Friday, December 31, 2010


Well, it's been quite a year for us at Border Crossings! The production of Re-Orientations was a highlight, of course - especially the excitement of bringing the play to Shanghai, and the sell-out run there. It was the climax of two years' work - more, if you think in terms of the lead-in with the other Trilogy plays - and it truly lived up to the incredible work everybody had done to develop it.

We also ended the year on a high, with the Practice Exchange we organised with the Platform for Intercultural Europe. Very exciting for us to move into areas where we are dealing directly with policy. This has been a trend in our work for some time, not least in the Origins Festival. With another Origins planned for 2011, and the expansion of the Laboratory, we should be able to do a lot more to bring the arts into dialogue with policy-makers in the future.

One of the things enabling this is that, for the first time ever, we will have some revenue funding in place during 2011 to support a core staff. Thanks to the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation for this, and to the board, who have been so pro-active in developing the company to this point. We appointed our General Manager and Associate Director before Christmas, and I'll announce who they are in this blog and on the website once they are in post in January.

Elsewhere, the year has offered some exciting cultural experiences for me - though not that many of them in theatre, strangely enough. In the theatrical mainstream, I enjoyed the Cheek by Jowl Macbeth at the Barbican, and David Greig's not unrelated new play Dunsinaine at Hampstead. But my favourite theatre piece of the year, part of a very exciting LIFT season, was Life Streaming - which was hardly conventional theatre at all, but an online conversation with a survivor of the tsunami, sitting on a beach in Sri Lanka. Otherwise, my theatre highlights were actually operas, both directed by Richard Jones: Meistersinger in Cardiff, with Bryn Terfel, and Queen of Spades, which I saw in Houston.

The freelance job in Houston was also a big event for me this year - as much as anything just to get the chance to work with such an astonishing cast (Susan Graham and David Daniels to name but two). It also gave me one of the most profound experiences of the year - the Rothko Chapel. It was matched, in a very different way, by the powhiri given to Womad guests by the Maori of Taranaki in March.

In film, I'll confidently predict that Patagonia will be a big hit in 2011, and I loved the chance to watch The Baader-Meinhoff Connection on a plane!

In books, I particularly enjoyed Han Suyin's biography of Premier Zhou Enlai, Eldest Son, which I read in Shanghai. While I'm not totally convinced by her theory that China's embrace of capitalism represents the triumph of a policy Zhou was pursuing covertly throughout the Maoist era, she certainly demonstrates a surprising current of continuity running beneath the radical change. In the year a comic novel finally bagged the Booker, Ian McEwan's Solar failed to attract the expected attention, but I found it his strongest work since Atonement. Through farce and fury, it turns an acid gaze on our environmental myopia and emotional constipation. Dan Rebellato spoke at our Practice Exchange. His book Theatre & Globalization is an incisive, perceptive and witty polemic, which proves, among other things, that a loathing of near-slavery in Asia is not incompatible with eating sushi. He also provided another cyber-theatre event which lit up 2010, with his performance on Twitter during the Raoul Moat siege. So - how do we start to make intercultural theatre which relates to these new media?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Cuts

So, Vince Cable thinks that the Tory agenda is Maoist. He does have a point (except, to be fair to David Cameron, he wouldn't still be sitting at Mao's Cabinet table after what he's been saying). But, like the Mao of the Hundred Flowers policy and the Cultural Revolution, Cameron really does seem to believe that the role of government is to unleash anarchy. In which he has been remarkably successful so far.

In yesterday's Guardian, my signature was on a letter from artists resisting the cuts - though I'm not sure that direct resistance will have much effect on so determined an ideological agenda. What is probably needed is for Cable to exercise his "nuclear option" and resign, bringing down the government. After all, it is diametrically opposed to everything he ever stood for. If he left, then he could get the bulk of the Lib-Dem MPs behind him, topple the morally bankrupt Clegg and actually stand to do better in the election which Cameron would have to call. It feels like the only way to stop the rush into chaos. And this from somebody who doesn't normally think history is about the individual.

Still, while Vince remains Business Secretary, we carry on letter-writing. Karl Rouse from Central School asked me to sign one to Dave Willets et al, which has been sent to Ministers but not the press. Since I wrote some of it, I'm going to publish that section here, with Karl's agreement. It feels a bit like a credo for the current moment...

"One of the positive things which the new Prime Minister has done is the attempt to establish a measure of the nation's happiness, or well-being. Sadly, it is also something for which he has been much ridiculed. Happiness and well-being, it seems, are not matters for the serious business of politics, which should concern itself solely with economic growth and wealth creation. This is the prevailing view in civil society, and across the political spectrum - it was the Labour government which removed the Universities from the competence of the Department of Education, and turned them into an adjunct of the Business Department, so paving the way for the current decimation of any course not deemed to be of immediate use in training our young people to meet the demands of the private sector.

But wealth creation in and of itself cannot be the aim of any civilisation worth the name. We know that wealth does not bring happiness - indeed, that it often brings unhappiness. We know that the current economic system is directly responsible for an ecological crisis of unprecedented proportions. We know that the wealth of the West only exists because of the near slavery existing in other parts of the world. We also know that the economic system is imploding - why else is there this "deficit" which is being used to justify an attack on the future?

If our institutions for higher education are turned into a combination of training grounds for middle-management in computer companies and playgrounds for the children of the rich - and that is what the policy now before Parliament would surely render them - then our society will be forced to continue its subscription to this flawed, immoral and unsustainable global system. What we need - and need urgently - is a politics of the imagination which allows us to see outside the current paradigm and into a future where we will not systematically destroy our planet, where we will not pander to our own luxury at the cost of others' basic needs, and where we might just score a little higher on Mr Cameron's scale of well-being.

And that is why we need artists. Because art enables us to see the world from a different perspective. It enables us to empathise with the other. It compels us to look outside the narrow spaces of the everyday. Art is not a luxury to be tacked on to the edge of a society once it has dealt with other needs apparently more basic. Art itself is basic. Without it we lose our humanity and become mere machines.

Above all, we must not lose the capacity of our young people to be educated in art. They are the people whose vision can shape the future: but only if they can learn to see."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Practice Exchange

An exciting couple of days, hosting a Practice Exchange event which we produced jointly with the Platform for Intercultural Europe at Rose Bruford. Under the title Interculturalism: Art and Policy we were able to bring together some of the most exciting artists from diverse cultural traditions who are currently working in Britain, and to get them interacting with people from academia, policy-making, social and political activism etc. It's an important step for us as company - it gives us a voice in Brussels, and it brings our artistic work into dialogue with political processes. Right now, that seems a pretty urgent need.

There will be a full report by Brendan Jackson, which I'll post when it comes out, but in the meantime here are a few highlights!

Jatinder Verma gave an opening Keynote Speech about Intercultural theatre as it relates to European policy - you can listen to it online here. David Tse Ka Shing spoke about working with British East Asian communities, and also joined a panel on dialogues between diverse communities and the cultural sector, with Gabrielle Lobb from Polygon and Femi Elufowoju Jr.. In a particularly inspiring session, John Martin from Pan talked about his work with Refugee communities - with some really concrete examples of transformative events occurring for traumatised people, including former child soldiers.

All of this was very useful when it came to the discussions of policy on the second day. The people we'd expected from the Commission and the DCMS didn't turn up (of course), but their absence probably made it easier for us to talk freely about how intercultural arts can make their case - both the case for culture and the case for cultural diversity - at a moment when both are under threat. There was a brilliant talk by Graham Jeffery about the language gap between artistic idealism and political pragmatism, the use of evidence to bridge that gap, the quantifying of cultural value. Here's a link to Graham's blog - which is going to be worth watching as the current crisis deepens.

More to follow....