ways for them to express their love through dance. During the following rehearsal, we had a breakthrough and they inspired me to go on working through every emotion needed for this piece. Joel and Laura make their bodies work as individuals and together in extraordinary ways.


Love is an emotion we can all identify with and in this duet we will be inviting the audience to explore its complexities and how our daily routines can sometimes shape our relationships.


See You and I Know at Dancing City
Jubilee Plaza (outside Canary Wharf tube station), Canary Wharf, E14
Friday 1 July 13:30 & 18:00
Saturday 2 July 14:35 & 16:40

Watch a Behind the Scenes video

Chloe Loftus Dance: Loneliness and an Act of Strangers

I spent my formative years growing up in New Zealand, a place with plenty of space where people say hello as they pass you and doors are left open. I’ve lived in the UK for 20 years now and I can’t help but notice the steady shrinking of our sense of community, where social engagement is replaced by screen time. George Monbiot refers to it as ’the age of loneliness’ and describes the tragic and sometimes fatal result of this loneliness as seen through increased anxiety, depression and addiction. “Social isolation is as potent a cause of early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness is twice as deadly as obesity.”

Chloe Loftus Dance 'Act of Strangers' (Image 1 - James Merryweather)

It is this lack of interpersonal communication that is inspiring my current work. ‘Act of Strangers’ looks at the potential of the stranger standing next to you and seeks to encourage you to look up and engage with the world. An unexpected conversation and smile from a stranger has the power to shift your mood and lift your spirits.

Outdoor work is wonderful in its ability to access all walks of life so it feels an ideal platform for this work. It’s been a really interesting process developing this work… the challenge of how to deal with a serious subject matter including mental health issues in a way which engages and lifts audiences. Through wonderful directorial support from Gerald Tyler and the physicality of my fellow dancer Hugh Stanier, we have created a work that I believe is touching but also physically dynamic and engaging, hopefully leaving audiences uplifted and inspired.

Chloe Loftus Dance 'Act of Strangers' (Image 2 - James Merryweather)

We’re really looking forward to bringing our work to GDIF.

Cubitt Steps, Canary Wharf
Saturday 2 July | 15:00 & 16:15
More information here

Act of Strangers was commissioned by Articulture and the Wales Outdoor Arts Commissioning Consortium and is touring throughout Summer 2016. For more info see

GDIF2016 Photography Competition

Once again we’ve paired up with to run a competition.

Share your photos from GDIF2016 to be in with a chance of winning some lovely prizes including a Greenwich Food Tour for 2, a family ticket to the ArcelorMittal Orbital in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and a ‘Best of Greenwich’ gift pack with goodies from our friends at Lush Designs, Ben Oakley Gallery, The English Flowerhouse and Oliver Bonas.

The winner will also be invited to GDIF2017 as our Photography Ambassador, with accreditation to attend and photograph all the events across next year’s Festival.

To enter submit your images at
Deadline for submissions is 1 August 2016

Judges to be announced.

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The history of the House

The practice of starting Greenwich and Docklands Festival (GDIF) with an evening spectacular in front of, and incorporating, the Queen’s House is settling into a local tradition – which is entirely appropriate given its centrality, physical and conceptual,  to the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site. This year is even more appropriate than most, since it marks the 400th anniversary of the House’s design by Inigo Jones as what was then an avant-garde Italianate private villa for Anne of Denmark  (wife of James I) between the gardens of the long-vanished Tudor Palace of Greenwich and the Royal Park – which is still much the same in outline though changed in layout. ‘The House’ thus seems a good title for this year’s event on 24 June which – as Bradley Hemmings, Director of GDIF explains is

‘mythic in conception, taking some of its inspiration from Inigo Jones and Geoffrey of Monmouth. We’ve also reflected on the way in which the House originally grew out of the earlier medieval palace, a sort of paradigm of the way in which civilizations come and go, but the House is always there as a shining classical exemplar for all people and all time….We’ve also been very mindful of Inigo Jones’ major role in theatre design and the masque, so have imagined the production as a 21st-century masque with spectacular staging incorporating video mapping , aerial structures and pyrotechnics.’

If previous experience is a guide I’m sure it will be a terrific show but there are some ironies on which to reflect. The first is that the House itself is currently closed and under significant internal refurbishment to mark its quatercentenary and will only reopen in the autumn : this itself will be an eye-opener combining historic renovation  and a much denser rehang of both ‘old master’ artworks and a stronger contemporary element, including an already completed abstract gold-leaf decoration of the ceiling of the Great Hall by Turner Prize-winner Richard Wright. The second is that, even when it does reopen, the nature of the building will still not announce the treasure-house that it is: its beauty externally is austerely classical, giving little away, and also slightly misleadingly ‘Georgian’ given that all the external windows were changed in the early 1700s and (on the ground floor) deepened, from  being leaded traditional casements to the present white-sash form.

queen's house

GDIF launch events are also often said to be taking place ‘in front of the House’, but as originally designed the view towards Romney Road and the Old Royal Naval College was in fact the back: it is the grander, south-facing side with the loggia as a ‘frontispiece in the midst’, to use Inigo Jones’s phrase, which was in fact the original front. It was the establishment of Romney Road and the Naval College (as Greenwich Hospital) in the 1690s that, in effect, turned it round – not least since the perceptual revolution of the 1860s when the fine see-through Victorian railings were installed round both sites: until then both College and Queen’s House grounds had been enclosed by high walls since around 1700, with only a short run of railings to allow a view south from the House to the Park.

This sense of the House as a very private, closed building was no accident. The Park itself was  originally a privileged, enclosed space with only Court access when the House was built and only gradually became more public in the 18th century. This was even truer of the Palace gardens behind (now the NMM grounds)  and the only public access between them was down the high-walled Woolwich road that ran under the House until the 1690s, where the NMM colonnades now stand.


In 1659 the Kent antiquary, Thomas Philipott, called it a ‘House of Delight’ that Queen Henrietta Maria (wife of Charles I) had ‘so finished and furbished, that it far surpasseth all other of that kind in England’. However,  he can only have been repeating popular myth – not something he had seen: for while the early artworks in the House were listed when sold by the Parliamentary regime after the execution of Charles I in 1649,  there are no accounts of what the general interior looked like, apart from a note of how drunken vandalism damaged the long-vanished original marble fireplaces during the Commonwealth period. All from the Stuart era left today are some spectacular ceilings –the timber transomed examples in the  Hall and King’s Presence chamber (which has been new-gilded over brilliant blue in current work), the recently restored painted covings of the  Queen’s Bedchamber, and two fine plasterwork ones in the 1660s Bridge Rooms.

Since the House’s major 1980s refurbishment by the National Maritime Museum, its greater use for school-level education work has seen ‘learning’ staff occasionally indulge in wish-fulfilment to make it more interesting for children by saying it was a place where Henrietta Maria enjoyed masques, or music and dancing: the last may be true, but only in the most private way by an elite small group around the queen in the very brief periods she was there between about 1638 and 1643. ‘Marketeers’ have also tended to embroider inconvenient blanks more elaborately to sell the Great Hall’s attraction for corporate hospitality, as a place where the queen held wild royal parties – of which there is no evidence or likelihood whatever.

In fact the real entertainment places at Greenwich in the 16th and early 17th centuries were not the various queens’ entirely private quarters, including the House as the sole surviving element from them, but the Great Hall of the old Palace – whose foundations lie under the Grand Square of the College – and the long Banqueting and Disguising Houses (the latter for masques etc) which Henry VIII built in 1523-4. These flanked his tiltyard (tournament field) which comprised the entire eastern side of the NMM grounds north of the east colonnade, on a north-south line parallel with the central roadway to the House and just east of it. Many of those watching ‘The House’ at GDIF this week will be standing or sitting no more than about a eighteen inches above their substantial remaining foundations beneath the Museum lawns. Both were built for the reception of a French embassy of 1524, and the Disguising House – decorated originally by Hans Holbein- may last have been used for a children’s masque before Anne of Denmark in 1614, while Inigo Jones was in Italy gaining the knowledge of Roman and Palladian architecture that enabled him to design the Queen’s House for her in 1616, on his return.

And then there is what happened in the tiltyard itself, especially under Henry VIII, which was where the really large-scale extravaganzas took place, as during the visit to Greenwich of the Emperor Charles V in 1522:

‘The Wednesday, the more to do the Emperor pleasure, was prepared a joust royal: on the one part was the King, the Earl of Devonshire and  ten more companions, all mounted on horseback; their apparel and tabards were of rich cloth of gold, embroidered with silver letters, very rich, with great plumes on their heads. This company took the field, and rode about the tilt [barrier]: then entered the Duke of Suffolk, and the Marquis of Dorset, and  ten with them … and their apparel was russet velvet, embroidered with sundry knots and ribbons  of gold. The Emperor and the Queen [Catherine of Aragon], with all the nobles stood in the [tiltyard] gallery, to behold the doings. The King ran at the Duke of Suffolk  eight  courses [with the lance], and at every one broke his spear, Then every man ran his courses and that done, all ran together [as] fast as they could discharge, and when the spears appointed were broken, then they disarmed and went to supper.’ (ed. from Hall’s Chronicle)

In short, while the Queen’s House has  always kept its secrets from the outside while concealing treasure within,  it is the former Palace ground to the north-east which has the history of spectacle, with the House  now as its backdrop as far as the ongoing series of  launch events for GDIF is concerned. So think of that ancient tradition, now revived in modern form, when you come and see ‘The House’ this week, and when you return in the autumn once its doors have reopened on enhanced  riches hidden inside.

Pieter van der Merwe
General Editor at Royal Museums Greenwich , Representative Deputy Lieutenant for Royal Greenwich and an authority on the history of World Heritage Site


The House
presented in association with Royal Museums Greenwich

Friday 24 June, 22:00
Reserved seats on sale £15, £12 concessions BUY NOW
Free standing access on the day

The House is captioned and audio described – more information here
Watch the access video