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Canary Wharf: How Dancing City is set to fill the estate with free performances

Greenwich + Docklands International Festival arrives in Canary Wharf for its 28th season

Bouncing Narratives will take place at Canary Riverside

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The Greenwich + Docklands International Festival (GDIF) is set to run from August 25-September 10, 2023, with free performances taking place all over east and south-east London.

It’s a firm fixture in the calendar and celebrates its 28th season this year with founder and artistic director Bradley Hemmings, as ever, at the helm.

Having previewed the wider event in our last issue, our focus now turns to GDIF’s return to Canary Wharf with its regular Dancing City pop-up on the weekend of September 9-10, 2023.

The death of the Queen saw the event cancelled at the last minute in 2022, however, some of the scheduled acts that were set to perform are on the bill again this time around

Read more: Bradley Hemminds talks about GDIF’s wider programme

This year also marks a limited return to contemporary dance performance during the working week, with recent festivals preferring to stick to weekend dates.

Consequently Wharfers will get their first local taste of GDIF on September 6-7, 2023, with Pan~ // Catwalk.

The show may sound like one of Grimes and Elon Musk’s children, but is actually a theatrical dance fashion show promising to challenge “the urge to label or judge others based on how they appear, revealing instead a mind-opening celebration of fluidity and self-expression”.

Pan~ // Catwalk is set to be performed over four dates in Canary Wharf

Performances will take place in Canada Place close to HSBC in the mall at 1.30pm and 4pm on both the weekday and weekend dates.

Audiences can expect multiple, extravagant costume changes over the 40-minute shows.

“We’re really keen to offer the workforce at Canary Wharf a taster of Dancing City,” said Bradley.

“We’d often done that in the past, but the pandemic and one thing and another had got in the way, so it will be really brilliant to bring it back.

“The whole dynamic of Canary Wharf at lunchtime and early evening is buzzy and lovely, so I think it will work really well there.

“It’s an exciting piece and it’s got a real connection to its setting in the mall with a backdrop of retailers and this brilliantly choreographed fashion show where the two performers go through a heavily synchronised series of scores of costume changes in the course of the performance – it should be really fun.”

Joe Powell-Main and The Royal Ballet will perform Sleepwalker following last year’s cancellation

Including Pan~ // Catwalk, the weekend dates will see Canary Wharf host 12 contemporary dance acts in locations including Columbus Courtyard, Westferry Circus, Wren Landing and Water Street on Wood Wharf.

“Because of the death of the Queen, we were unable to proceed with any events on our final weekend last year,” said Bradley.

“So we’re coming back with a fantastic programme this year featuring some of the artists who would have performed in 2022.

“That includes Joe Powell-Main who will become the first disabled dancer to perform with The Royal Ballet in emotionally charged duet Sleepwalker in Columbus Courtyard.

“That will be a real highlight among the really varied programme for the festival as a whole.

Read more: Joe Powell-Main speaks to Wharf Life in 2022

“Personally I’m really excited to see Bouncing Narratives.

“It’s going to be down at Canary Riverside in a shipping container, so some of the audience can actually get inside it and others will watch from the steps that lead down to the Thames.

“The roof of the container is made as a trampoline, so the performance takes place with people underneath it and that will be very special.

“Among the other wonderful shows will be Arcade at Water Street, which takes the form of a series of games that people are invited to take part in.

“There’s also a fantastic piece from two young dancers in their teens called 4 Minutes, which speaks directly to the lived experiences of young people. 

“Both 16-year-olds get four minutes each at Wren Landing to report back on life through dance in a joyful duet.”

These shows are very much the tip of the iceberg, however with the Wharf also hosting Moon, a duet based around a table and two chairs at Wood Wharf’s  Harbour Quay Gardens, Tread, an explosive stunt performance featuring a constantly running treadmill at Crossrail Place and You & Me, a piece telling the story of a same sex relationship through the traditions of kathak dance and cello and tabla music at Westferry Circus.

Wharf Life’s top pick for 2023, however has to be Valse à Newton – a giant Newton’s Cradle that comes complete with acrobats and dancers all set to swing in Montgomery Square.

A blend of physics, daring, gravity, time and space, it should really be something to see.

Find out more about Dancing City and GDIF here 

Read more: How Wharf Wellness is set to fill Canary Wharf with calm

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Canary Wharf: Why Joe Powell-Main is the act to look out for at Dancing City

Weekend dance spectacle returns to the estate as part of Greenwich+Docklands International Festival

Joe Powell-Main will perform with the Royal Ballet at Dancing City
Joe Powell-Main will perform with the Royal Ballet at Dancing City

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Dancing City is back.

One of the regular pillars of the sublime Greenwich + Docklands International Festival (GDIF) will once again take over Canary Wharf for a whole weekend, filling the estate with free shows for all to enjoy. 

Running from 1pm to 6pm on both September 10 and 11, 2022, this year’s outing will see 12 separate companies and artists put on some 22 performances in eight locations. 

Consequently, its 2022 iteration offers the familiar opportunity to both explore the estate on a Saturday and Sunday, while catching some very high quality dance in the process.

While it’s worth aiming to see all of the shows – GDIF has a well deserved reputation for giving a platform to artists of the highest quality – there’s a real buzz around one of this year’s pieces.

Sleepwalker is a collaboration between disabled dancer Joe Powell-Main and the Royal Ballet in a story that has almost as many twists and turns as the choreography.

Born in mid-Wales, Joe began dancing aged five, auditioning for the Royal Ballet School’s junior associate programme, travelling to Birmingham to train every Saturday and going on to perform with the Birmingham Royal Ballet.

“From there, when I was about 10 years old, I auditioned for the Royal Ballet Lower School in Richmond and gained a place there,” said Joe.

“There were dancers competing for a place from all over the world and they only took a dozen girls and boys each year.

“I studied there for about three and a half years, and I was lucky to perform with the Royal Ballet in Nutcracker.”

But then disaster struck – a period of prolonged growth meant Joe developed problems in his left knee that led to surgery and further complications.

Then he was involved in a serious car accident that left him unable to use his left leg, meaning he had to leave the Royal Ballet School.

“That’s when I acquired my disability,” said Joe. “It was a very tough time. Since I was young, I’d poured my heart into dancing.

“My parents had supported me and taken me everywhere. I’d put all my eggs in one basket, and having the rug pulled from under me like that at 14 was not a nice thing.

“What was difficult for me as a child and as a teenager was that I had been very active.

“Then there I was, in a place where I was having difficulty with my physical mobility – it was difficult for me to see what I could do with my life.”

It took some time, but Joe found his way back to dance.

His mother spotted some classes for wheelchair users on a trip to see his ballet teacher sister perform and, although they were in Manchester, the family made things work. 

He spent a few years dancing Latin and ballroom, going on to win competitions before embarking on a performing arts course at college, initially in musical theatre before switching to dance with the encouragement of his teachers.

A degree in dance and performance at the Arden School Of Theatre in Manchester followed during which time he was making efforts to connect with ballet dancers with disabilities on social media.

These endeavours led him to connect with Ballet Cymru in Wales where he first attended a summer school, gained acceptance as an apprentice and joined the main company in 2020.

Joe and Isabel Lubach will perform Sleepwalker four times over two days
Joe and Isabel Lubach will perform Sleepwalker four times over two days

“Because of lockdown, it was a year of waiting, but in 2021 things started opening up and we did some performances of Giselle,” said Joe.

“Then someone reached out to me from the National Lottery to be a part of the ParalympicsGB Homecoming ceremony.

“They also made the decision that it would be cool to reach out to the Royal Ballet, given my connection with them previously and we did a performance last September at Wembley Arena.

“That’s how I became the first dancer in a wheelchair and on crutches to perform with the Royal Ballet and returned to that connection.

“I was asked if I would be interested in doing something for GDIF this year – another collaboration with a company – and luckily the Royal Ballet were really interested in keeping contact going between us and seeing what was possible.”

That has led to Sleepwalker, a piece directed by Royal Ballet principal dancer Alexander Campbell, which explores themes from George Balanchine’s ballet La Sonnambula.

“It’s something people haven’t seen before,” said Joe.

“We started the process of creating the 10-minute piece in March with some research and development. I think there’s a perception, especially with classical ballet that dancers make everything look easy but one of the beauties of this duet is that we’re not afraid of showing the work that’s going on

“I think the audience will have an expectation of what’s coming next, but they really won’t know. Also, because people will be all around us, everyone will view it slightly differently and that’s exciting as well.”

While he acknowledges that his childhood classical training prior to acquiring his disability puts him in an unusual position, Joe hopes his performances and career will serve to inspire companies to embrace greater diversity in the dancers they work with and the programmes they develop, not least so more people can enjoy the benefits of performance.

“While rehearsing, outside of performing, I would classify myself as quite shy,” he said.

“I don’t know what happens but when the music comes on and I’m on stage I gain confidence from somewhere.

“I’m not sure where that comes from, but it’s very enjoyable.

“What’s most important to me is the sound of the music I’m performing to. 

“You can explore the choreography, but when it all comes together, that’s the most exciting thing.

“In front of an audience I’m not the world’s most confident public speaker, but when I’m dancing I can express things through movement – you don’t need words.

“Even if it’s a piece you know well it feels new every time you perform.

“It might be finding something different in the venue or in the movements and I find that really interesting.

“I’ve not been to Canary Wharf before but I’ve seen pictures and I think performing the piece outside will be a big change with people all around us.

“I hope that our audiences for Sleepwalker will have their perceptions of what a classical ballet dancer might look like challenged.

“I also hope they seek out opportunities to see more dancers like me.

“I hope companies will also be more willing to bring disability and classical ballet together – if we can keep an open dialogue, we can tackle anything.” 

  • Sleepwalker will be presented at 1.35pm and 3.55pm on both days of Dancing City at Canary Wharf’s Columbus Courtyard.

DELIVERING THE FESTIVAL

GDIF artistic director Bradley Hemmings
GDIF artistic director Bradley Hemmings

“As always, for Dancing City, we like to make a virtue of the stunning outdoor spaces, piazzas and waterfronts which characterise Canary Wharf,” said GDIF artistic director Bradley Hemmings.

“We’ll be down at Jubilee Plaza, Westferry Circus and Wren Landing, but we’re also trying to explore more spaces on the estate than we have in the past so there will be events at Crossrail Place and at Harbour Quay Gardens at Wood Wharf. 

“It’s an event where you can imagine you’re in a European city with all the squares and open spaces – that’s the spirit of it.

“We all know Italy, Spain, Portugal and France, with their wonderful street cultures and that’s what this part of the festival does for east London.

“This year we have a range of fantastic shows on offer including Migrare by Cia Maduixa, which is presented entirely on stilts as four migrant women fight for a new place to call home.

“Then there’s Four Seasons at Westferry Circus by James Wilton Dance with capoeira, acrobatics, martial arts and classical dance all set to music by Vivaldi.

“There’s new work from the hip hop company AndroidX + MHz called Crowd_Ctrl.

“This integrates movement with a projection screen behind, which will be like watching a choreographed graphic novel at Jubilee Plaza.

“That’s a London premiere. And there are so many other things besides.

“We’re so pleased to be supported by Canary Wharf to fill the estate with companies from the UK and overseas again for 2022.”

Read more: Greenwich+Docklands International Festival is back for 2022

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
Subscribe To Wharf Life