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.

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