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What to see at the Greenwich+Docklands International Festival: our picks of this year’s mega line-up

The Air Between Us (Photo Oliver Crawford)
The Air Between Us (Photo Oliver Crawford)

The 28th edition of South London’s spectacular 17-day free outdoor arts gala, Greenwich+Docklands International Festival (GDIF), begins today.

This year, the line-up is as jam-packed as ever with dance-takeovers, tight-rope walking, a flagship theatrical piece in collaboration with the Stephen Lawrence Day Foundation, thrilling performances, a fair, and immersive productions – all of which are in someway linked to this year’s theme, ‘Acts of Hope’.

With 35 events set to take place in and around the Greenwich area, here is our round-up of some of the top acts not to miss.

Open Lines

The festival will open at 19:00 this evening with a tight-rope walk performance from high-wire walker Tatiana-Mosio Bongonga. It’s set to be a heart-pumping affair as 12 people from the Woolwich area will work together to secure and suspend her ropes.

August 27, General Gordon Square, Woolwich

The Architect

Tickets are now sold out for The Architect, GDIF’s flagship piece. Created by Mojisola Adebayo, Roy Williams and Matthew Xia alongside leading black artists including Vanessa Macauley, XANA, Bola Agbaje and Dexter Flanders, the immersive hour-long show invites its audience onto one of London’s iconic double decker buses.

Created in support of the Stephen Lawrence Day Foundation, the bus will travel around South East London while actors bring to life events, stories and experiences of black Londoners which have taken place over the 24 years following Stephen Lawrence’s murder.

September 6-10, Secret South East London Location

Resurgam

In this eye-boggling piece, dancers will perform on the façade of St Paul’s Cathedral. Californian company BANDALOOP, who have built a reputation for their vertical performances, will scale the iconic building, both dancing and using rock climbing techniques. The piece will celebrate architect Christopher Wren (who died exactly 300 years ago) who designed Greenwich’s Old Royal Naval College and the Royal Observatory.

“We’re thrilled to be able to offer audiences this stunning and timely exploration of the word RESURGAM (I Will Rise) which is inscribed beneath the phoenix carved onto the south transept of St Paul’s,” said GDIF’s artistic director, Bradley Hemmings.

“Sir Christopher 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.”

August 31 to September 2, St Paul’s Cathedral

Ancient Futures (Unlimited Theatre and Upswing)
Ancient Futures (Unlimited Theatre and Upswing)

Ancient Futures

Billed by GDIF as a “dance party”, Ancient Futures promises to be a blast, combining brand new music from Woolwich’s Afrikan Boy, circus performances and storytelling. The show has been created and directed by Vicki Dela Amedume (who was awarded an MBE for her services to circus in 2022) in collaboration with poet Oneness Sankara and will bring together West African folklore and science fiction.

August 27-28, 2pm and 6.30pm, The Moorings, Thamesmead

Woman, Life, Freedom!

Woman, Life, Freedom! – the phrase that became the battlecry of the resistance movement against Iran’s authoritarian regime last summer. This year at DGIF, creative producer Ameena Hamid and an anonymous Iranian artist will bring together live music and protest-theatre to celebrate Iranian culture while showing solidarity with the bravery of the young women and men in Iran.

August 26, 8pm, Stratford Park

Cygnus

In this relaxing performance, 12 life-sized swan statues have been programmed to give a syncronised performance. Taking place after nigtfall, the illuminated birds are set to glide across Royal Victoria Dock, changing colours and creating a peaceful spectacle.

August 31 to September 3, 8.15pm to 11.15pm, Royal Victoria Dock

Bouncing Narratives (Josh Lake)
Bouncing Narratives (Josh Lake)

The Air Between Us

There will be two performances of this standout ariel act taking place during Saturday’s Greenwich Fair (see below). Award-winning disabled artist Rodney Bell and dancerand choreographer Chloe Loftus join each other in the air as they explore harmony and connection.

August 26, 1pm and 5.30pm, Greenwich Park

Dancing City

Travel to the city’s business district to see dance in many of its exciting forms, with 12 performances set to take place in Canary Wharf over one jam-packed weekend. There will be Bouncing Narratives, an immersive performance where a shipping container’s roof is a trampoline – attendees are invited to sit underneath, provoking ideas around perspective, memory and joy. There’ll be a mesmerising treadmill performance drawing attention to the black moving body; and Deva, a performance where a classical Indian dance routine is turned on its head.

There will also be the UK premiere of French show Valse à Newton (Waltz to Newton) which plays with ideas about gravity and space, and Sleepwalker, a performance created by Royal Ballet principals Alexander Campbell and Kristen McNally, starring Royal Ballet alumns, disabled dancer Joe Powell-Main and able-bodied dancer Isabel Lubach.

Septembr 9-10, various locations, Canary Wharf

Deva at Dancing City (Greenwich+Docklands International Festival / handout)
Deva at Dancing City (Greenwich+Docklands International Festival / handout)

Greenwich Fair

Greenwich Fair is back, with dozens of performances taking place throughout the day. There’ll be the return of Les Patineurs, who delighted festival-goers in 2021 with their “battle on roller skates”, Teabreak, a live audio and dance performance all about tea (which you are invited to watch while sipping on tea), acrobatics and more from Flemish choreographer Piet Van Dycke’s team, a fun family catwalk competition, and dance performances from acts such as Echoes Within The Earth.

There will also be an art show supporting disability rights, a joyful food game, and much more.

August 26, Old Royal Naval College, Cutty Sark Gardens and Greenwich Park

RoZéO

In this extraordinary show, three artists will stand on ten metre high poles, making audiences look up to the skies and reflect on the awesomeness of nature. The show has been inspired by nature and hopes to offer “a moment of calm, reflection and wonder”.

September 9-10, Tide Square

On Your Doorstep

Taking place at Abbeywood Park Playground, Glyndon Estate Basketball Court, Deptford’s Twinkle Park and Eltham High Street, On Your Doorstep will be a series of family friendly performances. Expect Hip-Hop, dance acts, circus performances, and theatre shows. The events are unticketed, just show up!

August 27, 28, 31 and September 2, various locations

Greenwich + Docklands International Festival will run from August 25 – September 10 2023. Find out more about GDIF’s entire schedule of upcoming events, plus dates and tickets here