Marco Polo set out on his adventures into the unknown world not simply to get way from a nagging wife. It was to charge his life batteries with newness and freshness..he returned from his travels with stories to tell. Whilst I am passionate about African Arts & Culture, I find that tours to events and other cities and cultures are a great way to reflect and recharge the creative cells. Let’s face it, one can get jaded and ‘stale’ doing the same old thing year in and year out and visits to other energies is a great catalyst to get your creative juices going again.
So recently, I had the opportunity to spend 4 days at the Grahamstown Festival in South Africa which assured me that the young theatre people of SA are active and producing amazing work against the odds. It was great to see the array of work that the festival hosted. I must say that the festival felt a great deal quieter to me this year compared to all those previous times that I visited. Festival organisers say that this is not the case. Nonetheless, that was the feel on the ground.
Immediately, after the festival I jetted off to London en route to Marseilles. Well the buzz in London was palpable. I was there the day after the British & Irish Lions beat the OZZIES. It was the day of the Wimbeldon final which another Brit managed to win for the first time in 77 years. The streets of London were packed with Summer tourists. The Rolling Stones (or Strolling Bones as the English tabloids derogatarily called them) played Hyde Park while I was there. It was an amzing vibe during which time I seldom heard any English!!! Didn’t have time for shows but it was enough to visit London, do some shopping and enjoy the vibe! Enjoyed both the modern and Old Tate galleries. The point is I left feeling invigorated.
Then off to Marseilles to the Musique Interdite Festival. I am fortunate to have become a partner of a European Union funded project called HOPES & MEMORIES which involves creatives from 5 countries; from France, South Africa, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The project is essentially an opera/dance/theatre project based on a work by Jan Meyerowitz called THE BARRIER vs IL MULATRE. This is a relatively unknown operatic work dealing with the subject of slavery and the results of inter-cultural illicit sexual relations which lead to illegitimate ‘mulatto’ children. So part of the project is the concert staging of the opera as part of Musique Interdite in Marseilles.
Marseilles strikes me initially as a slightly unkempt city, with dustbins full to overflowing, and loads of construction rubble etc. That is, until I get to the Vieux Port where the old architecture and the festive atmosphere is everywhere. Especially at night. It was once again invigorating to the creative energy to be surrounded by different sounds and foods. We saw a really interesting production by one of the partners in our project called Equinoxe directed by Laurent Festas. It was a collaborative project between EU countries and Mexico in much the same way that our new project will be done and included France, Slovakia,Mexico and the Czech Republic. It was an interesting mix of brand new music and opera with contemporary dance and was built around a Kafka story. The imagery and audio visual effects were simple and very effective giving the audience a real sense of the dreamlike anxieties of the protagonists. The dancers were of the highest standard and the composition was strong. I found the opera singers a little average for a production that has international status.
The next night we travelled to the Avignon Festival which was the largest Festival I have ever seen with over 1000 productions. The town of Avignon is literally taken over. Posters over every inch of the old town and productions staged in every nook and cranny. We saw a contemporary ballet entitled LA PAIX DES ETOILES which included one of our French partners. The atmosphere in Avignon was electric with buskers on every corner and restaurants overflowing onto the pavements. The accommodation in Avignon was jam packed so we drove back to Marseilles. No doubt this arts festival once again would be making a huge economic injection into the Avignon area.
On the next night we were back in Marseilles to witness the staging of the concert version of the Meyerowitz which was the first part of our greater project. The KZNPO from Durban under the baton of Johan Farjot, our partner from the Sorbonne, sounded great in the courtyard of the Prefecture in central Marseilles. The South African singers which Laurent Festas and I found in South Africa were superb. For me the main disappointment was the technical and stage management of the event. If this was not billed as an international event I would be kinder but at this level to have a narrator talking and not being lit is unforgivable. To have poles masking the faces of soloists is unforgivable at this level. It was well received, it would seem. A great beginning to the HOPES & MEMORIES PROJECT.
So like other adventurers, I return home to Durban, South Africa inspired and re-invigorated to take on the next few months of this amazing collaborative project. I return somewhat reassured that the struggles with funders and politicians are happening all over the world and not only in South Africa. In some ways we are way better off.