Paralympic Games opening ceremony: Enlightenment, circus spectacle and a fly-past


The first tantalising details of what promises to be a stunning Paralympic Games opening ceremony have been revealed by its two disabled artistic directors.

Jenny Sealey and Bradley Hemmings announced that the theme of the ceremony – to be held in the Olympic Stadium in east London on 29 August – would be “Enlightenment”.

The ambition, said Hemmings, was to “transform the perception of disabled people in this country and beyond this country” with a show that was “both spectacular and deeply human”, while Sealey said they wanted to “to tell a universal narrative about what it is to be human”.

Sealey is artistic director of the disabled-led theatre company Graeae, while Hemmings is director of the Greenwich+Docklands International Festival and also curates and produces Liberty, London’s annual disability arts festival.

Although they were keen to keep many of their plans secret, they did reveal that circus skills – such as static trapeze, rope and pole work – would play a vital part, with disabled performers set to demonstrate their aerial skills during the ceremony on a 35-metre high rig.

The press briefing was held at Circus Space, a former Victorian power station which houses the charity running the UK’s only degree in circus arts.

Circus Space is now hosting an eight-week “boot camp” in circus skills for 50 disabled performers – including dancers, actors, Paralympians and injured members of the armed services – before they join the rehearsals for the opening ceremony.

Another detail revealed in the briefing was that the ceremony would open with a fly-past by Aerobility, a charity which teaches disabled people to fly aeroplanes.

Mike Miller-Smith, the disabled chief executive of the charity, told Disability News Service later that Aerobility was “really, really excited” to be a “key part” of the opening ceremony.

He said he hoped the fly-past would add some “spine-tingling moments” to the event and “showcase what disabled people are capable of”, but that he was “under strict instructions to keep the details under wraps”.

Another major thread running through the ceremony will be the idea of a homecoming, with the Paralympics returning to its spiritual home in the UK.

Hemmings said: “This is the moment when the Paralympics comes home. We all know that homecoming brings tears to the eyes.”

Sealey said the ceremony would describe a journey “towards freedom, democracy and enlightenment”.

The Enlightenment theme links to a period in history – the so-called Age of Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries – when intellectuals began to challenge superstition and intolerance and emphasise the importance of reason.

Hemmings said “Enlightenment” was a “story about empowerment”, and suggested parallels between the fight for American independence, the French revolution, the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage… and the modern-day Disability Discrimination Act.

But he said: “It is not just a history lesson. We are very interested in enlightenment as a process of transforming perception.”

Stephen Daldry, the Oscar-winning film and theatre director and executive producer of the four London 2012 ceremonies, said the intention was to make the opening and closing ceremonies “something the Paralympics have never seen before”.

Lord [Seb] Coe, chair of the London 2012 organising committee LOCOG, announced that, from 19 May, performers and volunteers taking part in all four of the ceremonies – the Olympic and Paralympic opening and closing ceremonies – would be rehearsing on a 44-acre site that was formerly part of the Ford car plant in Dagenham, and will be designed to replicate the performance space in the Olympic Stadium.

3 May 2012

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