Sunday, September 18, 2005

Meetings with Remarkable Women

Thursday was spent dashing around a rain-sodden London. Coffee (really good coffee, actually) at the offices of LIFT with the new director, Angharad Wyn-Jones. We linked up via email quite soon after she arrived in the job - largely because of our mutual friendship and admiration for Peter Sellars, whose ill-fated tenure at Adelaide was a real indication of what an international arts festival really could be. Angharad is taking on the task of re-launching LIFT after its five-year "enquiry" period, and returning it to a festival form in 2007. Meanwhile she's setting up something called the New Parliament - a portable space for the crucial debates of the moment, which don't get aired in the more tired theatre of Westminster. We talk about the challenges of this, and particularly the problem of finding a ritual which will enable the space to function, without simply aping the rituals of an outmoded political process. This will in itself be a function of the intercultural dialogue she's setting up. She's watched the Orientations video, (and enjoyed it!): we talk about the intimacy required between artists of different cultures to make really deep collaborations happen - the way hosting people in your own home can be a really crucial part of the process (as we did for Lifati and Mahesh, and as Mahesh once did for me).

Dash across town to NYU in London, getting soaked through to the pelt in the process, and spend an hour with Nesta Jones, who's head of Research at Rose Bruford. She had been keen to host the Laboratory there (and was only stopped by other people's rapacity), and we look into doing this properly for the next lot of workshops. The only criticism we had was of the room (no natural light, concrete floor), so a nice studio will be a big help. Nesta's also keen to help with other aspects of research, including getting the interviews for the book I'm planning transcribed. And we talk about the possibility of Dis-Orientations workshopping or even rehearsing in the college, depending on dates. This might well work out. If the workshop were during their Easter break, then it could run into the college's symposium, which might be the ideal atmosphere for a really probing enquiry.

The last meeting of the day is with Alaknanda Samarth. We've been friends for a couple of years, and today she gives me her CV for the first time. It's full of totally amazing reviews for her performances in India and over here - though it's also quite short on credits.... Alak is notoriously selective about her work, so I feel pretty privileged even to get the CV, as well as the video of her Medea (the Heiner Muller version, which she did with the visual artist Nalini Malani). She was a big fan of Orientations (which she said was "like an opera"), and is excited to hear about the plans to move it on. We talk about the crisis of masculinity in the current moment: something of which we both feel horribly aware. What are supposed to be the positive aspects of being male today? I can't think of anything.... Men are supposed to be commended for showing their "feminine side", but the only "male side" we ever see in women is the ladette culture. Surely being a man is more valuable than that? So - there's a road for the play to travel along....

On Wednesday night, I saw a preview of David Edgar's Playing with Fire at the National. No doubt Michael Billington will be writing about the joy of seeing a big, public play on the Olivier stage - but I feel terribly disappointed that this sharp-minded playwright, whose Destiny, Maydays and Pentecost were such sophisticated, humane responses to crises on both left and right, should be defeated by the challenge of the multicultural. Even within white Britain, he manages to caricature Northern people (all nail bars and "Eh up"), and reduce New Labour to glib self-seekers (surely what's disturbing about New Labour is that it started from a genuine desire for a more just and equal society?). Of the Islamic voice, which ought to be at the centre of a play based around the 2001 riots in the North (never mind relevance to the present moment) we hear virtually nothing. We're left thinking that the problem is an internal Labour Party issue - old guard Northerners versus smarmy Southies - which misses the enormity of these events completely.

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