Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Being Festive

Peter Scott, who is on our board and does our annual accounts, phones on December 23rd with some queries about last year's finances. He's beavering away through the Christmas period to get the accounts done for an AGM on New Year's Eve (!), which should give us plenty of time to get them filed with Companies House and the Charity Commission before our 31st January deadline. "You can phone me at home any time tomorrow", his message says. "Tomorrow" is both a Saturday and Christmas Eve. Voluntary board members really do make companies like this one tick.

The last few days before the holiday were surprisingly full of meetings and new leads on next year. I'm invited to an Artist Links Networking Event at Gasworks - hosted by Simon Kirkby, whom I met briefly at the British Council in Shanghai. Mince pies, mulled wine and slideshows. Much of the emphasis is on visual arts (where the Artist Links scheme is most easily implemented - language being far less of an issue than in theatre), and there are moments when I feel the presentations by both British artists who've been to China and Chinese artists who've been to Britain verge on "What I did in my holidays". Still, landscape and architecture are themselves important as sources of inspiration, and there's no doubt that the experience of travel in itself is crucial to making intercultural art. for me, the most interesting presentation comes from Rose English, who is setting up a collaboration with Chinese acrobats / dancers. She talks about the cross-over she sees between calligraphy and choreography: what she calls "writing with the body". And, with a turn of phrase that sends her Chinese translator reeling, she talks of the form practised by her Chinese collaborators as being "both rigorous and capricious, and so very baroque". This is a really helpful insight for me, as I strive to find the links between Yueju and 18th century opera.

Meet with Jon Fawcett at Visiting Arts. He's an old friend from his days running Riverside Studios, and is full of enthusiasm for our plans, particularly since China is such a priority area for the British Council (and diplomacy in general) at the moment. He's even downloaded and printed out some relevant background material for me. I have a good feeling about our chances of a grant here - although the application deadline isn't till April. Jon mentions a few important anniversaries and initiatives which are on the way for 2007, which set me thinking about the future programme.

On from there to meet Lucy Anderson-Jones, who is a Business Advisor with Creative London North, as well as being a great chum of Chris Corner and Chair of the Wrestling School (which means she knows about our work already). Like Phill Ward, she's anxious to make the pots of training money hanging around this initiative into something tangible for artists. We fill in a very odd form together and she promises to find some genuinely useful training and business development opportunities. It's very clear to her, as it is to me, what the company needs in order to move forward - though I'm not sure that there are any new insights into how to do it. One good idea she mentions is a membership scheme, just because it's a way of bringing in funds which aren't specifically tied to a particular project. The problem is finding time to set one up.

Talking of time, Ben Evans phones from Oval House. He's very keen to have Li in their Southern Africa season - and I feel that if there is such a season in one of our favoured venues, then we really should be part of it. But, as we sift through next year's diaries, I begin to feel it may not happen. If we do this, then it needs to be a smaller show, done in their upstairs space; and we've no funds available to back it (unless we manage to raise a GFA, but that might get in the way of having one for Dis-Orientations). I'm still mulling this over - need to talk to the board about it.

I exchange emails with Tracy Xu from the Shanghai Municipal Performance Company. I met her at the ICA, when she picked me out from the crowd of Brits on account of my Chinese jacket (it always pays to go bush!). She has strong links with the Yue Opera and the International Festival, and she speaks perfect English - which is a big plus. I'm wondering whether there's a way of involving her in the project, particularly if we can take the piece to the Festival. The more I think about the work we're doing, the more I feel that the Festival environment is the ideal space for it. If we can get Dis-Orientations into this Shanghai Festival and Glasgay, plus Riverside and a couple of other UK venues, then I think it will be a really solid project.

The thing about a Festival is that people stop doing other things and concentrate for a time on saying things that matter in an atmosphere of celebration. As a result, the work acquires a much more specific, powerful focus. As if to push my thinking a bit further in this direction, Nisha's Christmas present to me is Rose Fenton and Lucy Neal's new book about their 25 years running LIFT, together with wise words from luminaries like Rustom Bharucha and the man who focused many of my ideas about Festivals, Peter Sellars. Peter's Postscript to the book is very brief, but as inspiring as ever. "The 21st century is exploding in front of us - can we replace fear with festival?"

My last meeting before the Christmas festival is about the ENO revival of Peter's production Nixon in China, which Fred Frumberg and I are slated to do together next year. It's a wonderful coincidence: turning next year into my own personal festival of Chinese culture.

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