An apology: I wasn't able to interview all the artists who were involved in the Flying Circus Project. These interviews were conducted hastily, towards the end of the conference, which is why they're muddled, offhand, filled with puzzling lacunae. (As if that wasn't part of my blogging style to begin with.)
Interview with Vertical Submarine
Me: How has the Flying Circus Project been for you?
Joshua: Generally I think it was an amazing experience. Suddenly there’s all these artists from so many different backgrounds coming to present their work. You learn from all this.
Joshua: The only thing I thought was, maybe what we did in Yangon, I’m not sure if it was… whether or not the local Burmese appreciated that, if it was lost on them. Yeah. Just doubtful whether it was something they were looking forward to, that whey epxected.
Fiona: I’m always the silent one.
Joshua: Just delete everything I said.
Fiona: (recommending Singaporean bars the other FCP artists) You should go to the Wine Connection with the cheese bar.
Joshua: Another thing was I felt was that all the individual artists… Although the artists were all from very different backgrounds, during the presentations there was a very strong Burmese agenda that everyone was aware of, and kind of fitted their presentations to it.
Fiona: My most treasured moment was when I saw the two interpreters presenting our work. Cos it’s something we wanted to do. But nobody wanted to entertain us back home.
Joshua: On one level it was just to represent us, but here we also got double bonus, because we got interpreted as well. That was priceless.
Fiona: Maybe we should interview you?
Interview with Wu Wenguang
Me: How has Flying Circus Project been for you?
Wenguang: When I heard from KS, I was very interested to come in to enjoy. Because I’m very interested in Myanmar, especially in this transition period right now. Because it is something like China. China is in a transition period for 20 years. Transition period can be a few years, can be 30 years.
Myanmar, the country, I’ve never been before. But I’m looking for what happened, what’s the reality the people, especially the life of the normal people. Because my hometown is Yunnan: it’s very close to part of Myanmar. So even here I see the river, the woman the dress in the house, the texture… it’s very similar to the Yunnan Tai people.
In my early 20s, when I was just in university, I travelled to this part to meet people. That had a very good experience feeling, so here there’s… Of course I’m always keeping curious about Flying Circus, how does it go on?, because I participated in the project three, four times before, so it’s good for me to keep with the project, to find something that connects with the projects that we are doing in China, like the memory project.
So I think here, first the big interesting for me would be the people talking about their work, their situation from here, which means about the local people talking about their projects, the quotas, the public housing, and artists from Myanmar, like Ju, who started the Ju Foundation, and the young feminist artist [Nge Lay], she and her artist group, working for the Village Art Project.
So that was interesting for me, to know the people, the artists, how to work. Especially not just to critique the artwork, but to try to find a way to connect society and public people here. So it’s common text [?]. Like the way we are. Another interesting thing for me is we stay out of the project, means I’m not in the project to listen, to talking, for example I was doing the political event, the day before we left Yangon, the people [Margaret from Gitameit] talked about the war in Kachin state, they are talking, talking. I saw the people there talking. And I think very interesting to hear the people. They are still trying to fight for the right to feel the attitude [?].
I got some newspapers, the independent newspapers, so what’s there about the newspaper, what’s about the media. It’s the beginning of the free… because you know in Singapore, in China, we don’t have the right to make media. Censorship is still very strong. We just had a big story in the first of the new year: the one weekly newspaper, every year they have a special article for the new year, but the official people had changed it, cancelled some part of the context of the article. Like before, the people, the journalists, they control themselves not to speak out. But this time they stand out to speak to the public, the official people. No. This time no. They used the internet, Weibo. So many people followed this support.
So I am not just here to participate in the project, to listen. I have to try to do some activity. For example, I transfer everything interesting: I wrote, speak, article, to the Weibo, the Chinese Twitter, to make people know what matters, what I feel is interesting. So I keep this every day.
So going back from the meeting, the talking, I stay at the hotel. Even yesterday, maybe you are asleep, I was in the room, trying to connect to the Internet - it was terribly slow. Then I came down to the lobby. Better, but still slow. Half an hour, to send small news. I kept working till middle of the night 1am, and I sent five tweets, Weibo, contacts, about the last day in Yangon, and I did small interviews with someone I’m very interested in: Ko Tar, Zeya, also had the interview with Aung, the freelance taking the photos. Also he gave some information and showed this newspaper and blog about political events. So I interviewed about the personal stories, what’s the background, what he’s looking for, and wrote his story. I keep the kind of special things.
Me: Who did you interview?
Wenguang: The young Myanmar people I know from here. So about 20 persons. I keep the list, one with the age, and profession, what’s the background, the photo I sent. So yesterday I did about ten persons. Today back at the hotel I do another 10. In China, 3000 people follow my Weibo.
So I got something and learned and some activity. And nothing empty, nothing disappointed. Before [in previous editions of the Flying Circus Project] I had some series of disappointments, because all the people are closed in a room, in Theatreworks. Everybody is talking something, show something. This time was perfect for me.
Interview with Brett Bailey
Me: What’s the most memorable moment of the Flying Circus Project for you?
Brett: When you ask me the question the image that comes to mind is the orange fish, the beautiful orange fish that were swimming in our hotel in Mandalay.
Brett: Let’s see what else is precious, on reflection. I think Shwedagon temple was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life; one of the most beautiful environments I’ve ever walked in. I loved the film in Mandalay, the guy who made the film about his parents. That was really beautiful and human and clever. I love Hui’s film about her grandmother. I loved catching up with Rachael – 12 years ago when we were studying together and I haven’t seen her since then. The most precious day for me was the day up the river to the ruined stupa. I think that brought us together in a way: we were able to let our hair down and be ourselves amongst ourselves without any pressure to perform. Yeah.
For me my experience this time, the strongest things that are peripheral to the touring party, and it’s things like money being given to people to restore a film that had been some way damaged lost; the Golden Umbrella film. Money being given to, opportunity being given to Lin Htet to make new work. The sponsoring of the film festival in Mandalay, and I forget the name of the area the stupa was up the river, that initiative with the galleries we’re doing there…
Brett: Exactly. For me those stuck out as a really valuable aspect of the project. I think I need to get some distance before I can evaluate what it means to me, what I got out of it. That often happens, I need to step out of it to see. I think it was a challenging project, to make, to find an easy fit between the sort of incursion of artists into Myanmar and the context of Myanmar was not easy. And I don’t think it really clicked in somehow. I probably need t look at a distance to think why that didn’t happen. It was like two Lego blocks that didn’t really find their fit. I think that needs to be looked at by the team. I feel like the objectives aren’t always clear with the project. Sometimes it’s good to know what one’s doing, what’s the intention.
Interview with Julie Tolentino
Me: What was the most memorable moment of the Flying Circus Project for you?
Julie: Wow. I’ll have to think about that. I actually have written it down, what was my most memorable moment. And now I can’t remember.
Julie: Okay. Will you allow me to change my mind? Because right now, because O’m one of those people who functions on the body: one of the most memorable moments was when Nge Lay and Keng Sen’s approach to administering the honey for me, because I feel like connecting with the Burmese artists and then connecting with Keng Sen in terms of the project and then feeling him as an artist were so memorable, because both of them knew something and were able to do something with their bodies and intentions, that it brought tears to my eyes. They both really knew I needed to be pushed. They were very fearless with the way they worked with administering the honey. Not that I didn’t appreciate others ways, because I really needed other ways, but I was completely overwhelmed by the impact of them. And that for me, blows my mind, knowing that I was in Nge Lay’s country, I feel I learned about it so much through her, and then I felt like there was this amazing way we had this exchange, and I of course feel the same with a more complicated relationship with Keng Sen. So that is exactly, if I just answer from my gut today, it is indelible what kind of mark that left on me.
Me: Are there ways it could be improved?
Julie: I would say that one of the thing that was notable for me was a very, like, mind application, and then like this body-immersive experience as a way to be together. It’s palpable, this idea of sitting together, listening together, walking together, this kind of thing. But I do feel like one of the things, one of the ways I like to experience artists is through more bodily experiences.
So maybe if we spent a little more time on the floor or more time with each other’s artwork. I think it’s an impossible thing that I’m suggesting, but I feel at this stage in the world everyone has some physical practice, and even if we just gathered and meditated for five minutes every morning, or did some exercise or some kind of walk that was different from an exploratory walk… I wouldn’t have minded that kind of intervention, how to be together through our bodies’ experience. But I don’t think that is a criteria, it’s just something I would have loved because I function through touch and movement and… chairs, sitting in chairs! (Laughs)
But I must say for what it’s worth, something that was incredibly valuable was the way we were immersed with the public intellectual lectures before we came to the pint where we presented. This experience of really having to tune into yourself and the place you were in and the things you were hearing and the people there, before saying, “This is me, I’m a Powerpoint presentation.” The experience of being able to question who you are in the world as an artist. That’s amazing.
And subsequently I felt about Singapore… we were on our own, and we had to deal with that on our own. No-one’s talking about it, but everyone’s talking about it. And I think that was traumatic for us. There’s a wave, a melancholic longing for the world we were in. and I don’t think everyone was prepared for how to be logical about how we were going to disengaging from that space. And that, I think, KS is doing for us, allowing us this space, this experimental space.
Interview with Tellervo Kallienen
Me: What was the most memorable moment of FCP?
Tellervo: Oh… I have so many things in my mind.
Me: What was good? What could be improved?
Tellervo: What was good was… Tell me if I’m too abstract… I think it creates a space which was, which I feel, in which I was very easy to be very open and receptive to anything we saw and experienced and be very open for each other, so there was a lot of, it really was a space, whether they’re was a lot going on in terms of opening your own world, facing the reality in Burma, but also opening, my world by talking to other Flying Circus Artists. So I think it was well-curated in thinking that curating is like creating a situation. And I think this situation really worked in a way. It was very unusual situation.
And what could be improved it could be a little bit better information flow, so that when organisers know something, whatever it is, even if it’s just tomorrow we have a lunch together (laughs), then it’s good to be informed.
I would like to say it’s part of the beauty of this Flying Circus Project that you are a lot out of control, you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen and so it makes you very open. But because it is so loose, then my improvement idea is if there is some information existing beforehand, it would be good for the artists to know just practical things about what happens where, when. Partly because on this trip we were asked to produce tow different presentations, and at the same time we had quite a full program. So just when you thought you had time to work on the presentations, you have something planned.
Interview with Nge Lay
Me: What was the most precious moment of the Flying Circus Project for you?
Nge Lay: The most precious is that I got new friends from international. And also I can learn about their different ways of approach to art. So every person has their own different style to the artwork.
Me: What was good about the event? How could it have been improved?
Nge Lay: Good, improved, is how should I say… For us [in Myanmar], we have a difficult time to get a lot of chances. This time we can meet altogether at one time because we stayed together for a long time. So some good things we got from that and also they got from us, thinking.
For me, sometimes the presentation is systematic, because I did it very quickly, but over here everybody did their presentations very systematically. Also they share their artworks very openly. If we don’t know, we don’t understand, we can ask, we can discuss very openly.
Me: And what could be better?
Nge Lay: I think all is better. Because I got a new experience. I always want a new experience! So thank you all of you and also Keng Sen. He arranged this time, very good, very nice.
Interview with Kaffe Matthews
Kaffe: As ever, I’ve realized we’ve run out of time. At 3am last night I realized I was disappointed I hadn’t connected more with the Burmese artists. However over breakfast this morning I met some and now have further arrangements made to come back and make music workshops in the university, Gitameit and Mandalay.
Kaffe: Yes, I am intending to come back December or January. It was so good to see the workshops at Gitameit, but they were a gesture. I’d like to do something more thorough would be fabulous. I’m also looking forward to really listening to the music I bought. I bought six 6 CDs! Can’t remember the last time I did that actually. The music is the traditional music, and classical, it’s called pwa. It’s rhythmically… hang on, how shall I put this? It’s intensely complicated. There’s a beat but I can’t find it. Nge Lay has told me she can get connections – she has a friend-lecturer at the University of Culture.
So I would love to have the opportunity to work with an ensemble of traditional musicians and we would live-sample and process them and do amazing things and tour Myanmar in a bus.
Interview with Wen Hui
Me: Could you tell me about your workshop?
Wen Hui: The workshop I did was the most successful workshop for me in all the [conference]. The reason I thought was the Myanmar, the young people, they are really open, there is really a hunger, they really need, they really want to, are ready to go.
Wen Hui: Actually, before the workshop I didn’t know what I was going to do. Really, honest. I just had the feeling I wanted to meet Myanmar young people, I wanted to be with them. But when I’m in the studio, we just held hands with each other, feet touching. Immediately they started to get excited, the tension, and then we started… I knew immediately what we were going to do. I think they were really good, very open, very creative. Not afraid of their body, their inner strength, they were willing to experience themselves. So from their enthusiasm I knew what exercise to do, how to get where we wanted to go.
Me: Were there any other moments of the Flying Circus which were important for you?
Wen Hui: I think I love this Flying Circus. Because I think I have many artists, many comments and also we saw like some artists already do memory and village art projects… you are already connecting, seems like Internet, seems like we are already together with each other. Ah, yes. It really moved me. You do these things, in your own country, you didn’t know there are other people doing the same thing.
So everyone, their presentations, I was really interested, I really enjoyed them. I think the really good thing is that we invited so many Myanmar intellectuals, they shared with us their knowledge…. Because before I came, I completely didn’t know with the situation in Myanmar, I only knew about Aung San Suu Kyi. Then I came here and foud out there are so many Aung San Suu Kyi, so many, men and women, young people who have done so much already by their twenties. It gives you a lot of inspiration, like you’ve got a motivation here.
Me: (to Wenguang) the interview’s over.
Wenguang: So fast? Your job is very easy.
Interview with Rachael Swain
Rachael: I haven’t had any coffee, but anyway…
Me: What do you think you’ve taken away from the Flying Circus Project?
Rachael: I’ve been very aware of the challenges of art and activism as a kind of combined position, or a combined challenge. The challenge is of combining art and activism. I’ve felt kind of split in the artists and the local situation between people who are primarily committed to empowering local, a kind of social context where people are empowering local people and passing information which is vital to people knowing what’s going on, versus artists who are primarily driven by artistry and are making the art they feel reflects the world as they see it. I know it’s a hard breach to cross. It’s been one of the main divides in the project for me.
Me: What memory did you find the most precious?
Rachael: I think the day in Mingon was the day I really felt the Flying Circus was really firing on all its cylinders. The site we visited, the artists that hosted us there, the international artists speaking in that context, that was really communicating. I could really feel the value of us for them, and them for us. I could feel that really flower.
I was very aware of the challenges of all the artists’ presentations in Yangon, and the effort everyone was making to try and find a way to talk about their work to the Burmese artists out of their own political context and artistic context. And I think that was a struggle, but it was a good struggle. I think there were a lot of hits and misses, and things that didn’t translate. I have no idea how the translation was going – I think that was hard work for everyone, but it was a good work to have a go at.
I think seeds were sown. Maybe I’ve been overly aware of our responsibility to give something in this context and not just be taking form being here. And I thought of the sowing of seeds of sharing our work versus teaching more, in workshops. I thought as a theatremaker, one contribution I could make was sharing about making work, but that would take more time and maybe less people. I didn’t really come out one over the other, I was just thinking about the different approaches to really give something here.
I think the thing that really struck me, the intensity of this period of transition, was the day VJ said, “I’ve ever spoken publicly in Burma.” It really hit home to me, that things are suddenly more possible than they were a very brief period ago. That a significant person like that could have never spoken publicly in his own country was quite shocking.
Me: Anything else?
Rachael: I found myself asking myself if I was what work I would make if I wasn’t making work that was really dealing with the political context in Australia. Because of course, listening to the political context of other people’s countries is making me ask what’s happening in my country, and I realized the answer would be I would go home to Christchurch, where I’m from in New Zealand, and make something about he earthquakes.
It’s really difficult because there’s no space, there’s no venue, there’s no rehearsal space. There’s a bit of public space artwork but it’s a demolition site, the whole city is a demolition site. Spaces keep appearing, there are holes, there’s there’s construction sites and demolition sites. So it’s quite [appropriate for] making mobile work. And there’s a floor, somebody made this floor where schoolkids can rehearse dance classes and people can rehearse in the open, in a demolition site.
I’ve been very aware of that thing when as an artist you’re constantly navigating your own personal world and the world outside, and how much, you know… The balance is that sometimes, when it’s skewed too much in one direction, I’m not sure if you make good art. I was very aware of where I was sitting and the different people I was listening to, and the work that was being made, and if a country like Burma needs contemporary dance, which is something I work really hard towards developing. Is that of value?
Interview with Tadasu Takamine
Me: What was the most precious moment of the Flying Circus Project for you?
Tadasu: The time we concentrated on trying to define what is Flying Circus. That moment was very good. When we were discussing the meaning of flying circus. It was very precious for me.
A lot happens during my personal talk with Keng Sen, or when we had a roundtable talk. Keng Sen gave us a guide for us to think about. Yeah, those moment.
Me: And your impressions of Myanmar?
Tadasu: Mmm, the beer. (Laughs) Good food. I’m sorry! It’s different from other food. I like Thai food and Chinese food, but Myanmar food is…
Interview with Anomaa Rajakaruna
Anomaa: It’s interesting because I work in the north a lot, [doing work] about the displaced, about 1983, [so] meeting Shananthanan in Flying Circus was the most memorable moment for me in a way. Because I had known his work, he knows my work but we had never met face to face.
Anomaa: Briefly we’d passed, said hello to each other at one of my exhibition openings in Jaffna, but we’d never had the other speak , to talk mentally. And it’s very interesting that we had the opportunity, coming out of the country, meeting people from other places. It’s kind of north-south dialogue, you know, people coming from the developed world, the artists, and on the other hand the dancers. I come forma different practice, because I come from a different… But again, the north-south Sri Lankan dialogue coming within flying circus. We had the opportunity to discuss many things.
And then meeting all the short filmmakers in Burma, including the two short filmmakers in the camp, seeing the films, talking to them [about] using short film as a medium, because I work with a lot of shrot filmmakers back home, meeting them and having a dialogue. Especially meeting Wen Hui, and seeing her film, because my work is mainly on women and destruction, torture, violence, a lot of things. It’s really interesting that dialogue with her as well. The whole thing is memorable! Is it enough?
Actually I should add to this: because I think going to Burma, meeting to people there not only to Yangon, going to Mandalay… I think in a way it gives us something. Like I was talking to Shanaanthanan: there’s s a possibility of Flying Circus in Sri Lanka, there’s a place in Colombo you can go. The east coast, I think there’s a possibility, because if Flying Circus is moving out of Far East Asia, then come to South Asia, because I think there’s a possibility that doing something similar, meeting people.
Interview with Vuth Lyno
Me: What was the most precious moment of the Flying Circus Project so far?
Lyno: I would say my precious was when I hopped a local bus in Mandalay to the U Bein Bridge. So what happened was, I hopped on this, and Nge Lay tried to find out which bus went in that direction, and we tried to have the local experience.
Lyno: And we got on this bus, with other people who were just squashed in there, and there were a couple of monks just squashed in the back. That bus did not take us exactly to the spot of the bridge, it just went along the main road. Nge Lay got to talk to these three wonderful ladies and they were very polite and kind, and said they would take us to the bridge.
The bus stop was on one side of the bridge, and they guided us through this village and small town, and we saw a lot of... just to get an experience of the countryside of Myanmar, and we even walked past a pagoda, and a monastery, and found out that the three ladies… We thought, “Where do they live? We don’t want them to spend so much time.” And we found out they were staying at the pagoda temporarily. One of them had to go to the hospital and it was too expensive to stay somewhere else, and they got free accommodation, free food. So I thought it’s nice how the monastery plays [a part] in support and systems. And then I got lost in the pagoda and she kept aking me to the bridge myself because Julie and Nge Lay went to the restroom. And I lost them and she kept saying, “Go forward, go forward,” and I couldn’t communicate, so I was worried, so we decided to stop by the bridge and just wait at the bridge. And eventually Julie and Nge Lay came with the other two ladies.
And that was really a highlight to me, about seeing how people are so kind ot strangers here, and the monastery, the role that a monastery plays in this country. Even though I’m from a Buddhist country, Cambodia, let’s say we don’t quite come and sleep in the pagoda for free.
Also walking through the village was kind of like an amazing experience for me. Myanmar in my head, before I came, sounds very, perhaps too controlled or something horrible happening, people [who] are scared to do something outside, people [who] are so contained. But when I’m here, people are really like, going out, hanging out, doing their work. Monks were commuting with locals, and so civilized. In a way they were like us [in Cambodia]. That was quite an interesting highlight.
Interview with Maija Hirvanen
Me: Could you tell me what you did in your workshop?
Maija: We did this kind of “tuning in” exercises. I was just working in a mode where people are physically working together instead of working solo and in between discussions and physical exercises.
Maija: So we went around the spaces in the French Institute - one is blind and the other one guides, not with touch but by sound. So it’s a trust exercise. And we did a circle a structural game. One says a wish that’s a true wish, and they can make it a movement, so I call that a “human amplifier”. And they all repeat it. So we can actually create trust and belief in the others and share intimate thoughts in a way that’s not discussion in a soundwave [?].
And then we lay on the floor in a circle, our heads together, and participants were associating in Burmese about the meaning of life. I listened to it. I didn’t participate, I didn’t know [what they said].
And we talked about how these exercises can be used in whatever kind of mode you are in, when you are in dance or performance, when you are working with groups. It’s about making a group spirit. It was so late, after all these, the presentations, so I didn’t want to impose a specific technique. Just get to know them as well. But not socially. Getting to know them physically.
Me: That would sound really weird out of context.
Maija: We use these words, dancers. It sounds really funny outside.
Interview with Venuri Perera
Me: Can you sum up the FCP in one word?
(She was very tired)
Interview with Sithu Zeya
Me: What was your favourite moment of the Flying Circus Project?
Zeya: Visiting Mandalay and Singapore is my favourite because I never visit.
Zeya: Mingun brings memories to me, memories of visiting, the whole visiting. Because I’m not arrived, before not arrived. It’s my first time and my first feelings. So I’m very “rememberous” of the whole visiting. And then the Mingun situation is very feeling for me.