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Honour Bayes: Playing the Games

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It’s always baffled me that there is a Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Just what do culture and sport have in common other than that they can both be bundled, rather bluntly, under ‘entertainment’?

But as one major sporting event after another unfoldeds on our television screens my opinion has changed. Perhaps it’s the BBC’s determination to inject some drama into a frankly damp England performance by quoting Shakespeare at every opportunity. Or perhaps it’s the many performances that are popping up with a direct sporting connection.

The Cultural Olympiad is clearly improving the delivery of the most obvious connection tenfold (culture being the only thing apart from corrupt market finances that we are world leaders in). But in some cases the treats springing up are being enriched themselves by this sporting event.

Some of these have to be put down to canny decision-making and little else; a production of Chariots of Fire in Olympic year? They’ll be running all the way to the bank. But some are showing how brawn can influence the brain for the better.

Would aerialist choreographer Elizabeth Streb be getting such a deserved international platform for her work were it not for such a “collision of gymnastics, parkour, dance and stunts bridging sport and art with muscular grace.”?

And would 30 artists from Rio be invading the Battersea Arts Centre if Brazil were not hosting the Olympics in 2016?

The Rio Occupation sees the BAC become a camp some of South America’s finest contemporary artists. They will be using the arts centre as a jumping-off platform to create work in venues around the capital including the V&A, Southbank Centre and even people’s homes.

Inspired by the Brazilian artists who posed a cultural invasion of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, these ‘occupiers’ are coming to London to start their own journey through to Rio 2016. From their opening weekend this journey promises to be athletic, rigorous and thrilling.

Meanwhile for a much more English vibe The Criterion Theatre, home to the spiffing The 39 Steps, is hosting Playing the Games. This celebration of sporting and cultural talent will involve lunchtime discussions between Olympians and artists including Stephen Fry, Stephen Daldry and Clive Owen.

Fry will also be reading some late night sporting stories alongside Eddie Izzard and Brian Blessed on 10 August, and two new sports-themed plays Taking Part and After the Party will be premiered by Adam Brace and Serge Cartwright during each day.

Last but not least (how British of me) Theatre Delicatessen’s Marylebone Gardens Revival Festival is taking on a distinctly hocky sticks feel during the Olympics. For two weeks a jamboree of arts events will take place including a poetry Olympics, which will possibly provide competition for the Poetry Parnassus. Only time will tell.

It’s exciting to see art being created in response to sport itself, not just facilitated by it. Contemporary dancer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker is right in part when she says:

“…the Olympics, is also about performance, but performance as competition — the quickest, the highest. But that is not what we will see at Tate Modern (where her show Fase: Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich is showing) It will be an invitation to raise questions, not about the performativity of our physicality but how we are as social beings.”

Sport is about competition but I think it can also be about who we are as social beings. Anyone who’s attended a football match or queued outside Wimbledon can attest to its ability to build communities and inspire astonishing investments of faith. Art can also do this, perhaps this is why there’s a department for the promotion of both.


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