Grand Union abroad

Many of Grand Union's activities have been very successfully transferred abroad - performing and facilitating workshops and education programmes in many countries, including Australia, China, Bangladesh, Portugal, France, Ireland, the Netherlands and Turkey. The Grand Union ethos and way of working are much admired all over the world.

                                          FRANCE AND PORTUGAL

An ambitious two-year project under the generic title 'Work in Progress', with the support of the European Union Culture Fund, enabled us to collaborate with partner companies in France and Portugal, . There was much cross-over in terms of ideas, subject matter and content - and of course exchanges of musicians.

Each of the three strands followed a similar pattern - launch event, intermediate performances, workshops, production of a large-scale show; they also shared a common strategy and aim - to recruit young and adult performers from the local communities, and shape an original work around their experience. There were three basic themes - the sea (representing trade and journeys), industry (mining and factories), and textiles (weaving and garment making) - which served to link the three regions, their character and their local history of migration.

Each company therefore produced its own show, which expressed the locality, with its own title:

More information about these events, together with photos and other material, can be found on our separate Work In Progress website. The progress of the project - particularly the development of its music - was chronicled regularly on Tony Haynes's music blog.

Here are some highlights from Mil e Uma Mares, the culminating show in the Portuguese strand of the project:

To wind up the project and highlight its achievements and legacy, we created a two-week programme of workshops and performances across East London that combined music with discussion, on how artists can reflect and respond creatively to the UK's rapidly changing demographic.

We are daily bombarded with statistics about migration, but what does it mean for the arts, what opportunities are offered to migrant and migrant-descended artists and communities, how can we embrace these new audiences, and above all what new, original, imaginative work can be created by, with and for them? But rather than just talk about these questions, we wanted to present some practical examples – and most important of all, identify work that could only be created or imagined in a society shaped by migration.

So we teamed up with our East London neighbours Queen Mary University of London, together with other companies, organisations and venues we are regularly associated with, to produce this programme. Hosted by musicians from the Grand Union Orchestra – who themselves are born and bred into an amazing number of musical traditions worldwide – this series of events presented a range of collaborations (between old and young, amateur and professional) across different cultures. It culminated in an open forum in which people from the worlds of the arts, academia, education and the media could exchange views and share practice – and celebrate our diversity!

Download the full brochure

Read about the background and motivation for the programme.


Grand Union musicians often visit Bangladesh, to perform with local musicians. The spirit of these collaborations is delightfully caught in Bangla Jazz, a short documentary of one of those visits.

For more information about Grand Union's other international projects, click  here.

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