GDIF has always been influenced by the example of European outdoor festivals. There’s something quintessentially European about the whole proposition of public spaces being creatively disrupted and transformed with free outdoor performances. Towns and cities across Europe have embraced this approach. Travelling to festivals such as the FiraTàrrega (Catalonia’s leading street theatre festival) and Theater op de Markt in Hasselt (Belgian’s biennial outpouring of outdoor arts) I’ve always wanted to bring some of that same spirit of reinventing a familiar public place through theatre (in which these festivals are so versatile) to GDIF.
This year, we’re particularly mindful of the persuasiveness of that European model, as, working in partnership with the European Commission Representation in the UK, GDIF marks the 40th anniversary of Britain joining the then EEC. From what I remember growing up in 1973 there weren’t many street arts festivals around. 40 years on it’s a different story with a huge public appetite for al fresco theatre and performing arts.
I’d like to think that, rather like the Mediterranean diet, the British public have now bought into the idea of free outdoor theatre festivals and so we have a great deal to thank Europe for at GDIF. While the overall festival feel this year will therefore be celebratory, we’ll also be remembering that 2013 is the European year of the Citizen and this is particularly pertinent for us in outdoor theatre, where our focus is on civic/public open space.
I remember attending the inauguration of Weimar’s year as European City of Culture some years ago. It was a freezing night in which snow turned to rain then back into snow: a totally unpromising climate for a major street theatre event. However, the brilliant French company Oposito rose to the challenge, creating an unforgettable parade of mechanical animals.
The animals interacted anarchically with the public (hay descending like confetti). They streamed from the station through the classical streets of the city of Schiller and Goethe before gathering in one of Weimar’s grandest squares (once the site of Nazi rallies) for an extraordinary inclusive open air concert featuring mass percussionists and pyrotechnics. I didn’t think I’d ever see so many percussionists together in one performance again – and then of course we had last year’s Olympic and Paralympic Opening Ceremonies…
For me that Weimar inauguration was the European street theatre model at its best, in which the art, the city and the audience experiencing the occasion became as one. The idea of European citizenship through culture felt palpable that night and I’m keen that we capture some of that spirit again at this year’s post-Olympic GDIF, with its huge range of performances and events of all sorts of scales, from the intimate to the epic. Some performances will explore the “citizenship” idea more explicitly.
For example (remor) from the Majorcan company Res de Res is a show in a rusted metal container in which two dancers create a powerful narrative expressing themes of freedom and imprisonment, whilst the Netherlands based Aardlek’s site-specific production Growth raises questions about our relationship as citizens with nature and the environment.
There will also be large scale spectaculars confronting contemporary themes and challenges facing all Europeans, such as As the World Tipped by Wired Aerial Theatre, a powerful exploration of the impacts of climate change and One Million by Tangled Feet which places the issue of youth unemployment centre stage.
I hope that you’ll enjoy our European 40th anniversary celebrations and I’d like to take this opportunity of heartily thanking the European Commission Representation in the UK and Cultural Attache Jeremy O’Sullivan for their support and inspiration.