Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019 - at Border Crossings and Beyond

Ino Moxo - ORIGINS Festival
2020 will see Border Crossings reach its 25th anniversary.  During 2019, we've been busier than ever, working to bridge the gaps between cultures and to generate mutual respect and understanding in the globalised world.  The task has never felt more necessary...

In many ways, this has been an extraordinary year for us, packed with incident and excitement.  At the centre of our programme was ORIGINS 2019: our 10th anniversary Festival of First Nations. Launched at the British Museum back in March with a compelling performance by Indigenous Australian musician Eric Avery, the Festival proper covered two packed weeks in June, taking in some of London's most iconic venues and populating them with world-class Indigenous performances.  It was an incredible privilege to present the first ever London showings of Peru's Grupo Integro, with their brilliant, mind-expanding production of INO MOXO at the Southbank - a piece that made time stand still and took the consciousness of the spectator into the visionary space of Ayahuasca ritual.  Equally unforgettable, and historic, was Madeline Sayet's WHERE WE BELONG, particularly when it played the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare's Globe - placing the Indigenous voice right at the heart of British culture, and offering a completely new view of what that culture may come to mean in the 21st century.  AVA Dance company's NO WOMAN'S LAND at The Place brought Inuit culture to the Festival in the charismatic person of Naulaq LeDrew, as well as gaining a UK National Dance Awards Nomination for Avat├óra Ayuso.
Where We Belong - ORIGINS Festival
I was also thrilled with the Festival's programme of Participation and Learning - in some ways the fullest yet, with brian solomon//ELECTRIC MOOSE creating a new dance piece with community dancers and a youth orchestra from the North Kensington community.  WESTWAY SOLSTICE, performed on three summer evenings in sight of Grenfell Tower, offered vitality, hope and energy for our communities and our youth.
Westway Solstice - ORIGINS Festival
Our ORIGINS participation work from the 2017 Festival had an ongoing life this year too, when the photographic exhibition POCAHONTAS AND AFTER visited St Andrews.  Word of that project has spread...   it's put us in touch with the Powhatan nation themselves.  Two of their Chiefs honoured us with their presence at the ORIGINS opening, and I've since visited them in Virginia, accompanied by Madeline Sayet, to explore the possibility of making a new play together...   Watch this space!

The year has also seen us working on a number of collaborative projects across Europe, three of them funded by the EU's Erasmus + programme. In the spring, we co-produced UNDER THE WHALEBACK with the North Frisian Theatre - a production hailed as their best work to date!  THE PROMISED LAND, which focused on the role of the arts and culture in making Europe a welcoming space for refugees, saw us undertake two fascinating weeks of exploration and training in Oldenburg and Toulouse, based on museum work and business coaching.  The project came together in the e-book which we published during the summer: it's proved a huge hit across a whole range of sectors, offering a combination of policy frameworks and recommendations, theoretical discussions and practical approaches. The project also led to Brian Woolland's new play DON'T LET THEM TELL YOU STORIES, which we presented as a rehearsed reading in October at Rich Mix.  MORE THAN WORDS, which looks at ways to work with communities who have little knowledge of the local language, reached a key point with a week in Luxembourg, during which we brought together a range of disciplines and approaches to answer a range of framing questions.  The Intellectual Outputs, including a film starring the Italian clown Raffaele Messina and directed by myself, will come out in the spring of 2020!

The spectre of Brexit has inevitably haunted these projects throughout 2019.  Almost every time we worked in Europe, we seemed to be on the edge of a precipice.  There have been many occasions when it has been very likely that our projects would simply stop - cut off, incomplete and futile.  It was a relief that we managed to finish all we had planned in THE PROMISED LAND, and it now seems that the Transition Period will allow MORE THAN WORDS to be completed during 2020.  But that is, at best, a minor gain in the face of a very frightening future.  In 2016, the day after the referendum, we had to welcome a group of European visitors to London.  On Friday 13th December 2019, I was in Southern Italy for a meeting around the MORE THAN WORDS project, and had to explain to our European partners that the election result was the point of no return. As Border Crossings enters its Silver Jubliee Year, it is faced with the prospect of being an international organisation in a nationalist country, an intercultural organisation in a monocultural space, an advocate of reconciliation under a government dedicated to false and divisive imperialist mythologies.  The last few years have been challenging - but the ones ahead will be much, much harder.

We have our strategies, of course.  We have many dear friends and allies.  We are deeply aware that the "hostile environment" makes our work all the more necessary.  You can look forward to some innovative and creative announcements in the coming months. And, most importantly, you can look forward to THE GREAT EXPERIMENT - our new devised play which explores the imperial history on which our country's new mythology of exceptionalism appears to be based. It seems we may have hit the perfect moment for this essential piece of theatre.

I wish you all a year of peace, hope and resilience.