As Birmingham and the West Midlands prepare for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, the Birmingham 2022 Festival is hosting a range of performances, films and visual art installations, all inspired by sport.
Until September 30, the Birmingham Festival 2022 is the biggest cultural celebration ever in the region, as well as one of the biggest cultural programs for the Commonwealth Games in history.
Sports-inspired performances range from an interactive show featuring a robot playing table tennis to a performance featuring basketball players and drummers, and from a piece about women’s cricket to a public art installation reflecting the speed of elite swimmers.
Kicking off this exciting selection of events is a celebration of women’s cricket being part of the Commonwealth Games for the first time. A Thousand Threads (various dates through July 17), from Women and Theatre, explores big themes about the lives and aspirations of women and girls, both on and off the pitch. Developed from research and performed by local women and girls, the shows take place at outdoor venues in Ward End, Edgbaston and Smethwick, with final performances at the Midland Arts Center in July 2022. A self-contained audio experience is also available via podcasts and listening stations.
A beautiful and moving theatrical performance, Precious Emily (July 14 and September 15 – 17) tells how Precious McKenzie, born in apartheid-era South Africa, overcame extraordinary odds to become a Commonwealth weightlifting champion, first for England, then for New Zealand, and how inspirational Emily Campbell from Nottingham is preparing to strike gold in 2022. Internationally acclaimed theater company Stan’s Cafe from Birmingham will collaborate with primary school pupils to create 12 versions of Precious Emily ahead of a gala that will bring together scenes from each school’s production to celebrate the two weightlifting champions.
Johannesburg-based painter and filmmaker Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi, in collaboration with Eastside Projects, presents Equations for a Body at Rest (July 11 – August 8), a multi-site video and multimedia work offering a provocative meditation on the experiences of black athletes in the field of elite sports competition.
Come Bowl With Me (July 23-27) is a fun and interactive outdoor performance by renowned Coventry theater company Talking Birds, celebrating the popular and accessible sport of Lawn Bowls, taking place in Leamington Spa for the Games Commonwealth of Birmingham 2022. The public is invited to join Lorna Bowles, Dwaine Hardball and Roger Rinkwell as they lead you through the sweet joys and fierce competition of this much-loved game. Tensions can rise in the Strictly Come Bowling arena as players vie for the Glitter Bowl trophy.
Gymnasts and musicians feature in Movement Inspired (July 20) directed by Sam Lockyer with accompanying soundtracks by Ed Puddick. These eight short films bring together gymnasts and musicians from the West Midlands to show how gymnastic moves can inspire jazz improvisation and composition. Each film represents one of the eight apparatus used in artistic gymnastics: floor, vault, high bar, parallel bars, uneven bars, rings, pommel horse and balance beam. The screening at Birmingham’s Electric Cinema will be followed by a Q&A.
Robots playing table tennis feature in Anthem Anthem Revolution (July 21 – 24 & 26, July 29 – August 2) – a new interactive show from Tasmanian theater company Terrapin. In Anthem Anthem Revolution, participants compete against a table tennis robot to hear a new national song written by children, an anthem that reflects their hopes and dreams and recorded by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. However, to unlock the anthem, participants must battle an increasingly defensive table tennis robot bent on protecting the ancient national anthem. Commonwealth Games visitors will take over and reveal a new, updated word of the anthem with each successful return, testing their skills and commitment to the children of Tasmania.
Fluitō (July 23 – August 8) is a new immersive outdoor public art installation by Birmingham artist Georgia Tucker. The spectator is invited to enter two large sculptural cubes, placed one inside the other. This world within a world reflects the escapist and meditative experience of swimming while showcasing the incredible speed and agility of elite swimmers, including professional swimmer Michael Gunning. Through immersive sound and an underwater reality experience, Fluitō also shines a light on water inequities in Commonwealth countries and ocean pollution.
Award-winning artist, photographer and filmmaker Ravi Deepres, in collaboration with Film and Video Umbrella, presents Origin (July 28 – August 8): a series of powerful and inspiring films featuring elite athletes and budding youngsters from different cultural backgrounds in Birmingham. Cutting seamlessly between the model and the young athlete as if to suggest they might be the same person, the films examine the idea that anyone can achieve their dreams, regardless of background. Origin depicts the intense psychological and physical preparation of athletes in different fields, and also shows how sport is a vector of unification. The films offer a contemporary take on the idea of the Commonwealth and explore what it means to represent Britain, while questioning its cultural heritages and influences.
Three Birmingham basketball players, three drummers and an electronic musician run, jump, shuffle, bounce and play at the Commonwealth Games 3X3 training ground in Amaechi (July 30 – 31), creating an energetic and sound-rich performance that finds itself in the space between sport and music. This action is frequently intercut with three singers quoting in close harmony the inspiring words of psychologist and former NBA player, John Amaechi, the first basketball player to come out as gay in the very straight world of sports. This gay-led performance is a celebration of sport, teamwork, collaboration, difference and the human spirit, while drawing attention to the challenges faced by gay people in sport and on the status of homosexuals in 35 Commonwealth countries that criminalize homosexuality, 13 of them punish homosexuality with imprisonment or death.
Louisa Davies, Birmingham Festival 2022 Senior Producer, said: “Through many conversations with the artists, it became clear to us how excited they were about the Commonwealth Games context and they immediately saw the opportunity to bring together sport and the arts in exciting ways that engage and involve fans of both.
“The festival program explores many Commonwealth sports, from table tennis to swimming, gymnastics to women’s cricket, with some even featuring professional sportspeople, playing and enjoying the festival program alongside the Games.”
Last month, current Commonwealth squash gold medalist James Willstrop of the England team made his professional stage debut in a new squash play. Outside the Box was played on the glass-walled squash courts at the University of Birmingham and explored the sport’s fascinating origins from a London prison to the mountains of Pakistan, as well as discovering the incredible struggles that players like Maria Toorpakai have crossed over just to be able to play the game.
Elsewhere in the 2022 Birmingham Festival, people from across Birmingham have handcrafted ornate gifts for the 4,600 athletes who will arrive in the city in July. A contemporary craft organisation, Craftspace’s 4600 Gifts (June 30 – July 9) will be presented to the Library of Birmingham before being given as a welcome gift to every athlete taking part in the games.
Birmingham communities will also organize their own events for the festival. The Creative City programme, generously supported by Birmingham City Council, has enabled 107 community groups to organize their own festival events – highlights include a film, Boxer Beats, made by the Rectory Amateur Boxing Club which explores rhythm boxing and an outdoor art installation, Cricket in the Park, made from old cricket bats by the Kings Rise Academy PTFA.
Festival Birmingham 2022 is generously supported by Arts Council England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
For more information visit www.birmingham2022.com/festival