‘We’re very excited to be bringing the festival back again, particularly to be able to build on last year’s festival,’ says GDIF founder and artistic director Bradley Hemmings. Sandwiched between the lockdowns and reimagined to accommodate pandemic-related restrictions, GDIF 2020 ran with a ‘hyper-local’ approach. For the first time, it delivered performances in residential neighbourhoods through an initiative titled On Your Doorstep, which is returning again this year.
GDIF remains 'associated with events that are spectacular’, and so in planning the 2021 festival, a key focus for Hemmings was on sourcing a spectacle that would be breathtaking enough to drive audience numbers, but over a sustained period of time to avoid crowds. The answer? Swiss artist Dan Acher’s airborne installation Borealis – more on which below.
Of course, the big elephant in the rehearsal room is the dreaded ping-demic. Should a member of the cast or crew for any one of the productions be asked to isolate, the whole show could be called off. Is there a contingency plan in place should the worst happen?
‘We’re hoping the intensity of this situation might have changed [by the time the festival opens],’ Hemmings admits. ‘We have the advantage of being outdoors and we’re putting a range of measures in place to make sure people feel safe.’
While there’s no strict theme to GDIF, current affairs usually underpin a portion of the material at the festival. Last year, both the virus and Black Lives Matter were prominent issues explored in the productions. The year before, Brexit was a strong undertone.
Underlying the 2021 festival is a message of ‘healing together’, with many of the events celebrating our reconnection with the great outdoors. ‘I think the healing together idea encompsses everything we wanted to do. A lot of that is focusing on the way in which we used the outdoors,’ says Hemmings. ‘During the pandemic, many of us have used the outdoors as a place in which we’ve felt safe,’ he points out. ‘As we emerge from the pandemic, we can reflect on what’s been lost and what to look forward to.’
Highlights to catch at GDIF 2021…
Borealis. Photo: David Solm
When: Friday 27 August - Sunday 5 September; Thursday 9 - Saturday 11 September, 8:30pm
Where: Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich (27 Aug - 5 Sep) & Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich (9 - 11 Sep)
An artificial aurora inspired by the Northern Lights, Borealis by Swiss artist Dan Acher is set to light up the sky each night in vibrant splashes of colour. 'It provides a moment of spectacle, but it’s a durational piece which people can experience over a number of days,' says Hemmings.
We Are Watching
When: Friday 27 - Monday 30 August, 11am - 7pm
Where: Outside the Old Royal Naval College
Another visually captivating installation from Swiss artist Dan Acher, We Are Watching is a giant image of an eye comprising thousands of digital portraits submitted by people from 190 countries around the globe, which is due to be flown on a flag as a powerful message about climate change. After flying above the festival in Greenwich, the flag is travelling to Glasgow to watch over the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26).
De Roovers, Blue Remembered Hills
Blue Remembered Hills
When: Tuesday 7 - Saturday 11 September, 7:30pm
Where: Meet at Abbey Wood Station
Blue Remembered Hills is a promenade, site-specific play by acclaimed theatre company De Roovers, which will take audiences on a journey through a restricted 250-acre site in the Royal Arsenal.
When: Friday 10 September, 8am - 10:30pm; Saturday 11 September, 1pm - 10:30pm
Where: Royal Victoria Gardens in North Woolwich, Royal Docks, and Woolwich Town Centre
As part of the Healing Together programme, visitors can look forward to street theatre, musical performances, cabaret, fire installations and family activities. At the crux of the event is a desire to reunite the two riverside communities, which until the 1960s were joined as the single Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich.
When: Friday 27 August, 7:30pm; Saturday 28 - Monday 30 August, 2pm & 7:30pm
Where: Charlton House & Gardens
Matthew Xia, director of last year’s moving commission 846 Live, has joined forces with playwright Mojisola Adebayo to produce this new play exploring exploitation and ethics in healthcare. The story is inspired by the life of Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman, whose cells were harvested and cultivated without her consent after her death from cervical cancer in 1951.
When: Saturday 4 & Sunday 5 September, 1pm - 5:30pm
Where: Canary Wharf
Back by popular demand and with an extended programme, Dancing City is a two-day dance extravaganza spread across Canary Wharf’s piazzas, parks and waterfronts. Look forward to a dancing circus on a forest of poles, acrobatics, a water spectacle and a juggling routine inspired by American dancer Merce Cunningham.
Requardt & Rosenberg: Future Cargo
When: Friday 3 & Saturday 4 September, 8pm
Where: Meet at Pontoon Dock DLR Station
Future Cargo is the fourth large-scale outdoor dance performance from physical theatre-maker, choreographer and performer Frauka Requardt and performance-maker David Rosenberg. A science-fiction tale, in which a truck arrives from a distant planet containing everything required to colonise Earth, it's set in a shipping container and uses headphones and binaural recordings to allow the audience to listen to the sounds from within the distant interior space which they look upon. It's a comment on globalisation and the need for new beginnings.
When: Tuesday 31 August - Thursday 2 September, 1pm & 6pm; Friday 10 & Saturday 11 September, 2pm & 6pm
Where: City of London (31 Aug - 2 Sep) & Woolwich (10 & 11 Sep)
Black Victorians is a dance performance piece which aims to raise awareness of the often forgotten black presence in pre-Windrush Britain. Inspired by 19th-century studio photographs of black men, women and children, the performance calls attention to previously ‘hidden figures’, challenging historical and contemporary perceptions.
|What||Greenwich and Docklands International Festival 2021|
27 Aug 21 – 11 Sep 21, Performance times vary
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|