The project began with an invitation to show a selection of my work in a museum in Beijing. Curiosity, flattery are part of the equation. What is it in my work that would interest people there? I wanted both to find a link to it and to make a work that would refer to this question. Drawing, film, performance, posters, sculptures – all was possible, everything was open. The project began as many do with a distracted reading and looking. I read the books of Lu Xun, a modernist whose sensibility placed him with Japanese writer Aktagawa and European writers in the tradition of the absurd modern like Gogol and Kafka. Books of revolutionary posters. Here the language pulled me in, the exhortations, the instructions, the clamour of incredible and unstoppable enthusiasm.
Notes Towards a Model Opera
2015 3-channel HD video projection 11 min 22 sec
Choreography and dancer Dada Masilo
Music composition and arrangement Philip Miller
Additional music composition Johannes Serekeho with music performed by First St John Brass Band
Video editing and construction Zana Marovic Janus Fouché
Vocals Bham Ntabeni, Moses Moeta
Joanna Dudley, Ann Masina
Tlale Makhene, Thato Motlhaolwa
Trombone Dan Selsick
Trumpet and Spoons Adam Howard
Tuba George Fombe
Guitar Charles Knighten-Pullen
Stroh Violin Waldo Alexander
Dada Masilo,Tlale Makhene Bham Ntabeni,Thato Mothlaolwa Thabani, Edwin Ntuli Members of First St John Brass Band Members of African Immanuel
Essemblies Brass Band
The model operas were theatre pieces exemplary in revolutionary content, the form of the Peking operas re-worked with revolutionary stories: through passionate song, speech or dance, a peasant, a young soldier, a young communist, roused their fellows to fight the Kuomintang or the Japanese. There is singing, ballet or martial arts with its precise percussion. Many red flags are waved, the enemy is defeated, and then there is a singing of the Internationale. Seeing these films of the opera started the project.
It was the model operas that held me. A notebook was begun with the inscription Notes Towards a Model Opera. The work on the project itself began with a morning’s improvisation with Dada Masilo, a South African dancer with whom I had worked before. We watched some of the films of the model operas. In the first hour on the dance floor, there were strangenesses, unexpected connections and collisions in the dance, and the dance in relation to the music from the model operas, of music from the 1950’s, African colonial dance bands. It was already clear the project could not be abandoned – even though it was unclear (as it is still unclear now) what the final piece would be.
Notes Towards a Model Opera
Three channel film installation
A bowl of peonies; an image of an ink drawing of a small bird, a sparrow. The drawing of the peonies is on the wall of the studio, the birds still hover as an idea. A sense of a vague image, an image that feels specific but isn’t yet fixed – an image, a smudge of ink on paper becoming a bird.