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”.

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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.

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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