Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Juwon, Jeremy, Yasmin and Ben

Xerxes finally opened on Saturday - it's not really relevant to this blog, but it explains why a lot of the energy which usually goes into the company has been diverted for a while. And yet... Watching it on Saturday, I was struck again by the way in which this form of opera plays many-layered games with gender, just like the Oriental forms. We used this idea in Orientations, of course, and I thoroughly expect to continue the theme in its successor - but it's nice to be reminded from a (finally and relatively) calm position in the audience what the origin of this idea was!

Our Mandela piece sneaks its way off the back burner as a result of a couple of meetings. The first is with Juwon Ogungbe, the African composer whose work I heard in the two plays I saw before going to China. He's incredibly knowledgeable about all forms of music, including Western opera, as well as having been part of the Soyinka - Chuck Mike circle in Nigeria. He's intrigued by the libretto, and picks out at once the challenges in terms of sound worlds, and the possibilities to be creative with an interweaving of styles. Buzzing from this, I have lunch with Jeremy Silver, an old friend from ENO who is now Principal Conductor of Opera Africa in Durban. Bizarrely, they have also started a similar project - in Zulu. We speculate as to whether there may be a way of collaborating, but since each opera already has its libretto, I'm not sure! Jeremy leaves with a copy of ours.......

The African theme continues when I meet up with Ben Evans from Oval House to talk about his planned Southern African season. Various ideas: the opera as work in progress, the African club night I've wanted to do since we did Uniforms and Hoodies in the summer, another Dev Virahsawmy play. The last of these intrigues Ben the most, because he's interested in plays about prisons and shifting post-colonial identities (plenty of those in Southern Africa): Dev having written Li while in prison makes it particularly intense, and we both feel the Oval's small space would suit the claustrophobia. Make a mental note to myself that, if we do end up producing this, it mustn't get any bigger than the space it's in (70 seats): the managerial and artistic focus of next year needs to be Dis-Orientations, and a second production would be a nice bonus.

The great joy of the last week has been the arrival of Wojciech Trzcinski on a work placement in the office. We've had "interns" before (none a great success), but this time I really sense there's somebody around who is passionate about what the company stands for, and is keen to throw himself into the work as a way of learning for his future career. I start him off with some tour booking phone calls and a funding application - and at once a weight seems to lift from my shoulders! So freed up, I drive over to Slough to meet Yasmin Gurreeboo at the West Wing: a very enterprising new venue which is keen to take, maybe even open Dis-Orientations. It still has some of the marks of being a converted school hall, but the technical facilities are good, and there's the right sort of buzz in the place. Yasmin's brought in some strong companies already, and has sold out some shows (including - promisingly - some on Asian themes). They've had Kun opera and are planning an East Asian season in January.... it sounds very promising.

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