Wednesday, January 31, 2007

John Adams

I went to the Barbican on Sunday night to hear John Adams conducting three of his own pieces. In a way, this was homework for the forthcoming revival of Nixon in Greece; but, as so often, the real benefits were elsewhere. I'd wanted for some time to hear On the Transmigration of Souls, which is John's response to 9/11. It's a stunning piece - with the music emerging from a city soundscape, and the recorded voice of a boy repeating the word "Missing, Missing". The ambiguity of the single word sets the tone for the whole piece: even its title has double meanings: the souls of the dead migrate and transform, but so, in a time of crisis, do those of the living. The cataclysm of 2001 has shifted so many souls into a different space, whether we accept it or not.

But the piece which truly amazed me was John's concerto for an electric violin: The Dharma at Big Sur. Against a classical orchestra, Leila Josefowicz was like a combination of Dave Gilmour and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. And this use of styles from outside the Western classical tradition questions and probes the canonical value of that tradition, just as we try to do with Border Crossings. It's to do with realising what political, social and moral values our limited approach to music or theatre implies, and expanding it to incorporate alternative views - to be in dialogue with those views. To accept the world we live in. In The Dharma at Big Sur, this is done by using the way in which Asian and African music really exists, is most alive, in the space between the notes - is as dependent on the journeying, the slurring, the leaps and slides of the performer as it is on what is written. And this should also be true of our theatre - in the 21st century we have to move away from a narrow reliance on the textual tradition (the notes), and work instead with the musicality of transition and journeying.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

From Slavery to Salesmanship

The latest edition of African Theatre is out, edited by Michael Etherton. He's a writer who has always interested me, since I read his book on Contemporary Irish Dramatists years ago, and started to understand how colonisation has shaped theatre in so many parts of the world. My production of Spokesong for Stage One, back in the early 90s, was really the start of my journey into post-colonial theatre, and owed a huge amount to him. So it's very exciting for me to be in communication with him, and to hear how much he likes the website and ideas behind Border Crossings!

The African Theatre book is subtitled Youth, and is about work around Theatre for Development, empowering young people to articulate their concerns, and to make real changes in the attitudes of adults, with political results. This makes me think more about the issues around contemporary slavery and near slavery, and I email Michael about theatre which is tackling these issues in the modern world. He's put me in touch with some extraordinary people, mainly working with NGOs on the Indian subcontinent, who are helping child labourers and bonded labourers to make theatre pieces and videos which articulate their lives and effect change. So, this is material which must go into the planned book on Theatre and Slavery.

The book is intended to sit alongside the Dilemma production - at the moment a lot of energy is going into selling this into venues. There's a lot of interest, and some definites outside London, but the key London venue is still not secured, in spite of several requests for the script, meetings and so on. I suspect this is the bit of the job I do least well - I've always been a bit bad at the selling side of things - there's a bit of me somewhere that believes nobody would want anything from me...... Deborah comes with me to one meeting and I ask her for some notes afterwards. "You're very honest" is her only comment. I guess City people find that quite surprising in what is, essentially, a sales pitch. It would really help if somebody else could somehow take this on......

I feel more at ease when the meeting is more speculative, like my hour with Angharad at LIFT on Tuesday. She's still talking with great excitement about Dis-Orientations, and would be interested in the Trilogy being part of LIFT 08. It's not her decision, though: programming these days is the work of the "Seekers". That's fine - we initiate a dialogue with Wen Hui (who I sort of know anyway). In the meantime, Meijing invites me to the Hong Kong Festival as the guest of the British Council to make contacts for taking the Trilogy over there..... and it all feels quite buoyant. And Angharad has asked if I'll be a Seeker for LIFT 2010 - which is a real recognition for what we've been doing.