London 2012 culture a big hit in Birmingham
On Victoria Square in the centre of Birmingham stands a huge passenger liner. It’s a reminder of the significance of migration in the city’s history. And tonight, after two years of rehearsal, it will come alive as the focal point of The Voyage – a new show featuring song, dance and aerial acrobatics.One of the artistic directors, Patrick Nolan of Sydney-based physical theatre company Legs on the Wall, told me where the idea of the show came from.
“One of the things that becomes very apparent when you’re in Birmingham is the extraordinary mix of cultures that live in the city, and we felt that was a lovely echo of the Olympic Games and the spirit of the Games, which is about a whole load of people coming from all over the world to one city to do things they’ll never do again in their lives.”
Meanwhile, in nearby Symphony Hall, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra is rehearsing Weltethos by composer Jonathan Harvey. Tonight it will be joined by a 250-strong choir for the UK premiere of the piece.
Conductor Ed Gardner explained to me how he thinks the piece encapsulates the spirit of the Olympics.
“There are six big movements, and each one represents one of the great religions of the world and puts it into context of all the others. What this piece does is show the connections between the great world religions and celebrates that and says we’re all based in the same ethic as the title says [World Ethos in English], or a sense of humanity.”
Both events in Birmingham are part of the nationwide launch of the London 2012 Festival.
There are also concerts of classical music in Stirling and pop music in Derry/Londonderry. There’s an interactive art installation in Carmarthen and a pyrotechnic show on Lake Windermere.
But some events in the London 2012 Festival have already opened, such as Tracey Emin’s art exhibition in Margate. And some have even opened and closed, such as the Globe to Globe season of Shakespeare plays in London.
And it’s all left many people confused as to what the launch event is about, what the London 2012 Festival stands for, what it’s got to do with the Cultural Olympiad, and what connection any of it has with the Olympic or Paralympic Games.
Not a single member of the public I asked today in Birmingham was able to correctly define the London 2012 Festival. The official answer is that the Cultural Olympiad is a four-year programme of artistic events which started at the end of the Beijing Games. Its finale is the London 2012 Festival, which starts today – Midsummer’s Day – and runs for 12 weeks until the final day of the Paralympic Games on 9 September.
But most people I chatted to were aware that a vast swelling of cultural activity is accompanying the Games. And most of them were excited and enthused by this – including many who admitted that they aren’t at all interested in sport.
And one thing that made a real impression on me is that they were all happy and proud that some of this cultural activity is going to be focused in Birmingham.
Bearing in mind that so far overall attendance figures for events in the London 2012 Festival have exceeded expectations, it doesn’t seem that confusion over its identity is acting as a barrier to audience engagement.
Which ultimately, for me at least, is far more important than the branding of any umbrella term or festival.
And from what I saw today of rehearsals of both Weltethos and The Voyage, the people of the Midlands are going to love tonight’s launch events in Birmingham.