Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Origins 2007

An amazing and exhausting week. I seem to have spent about 90% of it running between Sidcup and heathrow airport: we've had David Milroy and Trevor Jamieson from Australia, Gordon Bronitsky and David Velarde from the USA, Harriet Nordlund from Sámiland (Norway and Sweden), plus some First Nations people living in the UK, like Roseanna Raymond (who is Samoan and was our New Zealand rep), and Benny Wenda from West Papua.

With a selection of people like that around, bringing together ideas for the ORIGINS Festival has been easy - the meeting itself is a fertile ground for ideas. Add to that the fact that we did several workshops for the Laboratory, plus a symposium at Australia House, and you'll see that we didn't just meet as a planning committee (though that happened), but also, and crucially, as artists learning from one another's practice.

What struck me most through the week was the way in which First Nations theatre is such a strong reflection of landscape - what Aboriginal people call "country". We begin to think about how we might reflect this in the festival. David Milroy says that he feels the "really epic story" is not so much the theatre itself, for all its value, as the way in which the festival can contextualise that theatre. His own workshop is a case in point: David showed us an amazing selection of slides, tracing the history of his family and country through the last 150 years, and relating this very specifically to why he writes as he does. Images like the old rusty bed in Windmill Baby are suddenly made real and vibrant. We talk about him doing a talk like this as a sort of performance within the Festival, and about the programme including lots of landscape photos from the areas represented.

Film is also going to be important. Even during this launch week, we've been able to show a number of really important films, including a couple of UK premieres. While these don't do what theatre does in terms of immediate, visceral communication, they certainly place the work in a physical context which makes sense of it. If I can make the dialogue between forms right, then that will give an artistic cohesion to the Festival. One of the films we showed this week was Sunset to Sunrise: Allan Collins' film about the Arrernte elder Max Stuart, which I first saw at the Dreaming. It's so beautifully simple: Max just talks, but talks in his own landscape, and the beauty of the cinematography gives weight to the words. The other UK premiere was a film called The Secret War, about the current situation in West Papua. A deeply shocking film, which both distressed and fired the audience. I'd known a bit about West Papua since reading Jay's book and meeting Benny; but this 15-minute film hits home.

On Friday, at Australia House, we are able to show some indigenous films from New Zealand, thanks to Ian Conrich, and to have some panel discussions around the themes of theatre, First Nations peoples and the contemporary world. It all leads up to a rather posh party, with the Deputy High Commissioner welcoming us, and David and Trevor putting on an Aboriginal Welcome to Country. Nice to be able to respond to that, especially on Australian territory, since it means I can acknowledge the Aboriginal people as the custodians of the land. A first little performance for ORIGINS, and a first little shift of meaning and relationship as a result.

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