Thursday, 29 April 2010

EXPO visit: Arriving

After the visa and volcano induced panic that preceded my arrival to Shanghai, it was reassuring to realise that I don't feel as anxious about arriving in China as I have in the past. I know what to expect though this may be a dangerous misconception in a culture where so much is still impenetrably incomprehensible to me. At least I'm getting a sense of how much I don't know.

I've begun to accept that when I'm in China that I can't control how things happen in the way I imagine I do when I'm in Europe. This sense of control or at least agency may be an illusion in Europe but here I can have no such illusion. I make plans but I am always ready to discard them. I wonder if the team organising the Irish Pavilion in the Shanghai World EXPO are having the same experience?

I flew to Shanghai to visit the Irish Pavilion, since that is where some of my performances will take place next month. I hadn't been able to get much information about the building besides an architect's impression of it before my arrival, so planning performances was a bit tricky.

When I arrived there escorted by Paddy, a Chinese man who has lived in Ireland for a number of years and who is assisting the Irish team at the Pavilion, I was impressed by the building. In common with many other pavilions, it's not quite finished yet and I think the staff were a little nervous about how the imminent soft opening would go, an understandable nervousness given the mayhem that followed the soft opening of the EXPO site and some of the other pavilions.

The message of the Pavilion's architecture is that Ireland is contemporary and green and already the green part is an attraction;

I, however, was disappointed to discover that the green patch where I had previously agreed to perform Match wasn't in fact grass but a scrubby succulent plant and the whole thing is on a slope and it has a two rows of water sprinklers down the sides.

But I think we can manage and my sports' playing siblings would say they've 'performed' on less suitable local pitches. Besides, Jiale Ryan, a Chinese woman married to a Limerick man, who is events' co-ordinator for the Irish Pavilion has given us carte blanche to trample the plants! We'll just make sure we play Match down the slope.

The message communicated by the architecture of the various pavilions is necessarily simple given that the audience is primarily a Chinese one with limited experience of the subtle distinctions between, for example, different countries within Europe, let alone different communities within a country. The Italian building is contemporary on the outside but through the glass one sees medieval architecture - Italy is old and new! You can read more from the architect here.

Why Germany chose to make a pavilion that looks like a tank is another question.

When I first saw the Luxembourg pavilion it looked like Soviet kitsch but it's apparently a response to the fact that the Chinese translation of Luxembourg means forest and fortress.

The statue in the photo is a called the 'Golden Lady', a treasured war memorial of Luxembourg that is on loan to the pavilion for the duration of the EXPO

Finding space for a performance of Dialogue will be a challenge too since the functioning of the Pavilion requires that visitors keep on the move. A performance will encourage people to stop and that's not so helpful when there are long queues outside (and there were three hour waits in some of the pavilions during the dry run opening). We'll probably use this courtyard space. I'd expected from the architect's impression there would be a performing area at the bottom of this slope but now it seems the space at the top is the only viable playing area, so the audience will be below or perhaps on the roof above. Until after the official opening on the 1st May, the Pavilion organisers aren't in a position to decide and neither am I.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Likely suspension of service

I'm hoping to leave for Shanghai today, volcano permitting. Problems with visas and flights made it seem as if I might not be able to go, but everything is back on track now.

I'm performing during May, primarily in the Irish Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo but also in the Ke Center for Contemporary Arts and at the Downstream Garage in Shanghai centre. I'll spend three weeks in Beijing prior to the Shanghai performances rehearsing a new version of Dialogue with Xiao Ke, and I'll also be preparing to perform Match at the Pavilion and an extract of Niche.

I hope to update my blog at some stage but it's likely I won't be able to do that while I'm in China. So watch this space.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Sweet spot - The film

Saidhbh at Feenish has uploaded Sweetspot to Vimeo and though it may appear out of synch with my Open Niche, Mo mhórchoir féin and Shanghai EXPO preoccupations, there are lots of reasons why it's appropriate to reconnect with Sweetspot.

First of all, the out-of -synchness of this post reminds me that my work doesn't develop in a linear way (a useful note as I contemplate building a website whose architecture inevitably tends to tidying up the narrative for clear presentation)

Secondly, the lovely Marie Curtin who appears in Sweetspot with her arms outstretched in what may look like a Titanic pose but owes more to balancing on a pony's back, will soon appear in Mo mhórchoir féin. This was the woman who hadn't performed before Sweetspot and Ríonach's Triptik project. But when I needed an older woman to appear in Mo mhórchoir féin she immediately came to mind. And I guess the creative impact of Ríonach's Triptik project is the fact that when making the film, my brain and gut were ready to 'need' an older woman. Thanks to Ríonach and the Macushlas for that widening of perspective.

And finally, it's Bealtaine soon and Sweetspot will be shown as part of Ríonach's contribution to the festival that celebrates creativity in older age. It's also likely to be part of a Youtube channel with Bealtaine Artistic Director, Dominic Campbell, is curating.

Enough excuses?

Sweet Spot from feenish productions on Vimeo.

While I hope to be able to show a version here soon that includes the relationship between Stéphane's live solo and the film, I think the film stands on its own and there are those who may prefer it unadulterated by the troubling confrontational physicality of the male solo. And that's okay too....

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Open Niche: Siamsa and Cork, the end for now

We finished Open Niche in Cork just before Easter and since then I’ve had a chance to go on holiday and stand down my brain from the state of high alert it needed to be in through March with its tour, its film-making and its preparations for performing in Shanghai next month.

Open Niche was deliberately demanding for me and for the team: we weren’t just fitting the existing Niche performance into each new venue but creating new performances in each location. Meeting new people, working out the new dynamic and the new creative possibilities required a lot of energy and, over the period of our tour, a great deal of stamina but this challenge was also an opportunity for my work to grow and for me to learn something new, rather than deliver over and over again a piece I made in 2008. Learning something new was the motivation for all of this work and effort.

The performance at Siamsa Tíre and the collaboration it allowed between my work and that of the National Folk Theatre was illuminating because of the ready connections that could be made between the extracts from the Siamsa repertoire that we used and some of the sections of Niche. Of course I knew that I’d used Eastern European folk dance forms in the creation of Niche but the weaving, spinning and interlinking made perfect sense in the Siamsa context. (The wide open stage without masking was a particularly hospitable performance space). The relationship between the iconic súgán chairs from Siamsa’s rep and the metal and plastic Niche chairs (from Dancehouse) made for a neat reflection on tradition and modernity too. I still carry with me the idea from Siamsa that 'Folk' is what the people do and so Niche, which was intended to be some kind of reflection of elements of contemporary Ireland, could be regarded as a folk piece too

It was a big change to go from sharing the space in Tralee with three professionals (Anne O'Donnell, Adrienne Heaslip and Jonathan Kelliher) to Cork where we worked with Transition Year Students from St Vincents's Secondary School:
Ciara Twomey
Kate O'Shea
Amy Walsh
Laurey Casey
Shaunagh Brereton
Leah Spillane
Chloe Griffin
Jennifer McKenzie
Amy Leslie
Megan O'Brien

Though they take part in the Firkin Crane's Chance to Dance Programme and have a dedicated teacher in Siobhan Woods who makes sure the students get many performing arts opportunities, the girls are not experienced dance performers. I had created some material with them when I visited earlier in the Spring but since some of the students who were present then were no longer available, I had to abandon that direction and work simply and quickly with what we had.

in the end, it was the energy and presence of those teenage girls on stage which was important and I used simple walking patterns, exits, entrances and watching to organise their involvement in Open Niche.

Working with these non-professionals in such a short space of time was a challenge, particularly at the end of the tour when we were running low on energy reserves. The first afternoon rehearsal was a bit cranky with its anxieties and skittish nerves for the girls and tiredness for the Niche dancers who had performed the night before and traveled that morning. But after that introduction and arriving on stage next day, everyone was much more familiar and relaxed with what would be involved.

In the end I thought the performance was great and hope some of the performing talent I saw among the girls gets a chance to grow in other contexts.