Friday, April 29, 2011

The Search for the Throat Singers

We've known for some time that we wanted the Inuit presence to be a strong one in this year's Origins Festival. We've programmed two films from Nunavik, and Simon Lynge, from Greenland, will be playing at the concert - but we also wanted a real sense of the traditional culture. Which really meant drum dance and throat singing.

When I was in Montreal in 2008, I was lucky enough to meet Taqralik Partridge and Evie Mark (pictured), both of whom seemed keen to come to London. But neither was available this time. Evie, however, had a friend called Beatrice Deer.... who also turned out not to be available.... but Beatrice had a friend called Leah May - and she and her partner (throat singers work in pairs) could come. The only problem was that Leah doesn't live in Montreal. She lives in Kuujjuaq, which is a very long way from Montreal. In fact, it's a very long way from anywhere. And so the transport costs are astronomical. Luckily, the wonderful Inuit airline First Air (run by the amazing Pita Atami and his Makivik Corporation - stepped in with a pair of tickets to Montreal, and we're off! They will be performing at the Origins Concert at Rich Mix on July 2nd, as well as in Trafalgar Square for Canada Day.
Last night, I went to Soho to see Chekhov in Hell by Dan Rebellato, who spoke at our event with the Platform for Intercultural Europe last year. The play was very characteristic of Dan - a series of snapshots from contemporary urban life, full of sharp comic observation. It was also very well performed - especially by Ruth Everett, whose string of grotesques were all horribly credible.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


We saw Oily Cart's show Drum over the Easter weekend. It's very remarkable to watch, or perhaps I should say, experience a piece of theatre which is as inter-cultural as this. I use the term with reservations, of course, but also as a deliberate choice, because this was theatre that was able to do what very little of our work can - to reach beyond the bounds of language and to communicate with people we think we can't talk to - in this case children with autism.

The show didn't have a story, or at least not in the conventional sense. It did, however, have a very powerful emotional journey, from the comparative calm of finding a cushion with a particular design to the mayhem of wildly beating drums, on which the children sat or lay. The emphasis was on the sensory experience - whether that was bright colour, the touch of bubbles and foam, or the sensation of rolling in a drum. There were games with light and music.

It's very beautiful, very thought-through, and very theatrical theatre. And it reaches out in the fullest sense of that much overused term.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Love but no money

The Arts Council came to see us on Friday. Yes - they actually came to our Wood Green office, which is less shabby than once it was since Lance took the broom to it, but remains a world away from the hallowed halls of high policy. Very nice to see.

Pete Staves, who is now our ACE contact, was at pains to say that we very nearly got National Portfolio funding, and that he was very sorry we didn't! So the agenda of the meeting was largely about how we can best survive, with their help in whatever way it comes, until the next round of NP bids in about three years' time (which is also, rather frighteningly, when our Esmee funds run out). One of the key new areas which may help us build on the old round of GFA applications is the new "Strategic Funds". These replace the old managed funds, which used to sit in various ACE pockets and got allocated at will - now they will be open to application, which seems to me a positive step. Less positive is what some of them are for... there's one to match philanthropic donations / business sponsorship, on the old A&B model. On the other hand, there are some around Audience Development and Touring which could be very useful. We'll have to see. It's very early days for this.... but we felt encouraged.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Meeting the Maori

The last Origins had some very interesting links with London's Maori community - including the powhiri pictured here - and this year we're really developing these in a big way - thanks to our collaborations with the City of London Festival and Heritage Lottery Fund. Over the weekend, Gabrielle and I went to New Zealand House to meet the Maori youth group, Te Kohanga Reo, and today I was back to chat with Ngati Ranana. As well as holding another powhiri - this time on Hampstead Heath and with real hangi food - they will also be involved in plans to bring a Maori war canoe, or waka, up the Thames.

Even more exciting is the Participation and Learning project, which Gabrielle is heading up with Carissa. This will link the younger London Maori to elders, as well as giving kids in lots of London schools the chance to learn a lot more about Maori culture, learn haka, waiata and poi (various forms of music and dance, since you ask!), and to build their own model wakas. The intergenerational oral histories are going to lead to a new website and an archive of Maori presence in the UK, which actually goes back to 1800, no less.