- The Orientations Trilogy: Theatre and Gender: Asia and Europe
“For those working in intercultural performance, it is hard to avoid hearing the word ‘difficult’ at some stage in the process,” Li Ruru and Jonathan Pitches write in an essay in this volume (p. 196). The reader will find the scripts here—devised plays with Michael Walling as director for Border Crossings, an ongoing intercultural theatre project—difficult and sometimes approaching a theatrical house of Babel. For example, Re-Orientations (2010) includes inspiration from Stingberg’s Miss Julie, contemporary Shanghai yue opera, ballet’s Swan Lake, homoerotic cross-cultural relationships, and parent-child divides. Kanadaan, Chinese, English, and Swedish characters culturally and linguistically collide in a theatrical devised piece about gender, culture, and artistic practice. Tsunamis (narratively and figuratively) surge into the plot as well. As I read, I longed to do a dramaturgical intervention.
But the piece worked better onstage. “At its very best it’s impressive, bold in ambition and fluid—like Robert Lepage on a teeny budget,” said Lyn Gardner (http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2010/sep/10/re-orientations-review, accessed 23 March 2012). Time Out in London loved the earlier work, Dis-orientations, which is a mash-up of the Chinese classic Butterfly Lovers and Jiang Jing’s Nora in Ibsen’s Doll House and the Cultural Revolution: “Signature inventiveness creates a gloriously chaotic aesthetic. . . . A culture shock worth experiencing” (http://www.bordercrossings.org.uk/disorientations/reviews.html, accessed 23 March 2012). Visuals on YouTube for a Border Crossings clip show well-trained artists, interesting digital effects, and Peter Sellers– or Robert Wilson–esque staging (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=FwuBe34zUwY, accessed 23 March 2012). Peter Sellers himself, for whom Walling has served as an assistant director, provides the foreword, arguing that one of the productions is a “specially devised, fully collaborative production with Asian and European performers that embodies a hope for a mutually imagined future for both our changing worlds” (p. 4). By the end of my reading, I was sure this material can provide an interesting case study of a variant of contemporary intercultural, devised theatre: that which is a mash-up of skills and interests of participating artists and is facilitated and defined by funding opportunities that come available.
This volume includes Border Crossings’ three devised intercultural plays. Orientations (2003) has an Indian hijra (transgender male) as a core figure; he is attractive to both an English Indian girl and a Western concert promoter. [End Page 582] Dis-Orientations (2006) moves to China, where the concert promoter becomes involved with a Chinese “rent boy” as he seeks his ballerina daughter, who is romantically involved with a woman who is male impersonator of yue opera; Butterfly Lovers and the Cultural Revolution and Madame Mao are thematically interwoven in this offering. The third work is Re-Orientations, discussed above: the concert promoter and his wife deal with their daughter’s death. The first project is largely a British-Indian co-production and debuted to positive reviews at Watermans, the London theatre that was a center for new British Indian work. The second was partially developed with students from the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. The final work was performed at the Soho Theatre, and Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center was a partner. Each project involved workshops in India or China, and the cast was a mixture of Europeans and Asians. Devising was a part of the training of the European partners: most of the Asian performers had training in a traditional theatre genres or modern drama.
While the scripts probably worked better on stage than on the page, the material the editors provide lets readers inside the process. Statements from Indian, Swedish, English, and Chinese participants register their difficulties with and reactions to the work. The Asian participants who write here are the members who have had greater exposure to English theatre or scholarship by studying or working in the United Kingdom. The essays document that, as may often...