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Barbican celebrates 35th Anniversary

Theatre news

ON MARCH 3, 2017, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jude Law, Jarvis Cocker, Fiona Shaw, Gustavo Dudamel, Steve Reich, Zandra Rhodes, Laurie Anderson, Ballet Black and Joyce DiDonato joined fellow world-class artists along with the Lord Mayor, Andrew Parmley, and the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, in celebrating the Barbican’s 35th Anniversary.

To mark the occasion, the leading international arts centre is launching a digital collection of 35 of its cultural ‘Firsts’ from the last three and a half decades, accompanied by a short essay from Cerys Matthews on the power of art.

Consisting of pioneering events selected from the Barbican’s boundary-pushing heritage, the ‘Firsts’ demonstrate the impact of the Centre on the UK’s cultural landscape and represent all of the Barbican’s art forms – music, theatre, dance, visual arts and film – as well as its creative learning programme.

They include the world premiere of Les Misérables (1985) – now the world’s longest running musical; Grayson Perry’s first show in a UK public gallery (2002), programmed a year before he won the Turner Prize in 2003; the UK premiere of Robert Wilson and Philip Glass’ Einstein on the Beach (2012) – widely credited as one of the greatest artistic achievements of the 20th century; and Britain’s first comprehensive retrospective of Woody Allen films (1984).

London’s first silent disco was programmed by the Barbican in 2001 – in its conservatory with Aphex Twin – and the arts centre has also given 40 zebra finches their first experience of playing electric guitars in public (Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, 2010), and the UK public its first (and only) opportunity to control the rain (Random International: Rain Room, 2012-13).

Declared a ‘modern wonder of the world’ by The Queen when she opened the Centre on March 3, 1982, the iconic Brutalist building plays host to almost 4,000 arts and learning events every year for an annual audience of 1.1 million. The City of London Corporation is the founder and principal funder of the Barbican and the Centre’s international focus attracts audiences from around the globe. In 2015/16, people from 91 different countries booked tickets at the Barbican.

More than 30 years ago, in 1985, the Barbican staged Britain’s largest-ever festival of Japanese culture Toki: Tradition in Japan Today. It went on to introduce the capital and the country to the rich and – at the time – often little-known artistic bounty of Scandinavia, Iceland and Finland with the UK’s first major celebration of Nordic culture Tender is the North (1992).

In 1998, it launched the world’s most comprehensive celebration of American culture, Inventing America, which, over the course of the year, featured more than 50 contemporary and 40 classical music concerts (including eight premieres), 19 art exhibitions, nine specialist film seasons, over 150 film screenings, 12 productions of theatre, opera, drama and dance (including 11 UK premieres) with 140 performances, 19 talks, five themed weekends, and an opening event starring an Elvis Presley impersonator, 30 customised Harley-Davidsons and an array of cheerleaders.

In addition to bringing the best of international arts to the UK, the Barbican produces touring exhibitions to travel the globe. These include Game On, the first major international exhibition to explore the vibrant history and culture of computer games. First developed in 2001, it has now been seen by 3,640,105 people worldwide.

The Barbican continues to present a diverse range of cultural ‘Firsts’. Forthcoming highlights from the 2017 programme include Basquiat: Boom for Real, the UK’s first large-scale exhibition of art prodigy Jean-Michel Basquiat (September 21, 2017 to January 28, 2018); the world premiere of Obsession starring Jude Law and directed by Ivo van Hove (April 19 to May 20, 2017); What London Watches: Ten Films That Shook Our World (April 6-13, 2017) – the first time that Londoners have been asked not only which films have changed their world, but will also have the opportunity to see a selection of London’s choices on the big screen; the UK premiere of Room 29 by Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonzales (March 23-25, 2017); and the first symphonic silent ‘disco’.

The Silent Symphony will take place on the Barbican’s sculpture court and relay Sir Simon Rattle’s inaugural concert as the London Symphony Orchestra’s Music Director (September 14, 2017).

The full set of 35 Barbican Firsts is available here.