Richard Gregory. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Raising up the pavement

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May 23, 2023

Director Richard Gregory has placed several hundred ordinary people on a catwalk. It still touches him.

It’s the fifth time the British artist works with What Is the City but the People?, which is the Festival opening ceremony this year, but the experience is still unique. Just like the people.

The special feature of this stage project is about finding 150 people, and literally presenting them on a catwalk in the middle of the city centre. Here, they’ll just be themselves.

What Is the City but the People? is built out of fragments of lives that might not normally occupy the same space. A very diverse selection of people gather together for an hour on a 60-meter long catwalk. The audience gets to know each person through photographs and short texts about them,’ says the director.

Richard Gregory has been to Bergen several times this spring. He has gone to Fløyen, to Festplassen, thought about which way the catwalk should go, met and discussed with the artistic team. Now, the performance space and all details are nearly ready. The two large video screens will show photographs and short texts, and the participants will walk on the catwalk in the middle. Some alone, some in pairs, some with a four-legged family member, some in larger groups.

“It’s sort of entertaining and can be funny. But also, somehow something about this is a fundamentally moving experience, to see the ordinary people of a city given that kind of platform”

- Richard Gregory, director

‘The project does a lot of things at the same time. It presents you with a reflection of yourself, so you see yourself in the city. But of course, it’s not you, it’s someone else who is up there. And so, at the same time, it gives you an insight into lives which are very different from your own and it enables you to think about who lives in this city and who they are. It also celebrates the diversity, because no matter the city, there’s a diversity of experiences,’ says Gregory.

The first What Is the City but the People? took place in Manchester. The idea came from an artist who didn’t have time to carry out the project, and the idea was as simple as it was short: ‘Put the people on the catwalk.’

‘When I began working with the idea, I watched fashion catwalks, but as dynamic as they are, we wanted another kind of energy. So, at the same time, I spent a lot of time at a square in Manchester called Piccadilly Gardens, watching people float past. And then I realized that what we were trying to do was to raise up the pavement and take that kind of energy of that everyday experience and literally heighten it, make it higher,’ he explains.

“The star of the show is all of them”

- Richard Gregory, director

‘People find it very moving. It’s sort of entertaining and can be funny. But also, somehow something about this is a fundamentally moving experience, to see the ordinary people of a city given that kind of platform.’

What Is the City but the People? has also been held in Utrecht, Recklinghausen, and Munich. In every place, the director works with a set designer and a video designer in addition to a local artistic team. In Bergen, it consists of author Finn Tokvam, content producer Linda Børnes, photographer Thor Brødreskift and composer Gisle Martens Meyer.  

The director has no favorites on the catwalk.

‘The star of the show is all of them. That's really important.’

‘It's a fascinating challenge to go through the process of finding the participants. You're effectively writing with or through real people and who they are, and what their experiences are. The first layer is about perception, which job they do, their experiences, and so on. The next layer is interviewing them, and nine times out of 10 there’s something surprising, and we begin to see lines, themes, and the universally human. An then there’s the complex part, distilling the interview into a short fragment that express something about that individual, but also becomes one of those fragments in the kaleidoscope or the jigsaw that builds the big picture: What is the city?', says Gregory.

See the result at Festplassen Wednesday 24 May. Their Majesties King Harald & Queen Sonja of Norway arrive at 12:05, and the ceremony begins at 12:30.

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