It’s been a challenging three years for London’s leading outdoor arts festival. It was hoping to bounce back to full capacity last year, after heavily adapting its programme for the Covid-shadowed summers of 2020 and 2021. But on 8 September 2022, the death of Queen Elizabeth II saw the festival pulled midway through, losing half its programme and thousands of visitors as the country went into a respectful period of mourning.
Fourth time lucky, then, as it hopes to attract pre-pandemic audience numbers of around 75,000. With our purses being squeezed tighter than ever due to the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, the return of the free, multidisciplinary festival is certainly welcome.
The Air Between Us. Photo: Oliver Crawford
So, what's on the programme this year?
A highlight is likely to be Cygnus (Thursday 31 August – Sunday 3 September) a regatta of 12 illuminated swans performing a poetic ballet on the surface of the Royal Victoria Dock. Another comes from Californian dance troupe Bandaloop, whose Resurgam (Thursday 31 August), meaning 'I shall rise', promises a vertical dance performed on the side of St Paul’s Cathedral.
Ancient Futures (Sunday 27 & Monday 28 August) looks set to be another colourful favourite. Taking over The Moorings in Thamesmead, it might appear like a fluorescent riot, but beneath the costumes, audiences can expect a story-led fusion of West African folklore, fantasy and science fiction, set to new music by the rapper Afrikan Boy.
Beyond the major visual spectacles, GDIF continues to champion International work with a political message. This year, Woman, Life, Freedom! (Saturday 26 August), a world premiere presented by Ameena Hamid Productions, is a rallying cry about the protests in Iran following the suspicious death-in-custody of Mahsa Amini, who was arrested for not wearing the hijab.
Sliding Slope. Photo: Ben Nienhuis
The festival is also keen to promote sustainability and platform work that's raising awareness about the climate crisis. The latter is chiefly explored this year in Sliding Slope (Saturday 2 & Sunday 3 September), a heart-in-mouth spectacle set over a river, where performers cling to the roof of a building submerged in water. It’s inspired by the North Sea Flood of 1953, but it’s also a commentary on rising sea levels and the worsening effects of global warming.
Just one show, The Architect (Wednesday 6 – Sunday 10 September) is ticketed this year (£12pp), and this is because it takes place on a double-decker bus, strictly limiting the audience capacity. Written to coincide with the 30-year anniversary of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, who aspired to become an architect, it’s the brainchild of theatremakers Mojisola Adebayo, Roy Williams and Matthew Xia, with the help of the Actors Touring Company, and takes audiences on a bus tour through south-east London, imagining Stephen’s vision for an alternative city. As ever with GDIF's ticketed events, a number of free seats will be made available to locals.
Bouncing Narratives. Photo: Josh Lake
There are returning favourites too. On Your Doorstep (Wednesday 30 August) will once again bring pockets of the festival deeper into neighbourhoods including Abbey Wood, Deptford, Eltham and Glyndon. Dancing City (Saturday 9 & Sunday 10 September) – practically a festival within the festival with its mini-programme of 12 events celebrating diverse dance from around the world – is also back. Highlights include Bouncing Narratives, Roza Moshtaghi and Shahrzad Malekian’s immersive performance piece, which audiences watch in a shipping container while dancers move above them on a trampoline roof. Another is disabled dancer Joe Powell-Main’s piece with the Royal Ballet, Sleepwalker, which he’ll perform in his wheelchair.
The festival has recently become the first in the UK to be awarded platinum status for access provision thanks to its profiling of deaf and disabled artists. As such, a further highlight comes from Rodney Bell and Chloe Loftus, whose aerial piece The Air Between Us (Saturday 26 August) performed as part of Greenwich Fair, sees the two dancers break down barriers as they take to the air to dance in their wheelchairs.
Acts of hope aplenty, then.
Greenwich and Docklands International Festival (GDIF) is running in locations throughout Greenwich and its surrounding areas from Friday 25 August – Sunday 10 September. Click here for the full programme.
|What||Greenwich and Docklands International Festival 2023|
|Nearest tube||Cutty Sark (underground)|
25 Aug 23 – 10 Sep 23, Times vary depending on event
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|