Rainbow foam mountains and biodegradable fireflies – Southwark News

Greenwich+Docklands International Festival (GDIF) returns this summer with a bumper 17-day program of family-friendly outdoor installations and live performances spanning a broad spectrum of the arts.

Now in its 27th year, the festival is going heavy on the big, eye-grabbing attractions it was originally known for, after the two pandemic summers forced the team to put together a more demure program and think about durational installations which could run over a number of days.

“We had to change tactics. GDIF used to be a festival that specialized in spectacles 5,000 people might come together to experience for 45 minutes,” recalls Bradley Hemmings, founder and artistic director of the festival.

This year, he’s excited to present a festival more in keeping with his original ambitions, and having also co-directed the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games when they were held in London in 2012, he’s well-versed in orchestrating large-scale phenomena. “We’ve always tried to do those extraordinary, arresting moments people will take away and remember for a long time afterwards,” he says.

Unlike many big wow-factor spectacles that focus entirely on creating surface-level pizzazz, GDIF’s events are ethical, sustainable and firmly rooted in the arts; Bradley and his team carefully choose each company based on their commitment to these principles and an ability to create attractions likely appeal to an audience of all ages.
While local to Greenwich, GDIF has an international outlook: its program of events are created by companies from around the world – something which has been significantly harder to organise, Bradley says, since Brexit.

“I guess we’ve built up knowledge but it’s still a slower and more painstaking experience bringing people across borders. All of those visa and travel arrangements are complicated to make,” he says, but: “London being the most international city in the world is an important value for us and we’ll always fly that flag.”
Every year, the festival runs with an underlying theme, which this year is ‘common ground’.

“Given the times we’re living through, which have been divided and uncertain, we want the festival to [be] a sanctuary where you can find something uplifting and positive, and share common ground with others,” Bradley says.

The 2022 festival was originally due to run under the theme of ‘new beginnings’, “then the invasion of Ukraine took place in February and we realized it was not going to be the right theme,” reflects Bradley. “We landed on ‘common ground’ because it encompasses everything and might be what everybody needs right now.”

While the show-stopper spectacles offer a much-needed dose of escapism, Bradley was keen not to overlook the war in Ukraine, and give Ukrainian artists a platform to tell their story. ‘Discover Ukraine: Bits Destroyed’ (August 26 – 29) offers visitors “an audio-visual spectacular presentation on the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College”.
Not all modifications made for the pandemic have been overturned. In both 2020 and 2021, GDIF’s On Your Doorstep series brought live performance into often overlooked pockets of the borough, including Avery Hill and Abbey Wood, in a bid to dissuade people from traveling into town centers when contagion was rife.

So popular was it with local audiences who otherwise might not have been able to access the festival that the team are bringing it back this year, heading deeper into neighborhoods with circus, theatre, dance and arts events.

Long-running favorite Dancing City (September 10 & 11, Canary Wharf), a celebration of diverse dance from across the world, is also returning with a bumper program of performances.

Keeping the festival free remains integral to the ethos of GDIF. This year, only seven of the events are ticketed and only two of those have a price attached: site-specific theater spectacle ‘Peaceophobia’ (September 7 – 10, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park Multi-Storey Car Park) and Protein dance company’s promenade dance odyssey ‘En Route to Common Ground’ (September 2 – 4, Royal Arsenal Riverside) both cost £10, but even those can be accessed for free by local residents.

“A free festival in the middle of a cost of living crisis, what could be better?,” says Bradley.

GDPR 2022:
the highlights…


A new work by Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde, Spark is a gentle, organic firework display, set to illuminate the sky above the Queen’s House in Greenwich. Inspired by the natural light of fireflies, the installation features thousands of biodegradable lights, which can be marveled at from below. Attendees are encouraged to bring a pillow and a blanket to watch the sky sparkle.

Bradley says: Spark completely reinvents the idea of ​​what a conventional public celebration might look like. Many people might reach for fireworks and pyrotechnics, but [given] our need to be much more environmentally responsible, this allows us to achieve that while also doing something incredibly beautiful. [Visitors] will be mesmerized by the myriad of floating particles above them.

August 26 – 27 | 9pm
The Queens House Lawns, SE10 9JH


First seen at Burning Man festival in America, Peter Hudson’s monumental installation Charon is a 32ft rotating zoetrope mounted with replica human skeletons – a nod to the ferryman in Greek mythology, who would row the recently deceased across the river Styx to the afterlife. Animated at dusk and set dramatically against the fading light, Charon is operated by a team of volunteers – and you can join them.

Bradley says: Charon is an ingenious object encouraging us to reflect on mortality, something it’s important we have the opportunity to do after the times we’ve just lived through.

September 1 – 10 | 8pm
Limmo Peninsula, Royal Docks

Island of Foam: Version XVIII

Fancy seeing Greenwich Peninsula engulfed in rainbow-coloured mountains of foam? German artist Stephanie Lüning makes her UK premiere with Island of Foam, a large-scale installation which will shape-shift and float before finally disappearing.

Bradley says: Like Daan Roosegaarde, Stephanie Lüning has really considered the environment with her installation, which makes arresting use of public space; people won’t be able to forget it.

September 3 – 4 | 6pm
Greenwich Peninsula


One for night owls: this multi-coloured light show sees nature, art and soft robotic technology combine to create enchanting, alluring installations visitors can get up close to and manipulate with their movements.

September 9 & 10 | 8pm
Bethnal Green Gardens

Greenwich Fair

Look forward to an afternoon of family-focused street arts, theatre, circus and interactive installations as GDIF’s much-loved festival rolls into town.
Greenwich+Docklands International Festival (GDIF) runs from August 26 – September 11
with events taking place in various locations. Admission: FREE. www.festival.org/gdif-2022/

August 27 | 1-7pm
Old Royal Naval College
& Cutty Sark Gardens

This article was brought to you from The South Londoner

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