Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Many Voices

Spent today at the annual Rose Bruford symposium: Many Voices. It's a terrific thing for a drama school to do - the initiative of the fabulous Nesta Jones. She seems staggeringly well-connected: all sorts of fascinating people turn up. In the morning, I do a workshop on Devising the Intercultural Play. There are about 35 students involved - so I'm not able to go into much detail with any of them, but we do some intriguing exercises around structure and creativity, and end up making short plays about the experience of culture clash. The group is multicultural enough for this to be effective: there's a fun piece about an Hugarian trying to order coffee, an extraordinary scene with a Japanese performer showing us all where Butoh came from, and a wonderful scene of two people watching a show which only one of them understands (and which is clearly a comedy).

Haili joins me for the afternoon session, and Jayne Richards interviews us both about Dis-Orientations. Good to continue talking about the piece, and letting new ideas flow. Haili tells me she's spoken to Zhang Ruihong, who has now read the script in its Chinese version. She has no concerns about it, so long as she isn't called upon to do "anything physical", which she won't be. She also thinks we may find it hard to get past the censor for Chinese performance, mainly because of the Mme. Mao scenes. I'll keep waiting.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Money and ritual

Ken Livingstone has been in China. Like so many of us, he's very aware of the awakening colossus, and has ben brutally honest that he's after the money being generated by this new form of democracy-free, market-orientated late capitalism. The Observer report makes for intriguing reading, given the nature of our collaboration with the Chinese Yue company, and the subjects we cover in the play. Shanghai is twice compared to the set of Blade Runner, which makes what PK says in the opening scene feel a lot less original.

We've been talking a lot about the same things in Border Crossings this week. On Tuesday, Owen and I had lunch with Valerie Symnoie, who leads the Arts Council's International Strategy. A helpful thing to do just as I'm finishing our funding application to them: we're keen to shift our image a bit, so that we're funded more on the basis of our international orientation, moving us away from a total dependence on touring (some projects, like Dis-Orientations, really aren't suitable for the touring circuit). Valerie's very hepful in explaining how the strategy is likely to effect practice: for a start, we can now include our overseas work in our applications. I re-work the budget, so that a small portion is allocated to performances at the Shanghai Festival - and I cross my fingers that the censor will look positively on the DVD.

Good Friday sees me getting together with Phill, Hardial Rai (who used to be in charge of Asian Arts at Waterman's, and now runs a very interesting group called Zero Culture) and Kate Stafford, who has just got back from three years in Malawi, and is setting up a new company to continue the Shakespeare work she's been doing there. With Cherub, this is likely to be the new consortium, and the combination feels good to me. All the companies have an international focus, plus a Haringey base, but none of them feel too similar to one another. There won't be a clash - there may be a group identity. It's certainly useful at present, when the company is almost re-launching on a larger scale, at the same time as I personally move to a bigger property, taking the registered office with me, and therefore need to generate a bit more income from the organisation. Shadows of Ken Livingstone's begging bowl trip to Beijing....

On Saturday morning, we'd intended to have a board meeting, with the aim of bringing Deborah Regal in. Embarrassingly, it's the first time in the company's history that a meeting is inquorate: my own fault for trying to cut into people's Easter weekend. It doesn't stop it being a very useful couple of hours with Deborah and Owen - she's full of ideas about raising funds from the private sector, which I guess I'd hoped for..... She ends up promising to "sell" sponsorship to banks with an interest in Chinese markets and "the cutting edge". This feels like the business side of the work responding to the artistic, which is the right way round.

Saturday night at the ENO, watching a new production of Monteverdi's Orfeo by a Chinese director called Chen Shi-Zheng. I've never seen his work before, or even heard of it: though he's clearly done a lot of really interesting stuff in the the States. And at the Perth Festival: this is a bit of Sean Doran programming, and he's sitting bravely in the stalls, next to Phill... in a serious moment of "he's in the wrong box!" The production is a haunting, beautiful ritual of death and mourning; articulated through what I think is probably Balinese movement (the programme is great if you want to know about Monteverdi and the Gonzagas, but hopeless as to what we're actually watching on stage). There's no revelation about the ease with which baroque music blends with Asian movement styles - we did something very similar in Orientations, and Shobana Jeyasingh has also been there. What's exciting in this Orfeo is the way in which this blend becomes a style of its own, which is close to permeating the entire production. It doesn't quite, because not all the singers have absorbed the disciplined ritualism of the dancers - some of them seem almost to be in deliberate rebellion against it, asserting their individuality as performers against what they appear to feel is theatrical strait-jacketing. At times, as in an early sequence of "drunk acting", it looks as if the director has given up for a bit. But when the gestural and musical languages come together, which they really do in John Mark Ainsley's wonderful performance of the title role, then you start to see ways in which our globalised world might re-access the lost routes to the mythic and the spiritual underpinnings of Western culture; ways in which these "difficult" early operas might come to make sense again, and indeed speak to us in a profound and urgent way. A way which is very pure in its theatricality.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Panic in China

Haili gets in touch to tell me SYT are in a sudden panic because they don't have an "official letter of invitation", without which Zhang Ruihong can't get permission for a passport, never mind a visa. I thought I'd sent it in December, but apparently that wasn't enough. We knock together a full version containing all the letters I've sent over the months plus a few extra details. In the thick of the panic, Haili speaks directly to Zhang Ruihong, who is now taking charge of it all herself. This is good - now we know who the contact point is, and it's the artist we'll be working with. All this at the same time as the Rolling Stones play their first concert in Shanghai - and are forbidden to sing "Let's Spend the Night Together" on the grounds of corrupting public morals. I do wonder what they'll make of us as and when the show gets out there........

Luckily, I'm able to pop over and see Haili in Manchester, because I'm in Liverpool for a couple of days, teaching opera students alongside the WNO season up there. We watch Katie Mitchell's production of Jephtha with the wonderful Mark Padmore in the title role. At first glance, it looks like an attempt at a naturalistic oratorio, with masses of social detail: the generals do constant paperwork, and maids run around with cups of tea. But the naturalism coincides with mythic and dream-like images and motivations, which makes the whole thing far more complex and fascinating. As in our own work, this is about the way in which mythologies have very immediate meanings in the contemporary world. I'm excited enough to lecture spontaneously on it for an hour and a half the next morning!

Monday, April 03, 2006

IT issues

The phone call went well. Quite a bit of progress. Onward.....

I spent Saturday morning with Rebecca Gould from the Theatre Royal in Plymouth: talking about the "brain" project for the spring tour. She's keen to continue working with us on it (the first workshops were done in Plymouth last summer). And it also turns out she'll be in Ghana this July, running her exchange initiative, so there's plenty to talk about!

Haili calls to say SYT are asking for the letter of invitation. I didn't realise I hadn't sent it: I guess they need something very formal for government purposes. I draft something, she translates it into Chinese, and sends it back as a pdf which I print out and fax. Don't you love admin?

The whole of Monday is an IT nightmare. Put it like this: I'm typing this in the offices of the computer company who are fixing the PC. They seem to be very good..... But that's why this entry is short. Their website is : I promised them a plug!

PS They've just made the computer work again.