|The Year I Was Born|
Two years ago was a vintage year - two productions from that Festival, Gatz and Ganesh Versus the Third Reich, remain engraved on the memory as truly extraordinary pieces of theatre. It was inspiring that this year's Festival offered the chance to meet Back to Back, the creators of the latter, as they undertook a residency at the V&A. This aspect of LIFT, allowing artists to explore and develop future work in the context of the Festival, is very adventurous and could be really productive. The other company that had a residency this year was Zoukak, with whom we developed This Flesh is Mine in Beirut during 2013. I can bask in a tiny bit of reflected glory.... as it was me who introduced them to Mark Ball. They showed their new piece as work in progress at the end of the residency - and I had the chance to view a run-through the day before. It's going to be a fascinating exploration of the contemporary Middle East in relation to Terror and the West. At the end, I fished Rustom's book out of my bag as a recommendation: it turned out Omar had bought it the day before. Great minds... Just wish they were around for the 1st August!
Among this year's performances, the one that excited me most was The Year I Was Born, a piece from Chile which dealt with how one generation's response to the experience of dictatorship affects the next. The performers were all born under Pinochet - some were children of activists who resisted him, some of more compliant people, some of supporters. None could simply "be themselves" - identity was marked by the parents from the start. One woman had even lost her relationship with her mother because of the performance. It was very resonant with a lot of our ongoing exploration of "Truth and Reconciliation". There's a fascinating discussion you can listen to here.
Other terrific work included Young Jean Lee's The Shipment - with an all-black American cast dissecting race in astonishing ways - and another company that has interested me for some time, but which I've not been able to see before, chelfitsch from Japan, with a very funny and disturbing confrontation with consumerism - Super Premium Soft Double Vanilla Rich. Great title.
Where the Festival didn't seem quite so powerful this time was in the larger scale pieces that were programmed for longer runs. Watching these, I felt much as I did at APAM in February - that I was looking at something globalised and mediatised, at work which could be from anywhere, work aimed at an "international market", and therefore lacking the specifics that are needed to make theatre truly resonant. This even applied to some pieces that were apparently "about" the specific culture they came from, but which in fact packaged and sold something uncomfortably close to a touristy caricature of that culture. There was a clue in some of the programme notes - Mark recalled that he saw a Russian company in New York, chelfitsch and The Shipment in Brussels. Of course, I am far from averse to international touring - we do it ourselves - but I am increasingly wary of work that is specifically addressed to that "market". Somehow our intercultural dialogues have to allow the "inter" without losing the "cultural" specifics. That's why we always try to work closely with overseas partners on the ground, and to make the differences between us central to what we do.
I was thinking this through as the Arts Council's NPO announcements came out. It was a deeply conservative result, which essentially preserved the status quo. "International markets" were a stated priority for ACE, but not international collaboration. It's all about the international as a way of selling British art, of making money. The worst kind of cultural imperialism.