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  • Miles Hedley


Updated: Aug 14

Optimism is a commodity in short supply today as our planet is ravaged by global warming, bloody wars and cruel oppression, so making Acts Of Hope the theme of this year’s Greenwich+Docklands International Festival couldn’t be more relevant. As Charles Dickens once wrote: “Don’t leave off hoping or it’s of no use doing anything. Hope, hope to the last.”


As if to underline the point, GDIF 2023 will be doing an extraordinary amount – scores of events performed by three dozen acts over 17 days which will turn the spotlight of optimism on to  climate change, black lives, political freedom, disability rights and community spirit, to name just a few.


Yet despite the seriousness of the subjects, it will be family-friendly fun and breathtaking spectacle all the way with a deluge of free street theatre, music, dance and circus from around the world, including Norway, Germany, Belgium, France, Germany, USA, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, New Zealand and Iran. There will even be aliens.


The highlights of a programme already packed with highlights include an amazing high-wire act across a town centre, a vertiginous ballet on the walls of St Paul’s cathedral, an emotion-charged but uplifting show that honours the memory of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence and a tribute to the courage of Iranian women who risk their lives to fight persecution.


GDIF opens on a high on 25 August with Open Lines which features Tatiana-Mosio Bongonga in a heart-stopping tightrope walk above General Gordon Square in Woolwich. She will be supported by 12 local community stalwarts who, in a display of cooperation and hope, will hold the cables that keep Tatiana’s rope at maximum tension.


As well as giving GDIF a spectacular launch, the daredevil production by French company Basinga is part of the Woolwich Lates initiative to give local entertainment venues a night-time boost.


The following evening at Stratford Park you can see Woman, Life, Freedom! The three words are the rallying cry of Iranian women who face death or imprisonment by bravely defying an officially sanctioned crackdown on their right to be heard. It promises to be a moving but powerful street theatre experience.


Earlier, Greenwich Fair will fill the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College as well as Cutty Sark Gardens and the town’s royal park with a packed programme of multifarious amusement including aerialists in The Air Between Us, explorations of food and drink culture in Teabreak and Fussy Foodies, hiphop/circus troupe Roll Model, more circus and dance with Exit, acrobatics in Gregarious, robotic creatures in AnimalTroniek, roller skating virtuosi Les Patineurs, street theatre fun with The Scribble Of Imagination, and fashion, dance and lip-synching in Family Catwalk Extravaganza.


Over in the park disabled theatre-maker Julie McNamara presents the immersive A Woven Wake For Midsummer in artist Oliver McDonald’s gorgeous willow arena This Woven O. Other events created by disabled artists include promenade dance work Echoes Within The Earth and Caroline Cardus’s collection of road signs aimed at highlighting disability issues in an artwork entitled The Way Ahead. This was commissioned by GDIF, which is the first UK festival to get a platinum rating for access.


As well as large-scale productions, GDIF also likes to include hyperlocal events in a strand called On Your Doorstep. The first of this year’s quartet is on the 27th when Fussy Foodies and AnimalTroniek swap Greenwich Fair for Passey Place, Eltham.


On the same evening, Afrinauts from outer space touch down in The Moorings, Thamesmead, to invite audiences to join a glorious dance party celebrating West African culture and sci-fi and featuring new music by Woolwich’s own grime star Afrikan Boy. The show, called Ancient Futures, is repeated 24 hours later.


Part 2 of On Your Doorstep is on the 28th at Deptford’s Twinkle Park when you have a second chance to catch Exit and The Scribble Of Imagination. And you can see Part 3 on the 31st when Roll Model reprise their act at Abbey Wood Playground.


The 31st also sees one of GDIF’s greatest ever iconic events at one of Britain’s most iconic buildings, St Paul’s Cathedral. Resurgam – created by Californian company Bandaloop and pictured (top) during a New York show - fuses mid-air dance and architecture and its world premiere coincides with the 300th anniversary of Sir Christopher Wren who also designed the Old Royal College and Royal Observatory in Greenwich.


The word Resurgam, which is inscribed on a carved phoenix in the cathedral, is Latin for “I will rise again” – surely a definition of hope in four short words.


GDIF artistic director Bradley Hemmings said: “Wren’s masterpiece has always stood as an icon of hope for Londoners and the festival is humbled to be delivering this extraordinary site-specific event as a contemporary reflection on the way in which hope can sustain us through difficult times.”


This amazing piece, which is repeated on 1 and 2 September, was jointly commissioned by GDIF and the City of London Corporation as part of its 2023 Bartholomew Fair event.

Meanwhile, downriver at the Royal Victoria Dock from 31 August to 3 September you can marvel at the beauty of Cygnus (above), a water ballet performed by life-sized, illuminated animatronic swans. They are joined on the 2nd and 3rd by Sliding Slope which takes place on the roof of a full-sized, half-submerged house.


Both events, which are presented as part of new arts festival At The Docks as well as GDIF, have been created in response to the climate emergency.


And the weekend isn’t over yet - the final edition of the On Your Doorstep strand takes place on the 2nd when Impact Dance present the eco work Breathe on the basketball court of Plumstead’s Glyndon Estate.


The festival's other great flagship piece this year is The Architect, presented in support of the Stephen Lawrence Day Foundation and co-commissioned by the Actors Touring Company and GDIF. It will take audiences on a double-decker bus-ride in a life-affirming celebration of black lives conceived by ATC artistic director Matthew Xia and a collective of leading black artists such as Mojisola Adebayo, Roy Williams, Bola Agbaje, Dexter Flanders, Vanessa Macauley and XANA.

This new production asks how we create a blueprint for a better future for black Londoners three decades after the senseless racist murder in Eltham of teenager Stephen who had dreamed of becoming an architect one day.


For those unable to join the bus rides there will be a summation of each of the day’s events in the evenings in General Gordon Square.


Two performers, a violin and a never-ending range of outfits make up Pan~//Catwalk, a fusion of fashion, choreography, live music and theatre that challenges the urge to judge. Dutch company Zwermers stage performances at Canary Wharf on the 6th and 7th then reprise the act on the 9th and 10th as part of the ever-popular Dancing City, a veritable treasure trove of delights for dance fans which returns to Canary Wharf after missing a year following the Queen’s death last summer.


Dancing City acts pop up all over the Canary Wharf estate on GDIF’s final weekend. They include the astounding trampolinists of Bouncing Narratives, a Royal Ballet presentation of Sleepwalker with disabled dancer Joe Powell-Main, the pure joy of Vivace, a new take on Indian classical dance with Deva, a meeting of South Asian and contemporary dance in You&Me, able and disabled Candoco performers in I think we should start over, a powerful piece about the black body played out in a treadmill in the shopping mall called simply Tread, a giant Newton’s cradle executive toy in Valse à Newton, an insight into what it means to be a 16-year-old boy in 4 Minutes, six shows by local resident company Casson & Friends entitled Arcade and a gravity-defying mix of dance and acrobatics in Moon.

And if you still want more, an astonishing dance piece called RoZéO (above) is being staged twice daily on the the 9th and 10th at Greenwich Peninsula by three performers perched on swaying poles 10m high.


It all adds up to a truly extraordinary kaleidoscope of hope-inducing, thought-provoking, mind-expanding and, most importantly, fun entertainment. Full details of all the events at



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