Dance Matters: Let the Games Begin

May 31, 2012

The U.K. dance scene gets in on the Olympic action.



English National Ballet dancers Jennie Harrington and Ruth Brill with players from the London Broncos (formerly Harlequins) Rugby League club at Somerset House. Photo by David Jensen, Courtesy Big Dance.



Dance may not be a competitive sport at the London Olympics this summer, but it is set to play a major supporting role. Both the opening and closing ceremonies will fly the flag for British choreography: Akram Khan will collaborate with Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle on “Isles of Wonder,” the extravaganza that will open the Games on July 27, and Christopher Wheeldon has been asked to create a piece for the Games’ grand finale. The 300 or so dancers taking part will perform after the flame is extinguished, an ultimate flourish the world will be able to see on TV.

In addition, the Cultural Olympiad, a large-scale initiative designed to include the arts in the celebration, features plenty of dance before and during the Olympics. From May to July, Big Dance 2012 has planned thousands of events across the U.K., from performances to workshops, culminating in a flashmob-style event directed by Wayne McGregor, with 2,000 dancers in Trafalgar Square. Meanwhile, Sadler’s Wells and the Barbican, two major venues for dance, are staging a Pina Bausch festival, “World Cities 2012,” with 10 productions danced by her Tanztheater Wuppertal. STREB Extreme Action will also take over the London skyline with a series of gravity-defying performances.

Ballet companies are extending their seasons to join in, too. The Royal Ballet has commissioned seven choreographers, three composers, poets, and visual artists to collaborate on new works inspired by National Gallery paintings for an evening titled Metamorphosis: Titian. English National Ballet, National Dance Company Wales, and Scottish Ballet are teaming up for a mixed bill of new works to be shown in Glasgow, Cardiff, and London. And in a nice touch, Daniel Dolan, a young British dancer currently studying at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, will be one of 8,000 official torchbearers as the Olympic Flame makes its way around the country this spring.