The Olympic torch is fast approaching its final destination today, at a small lakeside town in England called Bowness-on-Windermere. But the end of the line on day 34 is also a place of beginnings: the torch will light the stage, one of five across the UK tonight, to signal the launch of the London 2012 Festival, the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad.
"The Olympics have never been just about sport, it's about people challenging themselves, pushing the boundaries, and that's exactly what this cultural celebration is about," said Julie Tait, from the town's Lakes Alive project, and the organizer of tonight's event.
Like other Cultural Olympiad events, Lakes Alive has staged shows for the last four years, to commemorate the Olympics countdown. Tonight's spectacle features famous French percussionist ensemble Les Commandos Percu, who write the sound of fireworks into their musical score.
"You know, our instruments they go "boom boom," well, so do our fireworks," explained Lisa Trouhilhet, of Commandos Percu."We often perform in front of very large audiences, but this is important because it's about the Olympics. It's going to be a lot of jumps, energy, people…we are even using dancers!"
Apart from Bowness-on-Windemere, four other towns will host their own large-scale events as part of the London 2012 Festival launch, including a Global Truce Countdown concert in Northern Ireland, produced by actor Jude Law, and a concert by Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela in Scotland, which will be broadcast by the BBC.
London 2012 Festival will be the biggest festival the UK has ever seen: three weeks, 25,000 artists, 12,000 events, and 900 venues. The organizers estimate that at least 10 million people will have seen a free event, and millions more will have paid for one.
Ruth Mackenzie, Director of the Cultural Olympiad and London 2012 Festival, said: "When the UK won the bid for the Olympic Games in 2005, we promised to return to an Olympic Games based on the three pillars of sport, art and education. London 2012 Festival showcases the world's greatest artists alongside the stars of the sports world, a once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience to match the once in a lifetime visit of the Olympic Games to the UK."
A series of cultural events to complement Olympics sporting action has been running since 1952. Ten years ago in Barcelona, the Cultural Olympiad became a four-year event.