Olympic Ceremonies: a paean to subsidised art

 Paralympic Opening Ceremony

Paralympic Opening Ceremony – London 2012

Bradley Hemmings, Co-Artistic Director of the Paralympic Opening Ceremony and Artistic Director of Greenwich+Docklands International Festival for the Evening Standard, 10 September 2012

“This time last year, Jenny Sealey and I started to present our ideas for the Paralympic opening ceremony. As we shared the initial concept about “Enlightenment” we were aware of the emotional chord it struck. I remember Boris Johnson’s response when we played Handel’s “Eternal Source of Light Divine” while explaining that this exquisite aria would be sung as Paralympic athletes flew overhead and a theatrical sunrise bathed the stadium in light. After the presentation, he said that this particular moment had moved him to tears, and from that point on we knew we were on the right course.

We wanted to use the idea of the Enlightenment (a term associated with a period in history in which there was a huge outpouring of science, reason, art and new political ideas), to chart an emotional journey. We wanted audiences to come away feeling they had experienced the world in a slightly different light. In this respect we were fortunate that we were both able to draw on our work in Britain’s subsidised theatre sector.

GDIF2012 Prometheus Awakes by Graeae Theatre Company and La Fura dels Baus. Image by Warren King

As artistic director of Graeae, Jenny leads one of the UK’s most enterprising theatre companies that boldly places disabled artists centre stage, while at Greenwich+Docklands International Festival (festival.org) I’ve been responsible for creating outdoor theatre and performing arts events, often at spectacular scale.

At my festival, where the outdoor projects we create are free of charge, everything we’ve achieved has been thanks to the support of the Arts Council and the Royal Borough of Greenwich, without whom there would be no Festival and perhaps a very different vision for the opening ceremony. Graeae is likewise an organisation that has developed its inspiringly accessible work with support from the Arts Council.

GDIF2012 Prometheus Awakes

GDIF2012 Prometheus Awakes by Graeae Theatre Company and La Fura dels Baus. Image by Ray Gibson

The power of subsidised arts resonated across the ceremony: our brilliant designer Jon Bausor is an associate at the RSC; costume designer Moritz Junge has created stunning work for the National Theatre and Royal Opera House; choreographer Kevin Finnan is artistic director of Motionhouse, one of Britain’s most popular dance companies; our Miranda, Nicola Miles-Wildin, has performed with Kazzum and Graeae; and Prospero was played with moving inclusiveness by Sir Ian McKellen, whose distinguished career began at the Nottingham Playhouse, later taking in the National Theatre under Sir Laurence Olivier and the RSC.

So alongside the ceremony’s tale of enlightenment as exemplified by Stephen Hawking, Isaac Newton and the Paralympics, there is another story of enlightenment: a story about the triumphant power of British public arts subsidy. Without that support (which included an inspirational Arts Council-funded training programme for the deaf and disabled professional cast earlier this year) there would have been a less impactful, less resonant ceremony.

Paralympic Opening Ceremony

Paralympic Opening Ceremony - Disability Rights

So we should take a moment, among all the other London 2012 accolades, to thank our amazing Arts Council, local authorities and other arts funders, and remember that this is one story that needs to continue long into the future.”


Paralympic Opening Ceremony – picture gallery


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