First of all, Happy new year to the followers of my postings! Let’s hope 2015 is an exciting, peaceful, and joyous new year for us all. The last half of 2014 was indeed an adventure for yours truly, which is why I find myself apologising to my readers for being absent from the blog for so long. Hopefully, I will write more regularly and diligently in 2015. Every year at about this time I’m left wondering whether the next year will bring anything more. I’m already so grateful for what the universe has brought my way in the last 30 years. Yes, folks, my professional life has been succesfully active for about that long and whilst I have not achieved any international fame or fortune, (neither of which have been uppermost in my wish-list) I believe as a theatre practitioner I have been given great platforms and have deposited some landmark artworks in my short time on the planet so far. One hopes that there is still much to come!
In the latter part of 2014 I had the rare privelege of being one of the artistic directors of an operatic drama called THE LAST ANNIVERSARY. This new work was the fruit of an intercultural performing arts project called HOPES & MEMORIES funded by the European Union and the European Partner countries with South Africa. The project was the brainchild of Laurent Festas, the dynamic and visionary Artistic Director of Euroculture, a French performing arts company that operates in the Auvergne Province. Euroculture is at the forefront of bringing the performing arts to the largely rural audiences in Auvergne and annually conducts massive training camps for youth in the performing arts. What a privilege to work with them! They use the quaint town of Riom es Montagne as their base for this training, and the creation of their works. THE LAST ANNIVERSARY was born in their rehearsal barn under the artistic direction of Laurent and myself. One couldn’t of imagined a better setting for the creation of art. There was a camping ground which operated as the centre for the accommodation and meals for the international team which was within walking distance of the rehearsal studio. This project brought together artists from 5 different countries and at least 7 different partner organisation which as you can all imagine was not without its difficulties. Difficulties that I am sure are fairly common to all suchlike projects.
So, in Riom es Montagne, at least 11 versions of the script were written and re-written, the choregraphic mix under the two choreographers, Gyula Berger (from Hungary) and Mdu Mtshali (from South Africa) was honed; actors from all the cultures learnt each other’s languages (both spoken and physica) and the overall structure and concept was heatedly discussed and debated so as to crystalize the eventual artwork. Many skype meetings were held with the scenic and costume designers all of whom came from mamapapa which is based in Prague in the Czech Republic. This kind of communication also saw the emergence of the 3-d animations which were being done by talented animators from Slovakia, All of this was inspired by the opera, THE BARRIER composed by Jan Meyerowitz from a book by Langston Hughes.
This opera which centres on identity during the slave years of the American south was the beginning of the project and ironically also became that thing which nearly ended the project prematurely. During the course of 2 years, several key deliverables were listed in the original EU project proposal one of which was a concert version of the opera as part of the Musique Interdites Arts Festival in Marseilles, France. The original intention was that this concert version was to serve as a first catalyst for the full project. The organisers, however overspent the budget on this event, thus endangering the future of the project. The idea of staging the full opera as the fruit of the intercultural exchange now became impossible and the resourceful team re-invented the direction of the project at the team residency that took place in Prague in Oct of 2013. It was decided after a week of workshops that a new work would be created that used excerpts of the opera in some way and dealt with similar issues of identity, race, & discrimination. It would still take many months before the storyline and structure THE LAST ANNIVERSARY could emerge. A doctoral thesis focussed on the problems encountered in ports of entry at border posts by French Iranian, Chowra Makaremi, became a body of work that strongly influenced the direction that THE LAST ANNIVERSARY would take. The thesis focusses on the racial profile in airports and became the central issue of our work….
The work that finally emerged played in Budapest, Bratislava, Prague, Durban and Johannesburg during the course of Oct & Nove of 2014 and was exceptionally well received. In Budapest we received the “iron clap” which is the equvalent of a standing opvation in that country – it caused much consternation amongst the SA cast as this kind of slow clap usually expresses dipleasure in SA.