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  • Miles Hedley


Updated: Aug 5, 2022

Greenwich+Docklands International Festival has always prided itself on responding to contemporary events as well as staging timeless epics. Last year, for example, Covid and Black Lives Matter provoked a string of hard-hitting but beautiful performances. And this year the brutal invasion of Ukraine will be remembered in what promises to be a truly stunning audiovisual show.

Discover Ukraine: Bits Destroyed (above) is a hymn to the war-torn country’s extraordinary millennium-old tradition of mosaics which are currently at risk of extinction from the blitz of Russian bombs and shells. It will be projected on to the façade of the Old Royal Naval College’s Queen Anne building from the first day of this year’s GDIF, 26 August, till the 29th.

The official opening of the free 17-day festival is marked in Greenwich by the UK premiere of Spark (below), a fascinating firefly-inspired creation by Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde who will fill the night air on the 26th and 27th with biodegradable sparks to offer a new take on our love of firework rituals.

Ukraine and the Netherlands are only two of the countries with artists staging installations, dances, events, street arts, circus, theatre and music. Others come from Spain, Germany, Belgium, Italy, France and the US as well as Britain and the multifaceted programme will include 25 premieres.

The theme for 2022 is Common Ground and is designed to underscore the importance of shared values, rituals and togetherness. Artistic director Bradley Hemmings said: “As we emerge from the pandemic, with growing economic challenges at home and terrifying events on our doorstep in Europe, I hope this year’s festival will offer audiences a moment of sanctuary from the anxious times we’ve been living through.”

Fun is always a good antidote to anxiety and there is plenty of that at Greenwich Fair – GDIF’s festival within a festival – with its array of family-friendly performers, stalls and attractions around the Cutty Sark and ORNC on the 27th. The highlights include Christopher Green’s FeelPlay, which gives adults the chance to boost their mental health by enjoying an inflatable playground complete with bouncy castle, and the return of Black Victorians, Jeanefer Jean-Charles’ magnificent dance tribute to 19th century immigrants.

Over in Thamesmead on the 27th and 28th you can listen to local children taking part in a new Fevered Sleep audio work celebrating the imaginative intelligence of kids. And on the 28th and 29th you’ll have the chance to take part in a parkour journey in an interactive event called Follow Me by Belgian company Be Flat. It is one of a number of events with Flemish circus performers at this year’s festival and continues GDIF’s long association with that part of the north-west Europe.

Meanwhile, there are regular hyper-local street arts events in neighbourhoods in both sides of the Thames in east and south-east London from the 28th in the ever-popular strand On Your Doorstep.

September sees no let-up in the originality and epic scale of the festival’s offering. From the 1st to the 10th in the Royal Docks you can enjoy Peter Hudson’s awe-inspiring Charon (above), a 10m-tall kinetic artwork featuring technology created for America’s legendary Burning Man Festival. Each night, volunteers will bring to life the mythological ferryman of Hades as he and his crew of skeletons row the dead across the Styx to the underworld.

For something more ethereal, acclaimed theatre company Graeae offers the premiere of This Woven O, a series of stories and dance within a willow-weave auditorium designed by disabled artist Oliver MacDonald on the Royal Arsenal riverfront in Woolwich. It runs from the 2nd to the 4th.

Also on the 2nd geology, sci-fi and rave culture come together in Geophonic, Gobbledegook Theatre’s guided performance walk on Greenwich Peninsula that tells the stories of the stones we stand on and reveals the sounds that shape our landscape. It will be repeated the following day.

Last summer we had the good fortune to catch Luca Silvestrini’s Protein Dance promenade show En Route as it wound its way from Woolwich Common to the Thames. This year, from the 2nd to the 4th, this wonderful piece is being reworked as En Route To Common Ground, which combines GDIF’s theme with Bradley Hemmings’ stated aim to support local as well as international artists – Protein is based in Woolwich.

Across on Greenwich Peninsula, German artist Stephanie Lüning will unleash a tidal wave of multi-coloured foam on the 3rd and 4th in the immersive Island Of Foam: Version XVIII in what’s described as “a sublime and entrancing transformation of public space”.

In stark contrast, a multi-storey car park in the Olympic Park is the setting for playwright Zia Ahmed’s Peaceophobia, a site specific piece from the 7th to the 10th which explores Islamophobia and the subculture of young Muslim men who find sanctuary and identity through modifying their cars.

As the festival draws to a close, robotics company Air Giants meld nature, art and technology in Unfurl, a surreal installation in Bethnal Green Gardens where the plants reach out to us on the 9th and 10th.

And on the same dates you can enjoy Relaxerette, a carousel of revolving hammocks featuring mindfulness sounds and stories created by Dutch artist Arjan Kruidhof. It will take centre stage at Canning Town’s Rathbone Market.

The final weekend marks the return of the hugely popular and always breathtaking Dancing City among the tower blocks of Canary Wharf. This year’s 12 offerings feature the Royal Ballet’s Kristen McNally, Spanish stilt experts Cia Maduixa and an all-too-timely work about immigrant women and girls called Migrare.

The weekend also sees Tara Theatre present promenade performances in Island Gardens of Final Farewell, an evocationv of pandemic loss, love and resilience by writer Sudha Bhuchar.

GDIF attracted more than 75,000 visitors in 2021 and this year the number is expected to top 80,000. Bradley said: “The growth proves the need for public events and demonstrates a real appetite for shows that bring people together in a common cause.” Full details at

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