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London 2012 Festival Shows Britain’s Artistic Side

American choreographer Elizabeth Streb’s “extreme action” dancers bungee off the Millennium Bridge as part of the …

All eyes will be on London for the 2012 London Olympic Games. But the games themselves aren't the only drama on display: The London 2012 Festival (through Sept. 9, with some parts going through the rest of the year) offers a variety of events to entertain, surprise and delight across Britain.

This three-month celebration of art, culture, comedy, dance, music, fashion, food and heritage offers something for everyone. Most of it costs nothing to attend, and even if you can't make it to London in person, you can experience some of it via the Internet. From a giant map of Britain made out of cake to circus-styled extreme dance performances on the sides of buildings, London Festival 2012 has already brought some fun and fascinating events to the fore. But before you lament missing out on getting your slice of the excitement — and the map cake — there is still plenty to look forward to.

On now at the National Portrait Gallery is a series entitled BT road to 2012 (through Sept. 23), the culmination of a three-year project documenting the efforts involved in bringing the games to life. Individuals featured include Olympic and Paralympic athletes as well as business and political movers and shakers, high-profile celebrities such as Stella McCartney, and local residents and others working behind the scenes to make the London 2012 games a reality.

Outdoor dance classes for the masses will be held at Bournemouth Pavilion Dance; the Big Dancing Terraces happen every Friday till the end of August. All levels of experience and skill are encouraged, and each week will feature a new style — from Bollywood to salsa, from funk to 1940s social dance.

On the musical front, the festival features an enormous range of concerts, installations and projects, from major concerts featuring international superstars to local talents showcased at one-day events. Three of note:

Nothing Is Set In Stone (through Sept. 9) is part of the Secrets: Hidden London series, exposing lesser-known locations and landscapes in London. In this interactive musical stone installation, visitors can not only hear the work but also touch it.

The A Room for London (through Dec. 31) project is available to all people — whether in London or not — as the results are streamed and broadcast online. Artists, writers and musicians stay in a "one-room architectural installation" above the Thames at London's Southbank Centre for ten days each. There, they will create new works based on the view their temporary abode affords them.

If you're already looking forward to the next summer Olympiad, Rio Occupation London (through Aug. 3)  is for you. It has been underway for weeks, but the best is yet to come. In preparation for the Rio Olympics, artists and collaborators have been occupying streets, stages and venues across London in a cross-cultural extravaganza that culminates in a three-day showcase at the beginning of August at V22 at the Biscuit Factory, one of London's newest gallery/performance/venue spaces. Catch what's left of it before it's gone!

These few items barely scratch the surface of London Festival 2012. Visit http://festival.london2012.com for more information and details of upcoming events. Better yet, visit Britain and just stumble upon some of the most interesting and exciting events of the year.

By Leigh Bryant

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