Friday, April 18, 2008

Back to Africa

We were asked by a new African Arts organisation, called Aduna, to run a three-day workshop called "Artist Training" at the Africa Centre. I really had very little idea of what this would be like: all I could do was offer my theatre skills and practice, and see where it went. And it was a joy. Unlike Western artists, African performers don't categorise themselves over-much. So, although the room was filled with people calling themselves musicians, or actors, or dancers, or poets, the reality was that they were all creators and performers, and able to encompass a multiplicity of roles within that. So I was able to put a cora in dialogue with poetry, to set naturalistic theatre against dance, to make images with the body. Nobody seemed fazed by anything. And so, very naturally, a ritualised performance form emerged from the workshop, without my having to impose it in any way. As so often recently, I found myself thinking that Africa holds the key to a theatrical future - a form which is not confined by eonomically dictated specialisms, but which arises out of social and spiritual need.

Thinking like this, I went to see the amazing Molora at the good old Barbican. "Molora" is a Xhosa word for "ashes", and the play, which is based on the Oresteia, especially Libation Bearers, is dominated by death and mourning. But, by placing the myth in the context of the Truth and Reconciliation commission, it manages to avoid the inexorable cycle of retribution which Aeschylus postulates, without his dodgy solution of a male-dominated institutional justice. The chorus is fantastic - a group of traditional performers from the Transkei, all but one of them women. With their blankets and their songs, they remind me of the Chorus we created for Dilemma. In fact, I find myself thinking that this production in many ways echoes what we did in that play. The Chorus can still be real in Africa, in a way which is very difficult to find in the fragmented West. The voice of a community is so vital to theatre - and so tricky to articulate.


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When you are taking a look at African culture and the goods that come out of that country, the first thing that you will be struck by is the sheer variety. Whether you are thinking of African fabrics or African musical instruments, you will find that the differences and variations could fill an entire library, so make sure that you take a look around at the regional differences.