iard’s last stand

Mark Fisher talks to Alan Lyddiard about adding Chinese Opera to The Dance and the Railroad by David Hwang.

For his parting shot before relinquishing the post ofArtistic Director at TAG. Alan Lyddiard is masterminding a spectacular interpretation of an early David Henry Hwang play. fusing Chinese Opera and dance-theatre and bringing together a unique international company. Since writing The Dance and the Railroad in 1981 . the Asian-American playwright has achieved international success notably with the Broadway and West End hit M. Butterfly and also less convincingly. it must be said with Mayfest‘s 1000 Airplanes on the Roof. Partly because of its brevity it would last only one hour without Lyddiard‘s treatment - The Dance and the Railroad has been eclipsed by these later successes and has had only one previous British production. despite its original rave review from the influential New York Times critic Frank Rich.

Lyddiard first came across the play on a cultural visit to Singapore, just as he was coming across Chinese Opera for the first time. A few leaps ofthe imagination and some international delegation later, and TAG had on its hands the prospect of a play that explores the issue of immigration into America, while harking back in full visual style to the cultural heritage ofChina.

In essence, the play is a simple two-hander about two American railroad workers in 1867, one a



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‘Chinese Opera is. . . music, dance, theatre, gesture, make-up, costume; it’s an incredible art-form.’

trained opera performer. the other an enthusiastic greenhorn, whose conversations look forward to the opening up ofa new continent and back to the traditions ofChina. Indeed. this is much the play that schools and community venues will see. but by

the time it arrives at Glasgow‘s Tramway. TAG will have teamed up with Singapore‘s Peking Opera to elaborate on its themes with a glorious display of music, dance. costume and make-up. ‘The two men have a conversation on the top of a mountain,‘ explains Lyddiard. who is about to move to Newcastle‘s Northern Stage Theatre Company. ‘In their memories I can put in all that past heritage by using the Chinese Opera. You see him practising the steps as he‘s building the railroad. but behind him you see the real thing.‘ ‘I‘m not bending the text at all.‘ he continues. ‘David Hwang uses a lot of Chinese Opera in his pieces and for him that‘s what the play‘s about; his past and his culture. The elder man teaches the younger man the art of Chinese Opera. so it is very simple to insert it in between scenes. It‘s a perfect vehicle to introduce the West to Chinese Opera.

It‘s got all the elements of theatre that I love;

Chinese Opera is like that. It’s music, dance. theatre, gesture. make-up. costume; it‘s an incredible art-form.‘

Based on a historical strike in which the Chinese workers achieved substantial concessions from their aggressive white employers. the play undermines the cliched image of a subservient people and. like much of Hwang‘s work, it challenges racial stereotypes. Parallels with the relationship between Scotland and England can be drawn. but Lyddiard is more interested in expanding the parameters of the work we see on the Scottish stage. Like much ofTAG‘s work. the two main performers were trained as dancers. not actors. and Lyddiard is keen to enrich theatre with as many outside influences as he can. ‘I love the idea that you do plays in Scots.‘ he explains. ‘it gives audiences a relaxation in their own culture. But there comes a time when companies in this country have to do something different. That‘s what I‘ve done. I‘ve said let‘s look at a different culture. let‘s look at something outside ourselves. I think that is my final statement. And I think it‘s a brilliant thing to finish with.‘

The Dance and the Railroad , Tram wa y, Glasgow, Wed 4—Tue 10 Mar.

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‘I think I am probably dancing the best that I’ve ever danced,’ says Gregory Nash. ‘I feel really free, open and imaginative.’ After seven months in New York, Nash is back to penorm in the New Moves Across Europe dance festival with his improvised solo Waiting on the Wonton - a collaboration with Sianed Jones, respected composer, musical director and periormer.

His sojourn in the Big Apple was

spent working at the Susan Kline bodywork studio, swimming daily, waiting on tables each night and attending the Trisha Brown composition workshop. ‘That was quite extraordingry,’ he explains. ‘i have admired Brown's work for so long. She gave intensive attention to her compositional work and I got a lot of good ieedback.’ He also attended rehearsals and public lecture- j demonstrations, soaking up her expertise and resulting in the basis for i his latest solo. ‘She encouraged us to l set ourselves very, very strict rules l within which to work,’ he says, ‘and in doing this I think I came up with something that is pure and honest.’ The title, Waiting on the Wanton, derives from an amusing tale of Nash‘s



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I job was to deliver orders to the kitchen and then transport them to the tables. It was the ‘wun tun’ soup that he had to wait the longest for, and Nash began to | Theatre, GlasoOW. Tue 10 Mar.


see this as ‘a kind of metaphor for that rather grey period of my life which was spent in a kitchen in New York thinking about all of the things I’d like to do in the future.’

Nash is currently based at the Contact Theatre in Manchester, working as a choreographer, director and teacher. He relishes the security that results from ‘baving a home', saying that it allows him to work really hard. He certainly sounds full of enthusiasm for his new solo. ‘One of the most freeing and exciting ways of periorming is in the context of improvisation,‘ he says. ‘l'm going to surprise myself.’ (Tamsin Grainger)

; Waiting on the Wonton, New Moves

The List 28 February 12 March 1992 43