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Photograph: Stephen Wright
Photograph: Stephen Wrighth 2020

Everything you need to know about the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival 2020

It’s outside, it’s free and it’s not cancelled!

Alice Saville
Written by
Alice Saville

What does a circus performer do when she’s stuck at home without a crash mat in sight? If it’s Freya Stokka, she turns her flat into a rehearsal studio. ‘My sofa has definitely felt the impact,’ she says. She’s part of Mimbre, a trio of female circus artists who are rehearsing over Zoom ahead of their performance at the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival (GDIF). ‘I miss having them sliding over my face,’ she says, ‘normal people don’t do that! I even looked into performing with cats.’

The trio’s sensory deprivation has inspired their new work ‘To Untouch’, during which they’ll stay at least a metre apart. ‘We’re exploring the spaces between us,’ says Stokka, ‘and how lockdown exposed our need for touch.’

Social-distancing rules have meant that almost all of 2020’s planned theatre festivals have either been scrapped or moved online. But it’s been decided that the GDIF will go ahead, swapping its usual large-scale spectacles for intimate performances that will bring art to unexpected spaces.

Photograph: Luke Jerram
Photograph: Luke Jerram, ‘Gaia’, 2019

Outdoor artist Luke Jerram’s installation ‘In Memoriam’ will respond to the restrictions on funerals by turning a local park into a temporary memorial, where hospital bedsheets will float above the grass like flags. ‘There’s a need for places for people to come together and grieve,’ says Jerram, who explains that the installation will house performances for local NHS workers. ‘After lockdown I feel uncomfortable in enclosed spaces so I wanted to make art for a windy field.’

Jerram developed his installation by spending lockdown dreamily covering his lawn in bedsheets. ‘My wife wasn’t very happy,’ he says. But it was tougher for choreographer Jeanefer Jean-Charles, who’s creating new dance work ‘Black Victorians’. She and her three dancers will have just three days of in-person rehearsal time to answer questions like: ‘How do you perform a duet without touching?’

She’s been inspired by researcher Renée Mussai’s collection of photos of nineteenth-century Black Britons. ‘I wanted to know what these people might say, how they might move,’ says Jean-Charles. They’ll perform in Greenwich’s St George’s Garrison Church which, like her hip-hop-inspired performance, mixes old and new: crumbling old walls and a modern ‘floating’ roof that lets the air run through it. Still, there’s a lingering worry about safety: ‘Word out there is that Black people are more vulnerable to Covid. Am I taking a bigger risk than anyone else? But we’ve talked as adults and we’re going for it. After Black Lives Matter, it’s more important than ever that the true history of Britain is told.’

For Jean-Charles, creating live performance in near-impossible conditions is about transformation: turning a weary neighbourhood into somewhere that’s lit up with flashes of strangeness, magic and silliness. ‘I’m worried I’ll get a bit emotional,’ says Stokka. ‘The fact that people could walk off but choose to stay is precious. And you get kids saying loudly “Is it finished yet?” Which I love.’ 

Prefer to watch performances from your armchair? Here’s how to stream top theatre shows.

And there’s plenty of other fun to be had this August. 

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