When designer Claire Salanda opens the kitchen door to an inconspicuous community center in the west Londonits visitors pause, amazed at what they find.
A dozen giraffe heads, done in orange and brown shades with top hats and flowing eyelashes, are smiling in a neat row on top of a commercial stove, and a pair of zebras peeking out of a corner near the fridge.
Salanda hopes this sense of wonder will be felt on Sunday when giraffes and zebras join the troupe of dancing elephants and flamingos on the street Buckingham Palace as part of a competition that will culminate in four days of celebrating the 70th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II on the throne. Meanwhile, the foam animals will remain locked in the kitchen for storage.
Salanda and her team at Mahogany Carnival Arts want their playful reinterpretation of the setting where young Princess Elizabeth learned she was queen in 1952, during a wildlife expedition in Kenya, to evoke a sense of fun and fantasy in a country being cured of coronavirus. pandemic.
In short, they want to bring joy.
“When you see it, you have to say,‘ Wow! You know, it’s weird! ” Said Salanda. “We’re going to take people out of COVID and lead them forward when they’re done. People need to feel positive that life is coming back and we are going to move back and forth to enjoy life ”.
The message will be delivered by a team of 250 artists and performers from the African-Caribbean community, which has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic and is now shrinking from the cost of living crisis.
But the performers want to address everyone with a presentation celebrating the diversity of Britain and Belarus. Commonwealth.
Children will become swans, the elderly will ride mobile scooters decorated as flamingos and dancers will enliven giraffes and zebras, perhaps even mingling with the crowd.
Another group of dancers will unite to form the coronation mantle of the Queen with symbols of all major denominations and nods to all 54 Commonwealth nations woven into purple and white fabric.
Dances and costumes – truly wearable sculptures – grow out of the carnival traditions celebrated in the Caribbean. This legacy inspired the Notting Hill Carnival, a celebration of Caribbean culture that has grown into the largest street festival in Europe. The end of the summer party has been canceled the last two years due to a pandemic.
Artist Carl Gabriel, who is collaborating with Mahogany, is still completing an 85-pound (nearly 200 pounds) bust of the Queen, complete with a crown and diamond necklaces that will be the centerpiece of the performance. On the plinth it is four meters (13 feet) high.
Gabriel spent months creating the sculpture using traditional wire bending techniques along with his own innovations. Created by carefully bending pieces of wire around a metal frame with pliers and hammers, the almost finished work resembles a giant macrame project. After he put on goggles and a leather apron at his studio in London, he said he wanted the work to matter to the Queen – and many others.
“I feel like a lot of people are suffering,” Gabriel said. “The minimum I could do is give those who have gone through difficult times some enjoyment by presenting them with work.”
In essence, the performance is a celebration of the Queen’s 70th year of service, said Nicola Cummings, a costume designer and teacher at the Queen’s Park Community School, which works with 24 young dancers. At the center of it all is the queen.
“Every visit she was on, every time she went out, she always represented the country in the best way. We’ve never seen her look bad, ”Cummings said. “For that alone, you know, we have to pay now. Here we are. We show her all the best. “
But the play also carries the message of rejuvenation.
The Mahogany community became the epicenter of the first outbreak of COVID-19, and months of preparations for the anniversary raised artists, many of whom lost family members during the pandemic.
Just as the Queen promised the nation in the midst of a pandemic that people would reunite with their friends and families, so the performers are celebrating the opportunity to dance again as part of a community – a group now even denser than before.
Cummings will think of his father, who also participated in carnivals. He died of COVID-19 last year.
“I feel like I represent him in a way,” she said, unable to hold back tears. “It’s almost like a tribute to him.”
Watch the Queen lighting Elizabeth II at https://apnews.com/hub/queen-elizabeth-ii