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Posts Tagged ‘London 2012’

With eight days at the paralympics at the beginning of the month, five days housebound at the end of the month and seven shows in-between, there wasn’t much room for ‘the rest’.

Opera

We’d seen both productions in our autumn visit to WNO in Cardiff before – Handel’s Jeptha some years back and Puccini’s La Boheme just 3 months ago. Neither were quite up to their earlier incarnation, but both were well worth re-visiting. Jeptha was never meant to be staged and it is directed by my bête noire Katie Mitchell, but despite that I like the modern war-time staging and the music is simply gorgeous. Robert Murray was excellent in the title role. The La Boheme staging is one of the best, but the new Mimi, Giselle Allen, wasn’t really believable. This was a ‘safe’ visit – the next one is Janacek and Berg and the one after Wagner and a modern one about Wagner, so they should be more challenging!

Ballet

I was persuaded to go to San Francisco Ballet by some visitors, but came out glad I was. The very diverse third mixed programme was a veritable feast. It started with a quirky and camp Mark Morris piece (not his best), then we got a more classical piece (to a lovely Prokofiev symphony), a captivating Japanese dance drama and some more modern dance with a blend of early and contemporary music. It seemed like a very young company which is probably why it all felt exuberant and fresh.

Art 

Another London at Tate Britain was both a superb idea and a brilliantly curated exhibition of B&W photos of London taken by foreign photographers. It included most of the 20th century’s iconic photographers and though it focused a bit too much on ‘grimy poor London’ it was unmissable.

At the Photographers’ Gallery, the annual Deutsche Borse Photography Prize exhibition was the best ever, in particular the images of Ghanaian scavengers and the arty Japanese selection. The new galleries have been improved since they moved in and now provide an excellent space to show these works.

The Korean Eye exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery was one of the best of their recent overseas contemporary art exhibitions with a nice combination of sculpture, installation and painting (yes, painting!). An excellent bonus during this visit was a small but hugely creative exhibition of chess sets by British artists (the usual suspects such as Hirst and Emin). How does this gallery survive without subsidy?

At the ICA, I liked Bruce Nauman’s soundwork Days – you walked through a space where speakers on both sides projected people speaking. Sadly, the rest of the soundworks ‘exhibited’ at the same time were hugely disappointing.

A brilliant trio of exhibitions at the NPG this month with the BP Portrait Prize living up to its reputation, photos of people associated with London 2012 (not just athletes) all over the building and a surprisingly interesting exhibition of pictures and photos of the queen  I’m no monarchist, so enjoyment of the latter was a bit of a shock!

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A link to my web album with the accompanying story below:
London 2012
Aug 9, 2012
by Gareth James
 
It caught my imagination from the moment Jacques Rogge said ‘the games of the 30th Olympiad are awarded to the city of London’. I’m not really a sports fan, but I adore my adopted city and welcoming the world seemed very exciting.

Six years later I was still excited and enthused, applying for Games Maker and London Ambassador roles and Olympics & Paralympics tickets. After impressive interview processes and less impressive ticket application processes, I got roles and tickets for both – a London Ambassador on the South Bank during the last weekend of the Olympics, a morning of Olympic athletics in the stadium, a Games Maker in the Olympic Park for 10 days during the Paralympics and three Paralympics sessions – cycling in the Velodrome, goalball in the copper box and swimming in the Aqua Centre. Turned on to the Orbit by a BBC4 documentary, I added a ticket to go up to complete my London 2012 plans.

There were two sets of training and two sets of uniform and accreditations to collect, but the first perk came before I’d done anything – an invitation to the rehearsal of the Olympic opening ceremony. We didn’t get it all but we got most of it. My front row seat probably wasn’t the best for such a spectacle, but my eyes stayed wide and my mouth stayed open for the whole thing. Brilliantly British and brilliantly bonkers. What a privilege. I even managed to ‘keep the secret’ for four days.

Ten days later I entered the Olympic Park for the second time for the athletics. There were no finals or medals but the atmosphere was terrific and when Team GB ran in the Men’s 4 x 400 relay the place erupted as if it was the final. It was a beautiful day and my walk through the park was glorious. Three iconic permanent buildings – the Stadium, the Velodrome & the Aqua Centre (well, when they take the seating ‘wings’ away) – with The Orbit, superb landscaping, sculptures, gorgeous ‘wild’ flowers everywhere, the River Lea running right through, the copper box with its giant RUN outside and six temporary venues wrapped in pink and blue.

Three days on the South Bank followed, giving advice and information to visitors in a ridiculous pink and plum uniform! A little uneasy at first, I got into my stride as the sun brought out the crowds and people asked questions and stopped to say thanks. Three sunny days and a great spot helped and on the third day we could see and hear the marathon as it made it’s way along the north embankment of the Thames opposite us a few times.

My next view of the Olympic Park was from the air as the flight returning me from ten days in Scotland approached CityAirport with the park on the left. The following morning I was walking through the gates in a more fetching maroon and orange uniform to begin my 10 days in Workforce Operations (a sort of HR) at the north of the park where the Velodrome, BMX Track and Basketball Arena are grouped. The BMX track was not used in the Paralympics and the Velodrome only for four days, but the BBA was busy with basketball then wheelchair rugby. This first day was during ‘the transition’ and walking through the park with no spectators was a unique experience and later, on the way home, full of anticipation and a little bit emotional.

We were ‘behind the scenes’ checking in Games Makers and dishing out meal vouchers, newsletters, quizzes, water and chocolates and answering questions. We got out though, as we researched and wrote stories for the daily newsletter and took it in turns to do ‘chocolate runs’ keeping other volunteers happy whilst catching some of the action. With 8-9 hour shifts and a 3-hour round-trip journey, it was quite exhausting and the social life was shot to pieces, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. The atmosphere in the park was terrific with lots of excited families and school groups, almost everyone with some red white & blue – some outrageously funny.

At the end of the last session in the BBA we were led into the Arena for photos and thanks from the managers and, in a lovely gesture, the losing Canadian wheelchair rugby team stayed on to add their thanks. As we walked out of the park after this, the audience for the closing ceremony was walking in; another emotional moment.

The following afternoon, having persuaded a client to bring forward meeting times, I made it to The Mall to join other volunteers watching the final stage of the Athletes Parade. Another great atmosphere, with us congratulating them and them thanking us.

I think in the end I was glad I was at the Paralympics; it suited my values more. Watching the cool British wheelchair rugby team (a man with a blue mohican and a woman with red hair!) mobbed by kids wanting autographs and photos, crowds in the Velodrome making as much noise as they did in the Olympics and bucketloads of goodwill and warmth all over the place. They crowds were partisan, but they’d cheer the opponents loudly too and if there was no GB presence they’d just adopt another country altogether. They were really cheering the spirit of it all.

When you were in uniform, people would spontaneously come up and say thanks – on the bus, in the theatre and just before the Athletes Parade, a Waterloo station worker came up and asked if he could shake my hand. I can’t remember whether it was the Olympics or the Paralympics now, but that Sydney Eric the Eel moment 12 years ago was repeated in London 2012 as a man from Djibouti came in 7 minutes after the previous runner because he had to finish as he was the only competitor from Djibouti. 80,000 people rose to their feet and cheered as if he was Usain Bolt breaking the world record in the 100 metres.

That was us. GB at its best. Very proud.

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Another trip to Wales, this time to see the National Theatre of Wales ‘mash-up’ of Shakespeare’s play and Brecht’s mid-20th century left-wing spin on it. This one’s in a disused aircraft hangar at RAF St. Athan. It’s extraordinary.

They’ve solved the three great problems of site-specific promenade productions. You have headphones, so you can hear every word. There are two giant screens, so you needn’t miss a thing. You’re not marshalled or herded around, so no distractions built in.

The hangar is divided in two by a double wall so you really do move from Rome to Antium when you walk through the gap. You are the people, so they’re often speaking directly to you; when they’re not, they are in cars & vans (that move) or caravans (that don’t) and you eavesdrop on their conversation on the big screens and through your cans. The play acquires a depth which I’ve never experienced before. The heroic story. The contempt for the people. The loyalty to his mother. The political shenanigans.

You feel like you’re in the middle of events as they unfold. Everything is in black & white like CC TV. This really is happening and you have to decide where you stand. Are you for him or against him? It’s extraordinarily contemporary.

Technically, Mike Pearson & Mike Brooks production is masterly. The combination of live video and personal audio with live dialogue & music is terrific, but it doesn’t get in the way of the dramatic flow of the play – to the contrary, in heightens it. The performances are exceptional too. On a  number of occasions I felt like Coriolanus was looking directly at me, connecting with my inner thoughts; Richard Lynch is outstanding in the tile role. Rhian Morgan as his mother Volumia is superb. Richard Harrington is an excellent Aufidius. In fact, there isn’t a fault in the casting.

I was captivated by this play like I’ve never been before; the staging isn’t a gimmick, it’s a liberation of the story and the text and Coriolanus has never been more compelling or thrilling.

Based on my three visits to NTW, this company is very special indeed; I will be making more 340-mile round-trips – work this good doesn’t happen that often. The undoubted highlight (in English) of the World Shakespeare Festival.

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