TfL bid au revoir to a much-loved European arts initiative
Funding commitments will today bring to an end the long-standing joint venture between Transport for London (TfL) and French youth theatre company L'Ecole de Barrage.
Actors from this troupe of young professionals have brought smiles to the faces of Londoners for many years, but today's performances will mark the end of one of the capital's longest running cultural programmes.
TfL's Director of Active Presentation, Heather Kelly, said "We have all enjoyed the antics of L'Ecole de Barrage in our stations, on our buses and across the on-street environment. But key budgetary decisions require us to focus going forward on delivery of The New Improvement Plan for London. And so it is with deep regret that this pioneering cross-Channel exchange must come to an end."
It was in 1977 that L'Ecole de Barrage first brought their unique performance theatre to the UK. Under the leadership of choreographer Françoise Bernard, a group of six French schoolchildren came to London to perform their spontaneous street ballet for the first time. They appeared throughout August in Trafalgar Square, walking in crocodiles and stopping repeatedly to point at the pigeons. Several successful summer seasons were to follow, gradually increasing in scale and scope, until eventually the permanent programme of direct obstruction we know and love today was initiated.
L'Ecole de Barrage's Professeur de Théâtre, Vincent Dubois, said "I first came to London with the group as a schoolboy in 1983. I will never forget the looks of the Britishers as we poured en masse into Tottenham Court Road station. To the untrained eye it may have looked as if we were merely standing around in small groups at the foot of the escalators. In fact we had trained for weeks to shuffle round in small circles and thrust out our rucksacks in as obstructive a manner as possible."
Among the many accolades won by L'Ecole de Barrage are the GLC Youth Medal in 1988, the European Union Harmonisation Award in 1993 and a BAFTA Fellowship in 2001. The latter honour recognised the brilliance of the routine Millennium Redux, in which fifty schoolchildren chased around the newly-opened Westminster station riding the escalators while chanting to one another across the internal void.
Current junior actress, Beatrice Lefebvre, said "I was so excited to be selected for a L'Ecole de Barrage scholarship. The grant from TfL enabled me to take up a year-long residency in the South Kensington area, where my friends and I spent our days riding the number 14 bus into town and back and sticking gum to the seats in geometric patterns. I shall miss being part of the team, and I hope that Londoners will always remember the creative chaos we brought to the capital."
To celebrate the last day of L'Ecole de Barrage in London, a special programme of artistic interventions has been planned. Watch out for the lovable French schoolkids at a point of departure near you.
07.00 Barkingside The team leave their hostel and then leapfrog over the ticket gates 08.00 Oxford Circus The team stand in undulating clusters on the platforms to restrict access 09.00 Baker Street The team sculpt their rucksacks into a heap across half the station entrance 10.00 Charing Cross The team recreate their seminal work, Whirling Crocodile, around Nelson's Column 11:00 Camden Town The team fill a Northern line train with the aroma of steaming noodle trays 12.00 London Bridge The team attend a farewell reception aboard a New Routemaster outside City Hall 13.00 Emirates North Greenwich The team throng the cablecar terminal, inconveniencing nobody 14.00 Bank/Monument The team ride the escalator link, occasionally walking in the correct direction 15.00 King's Cross St Pancras The team demand that passengers tell them the way to Platform 9¾ 16.00 Covent Garden The team create a spontaneous flashmob in the passage leading to the lifts 17.00 Heathrow Terminals 1, 2, 3 The team queue to buy Oystercards in French, and then depart
Notes to Editors:
» Art on the Underground provides a world-class programme of contemporary art that enriches the Tube environment and our customers’ journey experience.
» TfL keeps its art under regular review, working with the London boroughs and other partners to help ensure that services can respond to London's changing aesthetic needs.
» Images of L'Ecole de Barrage in various states of excitation are available at www.flickr.com/photos/tflpress/sets/72157642197726734
» L'Ecole de Barrage will continue to work their street magic in other European cities, including Berlin, Amsterdam and Vilnius.
» The money saved by terminating the grant to L'Ecole de Barrage will be sufficient to fund the purchase of six new conductorless buses.
» This press release is not yet available on the new TfL website