Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Song Ru Hi in Consumed - with Zhang Ying on video.  Photo: Richard Davenport
It's been a very remarkable year for Border Crossings.  To start with the headline figures: during 2013, we
 - attracted audiences of 7,425
   and 969 public participants
-  presented 75 performances or exhibition days
   and 127 workshops or participation sessions
-  worked with 121 artists
   and 25 venues
-  travelled to 6 countries
   to involve their artists in our work
-  toured our new piece Consumed
   and presented the third Origins Festival

Consumed was a hugely exciting project for us, bringing our devised work to a new level of sophistication, and really embracing the complexities of working across languages, using new technologies as part of the drama itself.  Working again with Song Ru Hui and Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre, we were able to deepen the collaboration and build on the trust.  The results were very remarkable.  There's a terrific TV documentary about the play in the Chinatown series by Propeller (which broadcasts to over 10 million viewers) - you can see it online at http://propellertv.co.uk/programmes/chinatown.

Origins was also an extraordinary experience, bringing together some of the most important artists in the world today.  It was a huge privilege to host Diane Benson, Victoria Hunt, Trevor Jamieson, Dalisa Pigram and Indigie-Femme in London - as well as the many other indigenous performers, artists and thinkers who gathered here for those rich and invigorating couple of weeks.  What makes the Festival really special is the way it connects international "high art" with the communities of First Nations people living here - and this year was especially exciting in that respect, with both the Samoan and indigenous Mexican communities being featured prominently.  The Day of the Dead event at Rich Mix is something we will never forget!

Origins: The Day of the Dead
It's also been the year in which our Community Engagement work really took off, with Lucy Dunkerley leading participatory projects for young people in schools and community settings across London and in China.  She also began the engagement with Muslim communities that is going to be a key part of our work in the next couple of years.  Back in June, Brian Woolland and I were in Lebanon, working on a new piece called This Flesh is Mine, which we are planning to produce in May.  It's going to be a co-production with Ashtar from Palestine, and has the potential to be a really extraordinary piece of work - bringing home the emotional experience of the contemporary Middle East and galvanising the debates we really need to have around the geopolitics of the region.

Looking back over the wider cultural experience of the year, it seems to me that the arts in general, and theatre in particular, were rather restrained, even conservative.  I know that's not a common view - and of course there's been plenty of "innovation" on show, but it's largely been of the "look at me, aren't I clever?" kind, rather than genuinely seeking out and generating new meaning and significant ideas.  It's the sort of innovation that is generated by insecurity - a competitive, rather than a sustaining approach to art.

There are exceptions, of course.  I hugely admired Sons Without Fathers at the Arcola - Helena Kaut-Howson's response to Chekhov's Platonov, which gave the play an incredibly sharp contemporary edge and banished all thoughts of this writer as wistful and bourgeois.  It was wonderful to see A Season in the Congo performed in London, especially with Chiwetel Ejiofor playing Patrice Lumumba.  Ashtar themselves made a brief visit to Rich Mix, with their piece 48 Minutes for Palestine, directed by Mojisola Adebayo.  But my theatrical highlight of the year was actually a piece I saw in Norway, performed by a Maya theatre company from Guatemala. Oxlajuj B'aqtun by Sotz'il Jay is a staggering performance, deeply rooted in Maya culture and spirituality, made in response to the death of Lisandro Guarcax González, "guide and founder of Sotz’il Jay, who was murdered on the day Oxlajuj B’atz’(Monkey 13) (25th August 2010). Because, as he said: “Nqarayij chi ronojel qasamaj nk’atzin chi nkitamab’ej nk’aj chïk winaqi' ”. We long for all our efforts to be transformed into the knowledge of the other."

This sort of communally created, culturally immersed, deeply felt and politically committed work is exactly what our culture needs at the moment, and it's something we see less and less.  More private and personal cultural forms - the novel, in particular - are very much alive and vital.  But culture in the public arena, where the theatre operates, is being drained of its lifeblood.  A theatre that is forced to justify itself in economic terms, a theatre that is reduced to simplistic pre-conceived social "SMART objectives", a theatre embarrassed by its spiritual role - this is a theatre in terminal decline.  2014 has to be about reasserting the vitality and necessity of the art form - not as something which contributes to economic growth or attracts tourism, not as a luxury which we add on once we've dealt with other needs apparently more basic, but as something which is itself basic to any healthy and dynamic society in its own right.  Survival alone will be an achievement this year - but it's also pointless if we don't survive as something truly necessary: as a space within our darkling work that offers healing and contemplation, regeneration and provocation, energy and light.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Thursday, December 19, 2013


It was quite a year, 1963.  If the BBC is to be believed, the most significant of the 50th anniversaries we've been celebrating was the creation of Doctor Who - but I'm inclined to think that the Kennedy assassination, Martin Luther King's Dream speech, the Cuban missile crisis, the arrival of Nelson Mandela on Robben Island and the Beatles' first LP are all a bit more important.  Not that I want to do down Doctor Who.

Philip Larkin said it was the year that sexual intercourse began.  If so, then some people must have got in a few months ahead, because 1963 was also the year when I first saw the light of day.  Which has made this an important anniversary year for me too.

Of course, looking back over 50 years on Planet Earth does tend to make certain events feel more distant.  Doctor Who certainly seems to have been around for ever.  But so many of the other key moments from that year don't seem distant at all - even to me, who had not consciousness of them at the time.  The Dream speech is a defining moment of the contemporary era - a moment which gave definition and articulacy to so many of the battles over inequality and injustice that are still being fought today.  Back in the summer, I was invited to a commemorative event at the US Embassy, with Jesse Jackson speaking and a broad range of advocates for the UK's diversity agenda in the audience: Shami Chakrabarti and Keith Vaz, and a lot of artists.  It was very clear how present and immediate the speech still felt for all of us.  It's very emphatically of the now.

So my 50th year experience is not the form of middle age I had expected.  I had thought that my past would start to seem more distant, because it was.  In fact, it's seemed rather the opposite.  I've started to think of events before 1963 as closer to me, rather than further away.  If 1963 feels like a year which is still very present, then for my parents, who were young adults then, the war that had ended only 18 years before must have felt very immediate indeed.  And for somebody who in 1963 was the age I am now - the First World War would stand in the same relative historical place that the Dream speech does for me.  So next year's centenary is not really about that conflict receding from us, so much as an awareness that it is not actually that distant - that history is not the foreign country where things are done differently that we explore through our schooling, but rather a very present force, shaping our culture, our political context, our very ways of thinking and modes of being.

I've always known this, of course.  But this year has made it seem very immediate and real.

Friday, December 06, 2013


Some time ago, we ran a long and complex research and development process around the life of Nelson Mandela.  It's still a project which we intend to realise fully - but we won't do it until we know we can do it full justice.  It may still be some time away.  But today it seemed appropriate to share one short lyric from what will one day be a piece of music theatre about the extraordinary, inspirational figure to whom the world has kissed a fond goodbye.

  All things change.  Nothing is.  All things become.
The sunlight's nightly death gives hope of new dawn.
The carcass of the zebra feeds the soil.
The dry veldt is refreshed by sweetening rainfall.

Our deaths are not an end but a beginning:
the voices of our fathers underground
sing softly through the ashes of this burning
and lay a balm upon a gaping wound.

All things change.  Nothing is.  All things become.
Umkhonto we Sizwe must now be born.
Black Pimpernel, Rivonia's first accused,
Robben Island's hushed forebearing Crusoe.