England the "it" destination of 2012

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LONDON, ENGLAND

Among the statistics I came across while researching the myriad special cultural events taking place in Britain this year, host country for the 2012 Summer Olympics, was the figure "10 million." According to organizers, that is the number of "free opportunities" visitors will have to take part in the 1,000-plus events during the upcoming London 2012 Festival.

Before and during the London Olympic and Paralympic Games (July 27-Aug. 12 and Aug. 29-Sept 9 respectively) "the U.K.’s biggest ever festival," will present a spectacular program of cultural entertainment. Included are commissioned works by some of the finest artists in the worlds of dance, music, theatre, visual arts, film and digital innovation. Starting June 21 and running to Sept. 9 much of it is free. Some highlights:

Les Commandos Percu

The world premiere of a spectacular new show by Les Commandos Percu, the French percussion and pyrotechnic wizards, will be one of the opening events of the London 2012 Festival. On The Night Shift combines musical rhythms and amazing effects, as fireworks dance to a thumping soundtrack. The free event, which follows the arrival of the Olympic Torch at Lake Windermere on June 21, is part of Lakes Alive, a four-year programme of acclaimed inspirational events and festivals taking place across Cumbria.

West End Live

Theatre fans will want to be in Trafalgar Square June 24-25, to experience the best of London’s world-famous musicals for free. West End Live will feature some of musical theatre’s leading names, celebrity guest presenters and the chance to dance along to top show tunes. Off-stage there will be interactive film and cinema exhibitions, a chance to meet iconic children’s characters and family activities hosted by some of London’s most famous museums, galleries and cultural institutions.

Hidden London

Little known spaces across London will turn into venues for a series of cross-cultural events. Highlights include: The Owl and the Pussycat — a floating opera on London’s canals by Monty Python star Terry Jones, Oscar winning composer Anne Dudley and the Royal Opera House. An interactive sound sculpture at Fairlop Water in Redbridge by award-winning composer Mira Calix. A one-of-a-kind performance in three of London’s much loved lidos which will blend the English National Ballet, fashion and film in Like A Fish Out Of Water.

Showtime

In Lords of Lightning, two gladiators wrestle four million volts of electricity. During Close Act: Saurus, the biggest beasts that ever walked the earth return to the 21st century and charge through the crowds with a deafening roar. These are just a few of the performances scheduled during London’s biggest ever outdoor arts festival involving the participation of British and international street artists, musicians, and actors. The shows will take place everywhere from streets to parks and open spaces July 21-Sept. 9.

Pop-up Performances

What’s a party without a few surprises? Keep your eyes peeled for a handful of extraordinary one-off free events around the centre of London that "pop-up" without warning, taking over and transforming some of the capital’s best known landmarks. With a little luck you may stumble on anything from award-winning American choreographer Elizabeth Streb creating daredevil feats of extreme athleticism in icon London spaces, to Mark Rylance’s To Be or Not to Be, in which some of Shakespeare’s most famous characters and most stirring speeches are brought to life, while actors fall into conversation with passers-by.

Big Dance 2012

The U.K.’s biggest ever celebration of dance will feature thousands of events, in all dance styles, in various locations from May 18-July 15. Classes, workshops, courses, performances, flashmobs, have-a-go days, film screenings, photography courses, competitions, world record attempts, dancing in unusual spaces — shops, parks, galleries, shopping centres. Highlights include performances from some of the biggest names in U.K. dance at Suffolk’s Latitude Festival, and Polonaise on the Pier – a community performance along the length of the pier at Southend-on-Sea.

Stroll

A number of free Cultural Trails covering the north, south, east, west and central areas of London, have been created to help visitors discover the best of the capital’s culture from huge 2012 events to small gems. Choose from six unique walking routes across the historic city centre where you may encounter the official Games mascots Mandeville and Wenlock, will bring the trails to life and highlight some great photo opportunities. July 21-Sept. 9.

BT London Live

Who can pass up free entertainment for the whole family? Large screens will show live action of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games at three of London’s most iconic locations: Hyde Park, Victoria Park and Trafalgar Square, where you’ll also be able to try out a range of sports and enjoy live music and entertainment from early morning until late into the evening.

MORE INFO

Check festival.london2012.com.

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