With the London 2012 Olympic Games fast approaching, speculation is rife and the question on everyone’s lips is: what will London deliver? We set Donald Hutera the (near impossible) task of answering that question; here’s what he came up with.
‘Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises.’
The above quote is from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a work which has been cited by the Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle as one of the chief sources of inspiration for the Opening Ceremony he’s spearheading for the London 2012 Olympics. The same words will, not incidentally, be inscribed on the 23-tonne harmonically-tuned bell that will ring in the whole event on 27 July.
Staged in the Olympic Stadium in front of a live audience of 80,000 but with an estimated global reach of 4 billion, Boyle’s mega-spectacle is bound to inspire much noise both literally and in the international media. But that’s just what the multitude of arts-related events attached to this gigantic sporting event is meant to do. The Olympic and Paralympic Games are a chance for the UK to trumpet its collective glory as a cultural powerhouse, a shout to the world to sit up and take notice. Aspects of it are also being touted as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for any and everybody in Britain to get up, go out and move. In short, this four-nation isle of ours is going to be full of noise and movement.
High hopes aside, it can also be said that wrapping one’s head around the bulging layers of Britain’s cultural remit this summer is daunting. You might well wonder what’s on the agenda, and just what you might want to see or do. For me the whole thing is like a series of Russian Matryoshka dolls, with the fourth and now nationalised edition of Big Dance (7–15 July) bursting out from within the larger calendar of events known as London 2012 (21 Jun – 9 Sept) which is itself contained inside the Cultural Olympiad.
One can only imagine what sort of bureaucrat-heavy political wheeling and dealing must have gone on to set all of this in motion. Consider Big Dance. Fuelled by a partnership between the Greater London Authority, Arts Council England, the Foundation for Community Dance and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), plus scores of other organisations across the country, this is obviously the most kinetically-focused strand of the entire Olympian shindig. A network of twenty-one ‘hubs’ (including five in London, six in Scotland and one each in Northern Ireland and Wales) is co-ordinating and delivering a diverse programme potentially involving up to 5 million people as participants or spectators.
Plans in London tend to reflect the character and aims of the designated hubs. “That’s part of the magic,” says Big Dance director Jacqueline Rose. “A lot of the programme comes out of the vision and methodologies of the people running each hub.” Priority seems to be given to projects that cater to those who live or work in or near each catchment area. Also, many events and activities are open-air or presented in either ‘hidden’ or iconic locations.
Luca Silvestrini of Protein Dance, for example, has fashioned a performance for a handful of Big Dance Picnics occurring in Greenwich. In the same borough some ‘small is beautiful’ interventions are being devised for a Big Dance Walk set in Oxleas Meadows (15 July). Members of English National Ballet are busy all over the city, including five nights (4–8 July) dancing a new one-act ballet by the Israeli master choreographer Itzik Galili inside a circus tent erected in the grounds of Greenwich’s Old Royal Naval College.
One of many projects kick-started by East London Dance is Leaving Limbo Landing (7 July), in which a cast of six performs in the air, on water and on land in London Fields Park. Siobhan Davies Dance, meanwhile, has set up Your Move, an easy-access online gallery to which we’re all invited to contribute photographic images of everyday movement (people, traffic, birds, etc). And on 5 July, the South Asian dance organisation Akademi transforms the historic 900-year-old interior of Westminster Hall into a site-specific performance space with Maaya, part of a month-long fusion of arts, heritage and media projects called Arts in Parliament. Although the twelve-strong ensemble features two circus artists, at the finale it’s acclaimed bharatanatyam dancer Priyadarsini Govind who will seize the spotlight.
South Asian dance has its place at the Olympics table, although perhaps not enough to satisfy some of the senior members of the sector. Setting off-the-record grumblings aside, there are still high-profile projects such as Shobana Jeyasingh’s TooMortal, a twenty-minute, all-female piece created for presentation in churches in London (28–30 June and 12–14 July) and Worcester (19–21 July). The organisation sampad is responsible for Mandala, in which vast projections of dance will illuminate Birmingham Town Hall (7 Sept) and Nottingham Council House (9 Sept) to the beat of live music from Talvin Singh. And let’s not forget the ‘Britain meets Bollywood’ musical Wah! Wah! Girls, with Gauri Sharma Tripathi as choreographer and dates at Theatre Royal Stratford East (6–29 Sept) following a West End run at the Peacock Theatre.
So, what will the legacy of the Olympics be? Hard to say. I’d apply the same phrase to whatever Boyle and his team of big-shot producers and artists are cooking up for the Opening Ceremony. Only titbits of information have been released (or leaked) to the press, e.g. £80 million as an estimated budget for all four opening/closing events, including those that top and tail the Paralympics.
But all eyes will first and foremost be directed towards the 27 July event. Tradition dictates a parade of flag-bearers and athletes from all competing nations, speeches and the climactic entrance of the Olympic Flame, which ignites the Cauldron and signals the Games’ official commencement. We know, too, that ‘Isles of Wonder’ is the Bard-inspired theme. Everything else is being kept top secret to an almost paranoid degree. Working with fifty dancers (and possibly the only ones being paid for their participation), Akram Khan is definitely one of Boyle’s choreographers. Wayne McGregor, although heavily involved in Big Dance (including directing 1,000 dancers at the free grand finale in Trafalgar Square on 14 July), apparently is not. According to Rajpal Pardesi, manager of Kenrick Sandy’s Olivier-winning Boy Blue Entertainment, anyone taking part professionally has had to sign a non-disclosure agreement that in Sandy’s case is approximately nine pages long.
Bradley Hemmings, Director of the Greenwich and Docklands Festival (from which two major productions are included in London 2012, one featuring Place Prize-winning choreographer Ben Duke as a collaborator), is more forthcoming about what he and Co-Director Jenny Sealey, head of the theatre company Graeae, have up their sleeves for the launch of the Paralympics (29 August). Their overall theme is enlightenment, a notion quite intentionally referencing the historical era during which science and the arts were wedded to ideas about human rights and reason. Helmed by Kevin Finnan of the dance-theatre company Motionhouse, the Paralympics event will also play with concepts of parallel equality in ways that, as Hemmings reveals, “seek to transform perceptions about disabled people not only in the UK, but globally”.
What else is known about the ceremonies generally? Well, a total cast of 15,000 will take part (with 3,000 slotted for the Paralympics). About 900 are students from eighteen primary and seven secondary schools in London, all recruited by Boyle’s entourage. The time commitment must be intense. An adult friend of mine who successfully passed two auditions (first by mainly walking in front of a load of people with clipboards, then miming various sporty moves) claimed she dropped out largely because of what might well have amounted to 100 hours of unpaid rehearsal. The few sessions she did attend were a case of “getting everybody in the right place at the right time. People who pick movement up quickly can get really bored.”
My friend also mentioned the likelihood of “some dancing on pointe” in the closing ceremony, chiming in with a rumour about Darcey Bussell being on tap as “the phoenix of the Flame”. The ballerina’s presence makes sense, given that Kim Gavin, the Royal Ballet-trained dancer who directed Bussell and Katherine Jenkins in their 2008 show Viva La Diva, is overseeing the closing event. Gavin scored Olympic-sized points the following year for his handling of pop group Take That’s record-breaking Circus Stadium Tour.
But all this is speculation. The spectacle will ‘speak’ for itself. I’ll close with a brief encounter of my own. Spotting Boyle in the foyer of the London Coliseum in March, I called out, “Good luck!” And what was his response, given with the broadest of smiles? “I’ll need it!”