Thursday, October 08, 2009

Canada, the Arctic - Howard Barker

I've been at Canada House quite a lot this week. On Monday, I was talking about Origins at an academic conference on Aboriginal Studies. I think the idea was that I should be a bit of light relief at the end of the day, after all the academic papers. As it turned out, this meant I had very little time available - so I extemporised as best I could, saying I would try to be like a First Nations person and not let the pressure of time get the better of me. I managed to talk about the Theatre and Healing workshop at least, and to make the crucial point that Yves and Catherine had been very generous with the Huron-Wendat culture, and had shown ways forward to people from a very diverse range of backgrounds. This points to the fact that scholars studying indigenous people can't just watch them from the outside, or look at the problems in the society and history in a scientific way. We are implicated in this - and so we need the healing too. So we should be doing more than learning about these people - we should be learning from them.

Tuesday night took me back there to see Atanarjuat - one of the films in the series about the Arctic that Canada House is showing in association with Origins. It's an incredible piece of work: with an entirely Inuit cast and director (Zacharias Kunuk), and in Inuktitut with subtitles. Imagine the organisational feat! But more than that, it is completely a film that emerges from the specific culture and landscape of the Inuit. It doesn't give cultural information as information - you just come to realise certain assumptions and ideas through the narrative itself. So, when a woman commits adultery, the man's wife says to her: "He's your brother-in-law. You're not even supposed to speak to him, never mind sleep with him."

Wednesday night, by way of contrast, takes me to Riverside Studios to see the latest Howard Barker play, presented by The Wrestling School. Chris Corner, the General Manager, is an old friend (he's administered several projects for us), and he's on fine form. In fact, I'm amazed to see from the programme that the Arts Council has cut its funding to this company, and it is now living off a private benefactor. In terms of production values and acting standards, it has done them no harm at all. In fact, the production is probably the finest I've seen from the company. The play itself, Found in the Ground, is very much in the vein of Barker's recent work - clearly about the process of ageing, and the fight to cling on to a sexual energy which goes with that. Barker has always associated sex and death - and he does it particularly violently here. Much of the play feels very ritualised, which is in keeping with its subjects, and turns it towards installation art. But I felt it lost its way when Hitler appeared as a rather benign character, chatting about art, and there were a great many false endings. Still - he is always incredibly brave.

At Riverside, I met up with Susie Self, who is a singer and composer, and was in Nixon in China in Greece. She saw the Re-Orientations showing, and is very excited about it. She's interested in writing music for us, and suggests that she try and do a couple of substitute bits for Re-Orientations, just to see if it works. From such beginnings.....

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