own. ‘The country is pretty extraordinary. It‘s so much older — I always think of America as being so 20th century. But it‘s ancient. with large stretches which have not been touched. It‘s so different for a European. where every single stone is marked.‘
White Man Sleeps took hold in a string quartet which grapples with two opposing ideas. ‘I love the way that the music can pull you one way and then another. This particularly happened here because the composer was trained classically but brought up in South Africa and listened to African music all the time. I couldn‘t come in at the same place because I know nothing about African music but there was this imaginative thing which happened through response to the music. It‘s an extraordinary thing when that comes across. it‘s not hidden and actually moves across to the audience and makes their imagination circulate as well. It‘s what I‘m aiming for. that movement ofthe imagination.‘
An art student who went to dance classes in her mid-twenties because a sculptor friend thought they would learn something about the body. Davies emerges now at the forefront of British contemporary dance. It is a position for which she feels great responsibility and concern. ‘I think there are now a generation of dancers — Richard (Alston). myself. Ian (Spink). Lloyd (Newsam). Rosemary (Butcher) — who have put in their groundwork and need to be allowed to grow. to go to the next stage.‘ In order to get to that stage. support is essential. But the support system is one which Davies feels needs looking at. Living from project to project. creating the work is a simple affair in relation to the problems ofgetting out on the road. ‘You‘re trying to find dates with venues who also don‘t have money so you lose money going to those dates. so then you eat into the grant which is there to make the next project. so the whole thing is on a downward spiral. In Europe the money is more generally spread. If you want to have a culture you have to grow it and mature it and be prepared to invest in it.
‘I just feel that in the search for developing a dance audience which is terribly important. there is a slight lack of recognition for what is here in the present. There are fine dance performers who have developed over the past ten years — in business and the sciences that‘s a well-trained person but in the arts you forget that kind of maturity is there to be looked at and admired and learnt from and is extremely exciting.‘
Sticking to your principals and believing in your art is hard work. With a frank and uncluttered vision and a bubbling sincerity. Davies stands her present and future firmly in both.
‘Wyoming' and ‘White Man Sleeps' are to be screened as part of the
Channel 4 ‘Dance On Four' series on 28 May at8.l5pm (see Media). q
In between best-selling novels, Fay Weldon has found time to write the libretto for a new ecological pop opera. Stephanie Billen cornered her on a Kentish Town sofa about green lifestyles, typewriters, a box at Covent Garden and the difficulty of being a tone-deaf librettist.
DEAR EEN SPAGE
about small greenspaces. Most of her work is conducted from her desk at a Georgian window overlooking a Somerset paddock full of Soay sheep. On this occasion however she is being interviewed on a sofa in Kentish Town. This is her London abode. both the office to which her creative outpourings are faxed. and a cosy second home with the children‘s postcards adorning the kitchen walls.
Weldon herselfembodies a kind of false cosiness. She chuckles regularly and smiles almost all the time. the rounded. benign face creasing up with (‘heshire Cat friendliness. but the things she says are often barbed with wit and her outlook on life anything but sentimental. A Small Green Space. the English National Opera production for which she has written the libretto. has the kind of themes which could very easily become soppy in the extreme. The story inspired by a newspaper cutting. involves a small boy encouraging his neighbours and friends to fight against bureaucrats planning to build over a haven of wildlife nearby. But Weldon argues: ‘One is almost not prepared to take sides. It is a small space which one may well argue could be a playground or a carpark. so it is not a rant. it is just a nice opportunity to use a set and scenes and colour. and something that the young will be concerned with and interested in.‘
D Novelist Fay Weldon knows all T
She exhibits no delusions about her
own ‘green‘ concerns or those of anybody else. ‘How is it possible not to be an environmentalist? I think everyone is. And as everybody is, it makes it extremely easy to be. Everyone wants to save something - the atmosphere. fruit and vegetables. little chickens. . . What is difficult is saying “I am not going to drive my car“ because it is leaded. or “I am not going to use my clothes dryer. I am going to put my clothes on the line“. The difficulty is in acting. I mean people eat vegetables but some people are vegetarians not because they care. but because they care for themselves. Or they care for little animals because they identify with little animals. but in a way ecology means valuing a rat as much as the baby seal. It is not an argument for sentimentalism.‘
A Small Green Space is part of a supremely practical community endeavour called the Baylis Programme. now on its first national tour. Established by the ENO in 1985 and taking its name from Lilian Baylis. founder of the Sadler‘s Wells Opera Company which became the ENO. the project works with schools to encourage an interest in opera. Thus A Small Green Space will involve not only professional opera singers. but four younger singers with rock. blues and soul backgrounds. In each town and city on the tour. a local youth chorus will have been groomed to participate. It
is educational in the broadest sense and its author claims to have been educated as much as anyone. ‘I am profoundly unmusical. I can‘t tell a B flat from C. . . Idon‘t often go to the opera. I don‘t really know what opera is. l horrified the END by declining to go.‘
She did eventually get to one and ‘thoroughly enjoyed it.‘ ‘It was wonderful. We were in a box. partly because we were there so late. You could stretch your legs and move around. It sounds silly but it is difficult in the theatre ifyou are not totally gripped. to be somehow imprisoned with a mass of people who you feel are behaving well because of the price of the ticket. But it was wonderful staging and great fun. You could see how it would go on century after century because it is such good music.’ Her initial prejudices about opera seem similar to many people‘s. ‘It seemed a very safe activity. that ifyou were unsure ofyour taste it was a good thing to see. then sleep gently though it . . . But it has changed a great deal.’
Even so. for the purposes of working. she decided to regard it as a musical play with an audience. ‘It is a mixture of recitative and actual song also mixed up with a lot ofpeople on stage all engaged in the same emotion. A recitative or ballad goes into a song rather like an aircraft taking off. You‘ve got to move up from a ﬂat thing into the air and then down again. landing gracefully. In a strange way if you are writing you don‘t make too much of a distinction between words and music. but the words have to have the capacity to become music. . . In the end it is the performers and the director who do obviously have to have this knowledge ofopera.‘
Her lack of musical knowledge was useful ofcourse in that it meant there was no possibility of being drgged into collaborative ‘teamwork‘ — a concept she despises. ‘It goes back to what I say about not working with people. Directors always want writers to work with them. What they really mean is that they want the writer to carry the can.‘ It is a polemic which reoccurs when she talks about her experiences last year at the Bass ClefClub in London where she found herselfhelping to combine episodes of her novel Puffballwith musical portrayals of the book by her jazz pianist son Nick and his quartet. While this was a set-up which seemed to work. the trend for theatre to become more music-orientated is fraught with dangers. ‘People instantly think writers and musicians should work together. but in reality one should work in parallel. understanding the common ground or interst. Working together is a terrible thing and ifyou are working in different forms. there is no reason to do it at all.‘ By mutual agreement her relationship with the composer of A Small Green Space. Ilona Sekacz. seems to have been one of initial conversations then a retreat into different corners before making adjustments later on.
14 The List 5 - 18 May 1989