Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in conversation with Reni Eddo-Lodge at WOW 2018

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Reni Eddo-Lodge in Conversation by Southbank Centre: Think Aloud

Why have just one best-selling author on your stage when you can have two? As part of Women of the World 2018, the multi-award-winning writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie joined Reni Eddo-Lodge, author of the acclaimed Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race, on our Royal Festival Hall stage.

In this fascinating recording of the event, the pair discuss some of today’s most pressing cultural issues, including blogging, social media and discussions on race.

There's a sense that, when being asked to talk about race, after you've written a book, you're supposed to have the answers, you're supposed to have the solution; and while you're having the solution, you're supposed to cater for the emotional needs of the people listening to you
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Enjoyed this? Listen to further podcasts and recordings from WOW - Women of the World 2018

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WOW 2018 would not be possible without its generous sponsors and supporters: Bloomberg, UBS, American International Group Inc (AIG) and The Chartered Insurance Institute.

Be inspired with women of colour at WOW

Intersectional feminism has gone from being a concept proposed by academic Kimberlé  Crenshaw back in 1989 to a term that, thanks to social media, is now in common parlance. But in case you’re still not sure. . . it’s a way of looking at oppression as influenced not just by gender, but also by race, health, ability, class, age, religion and other factors.

As WOW – Women of the World has a mission to look at how to make the world a better place for all women and girls, it is imperative that our programme embraces intersectionality. At WOW 2018 we’re proud to present our most inclusive programme to date, and in this blog post we’re highlighting some of the talented women of colour who appear.

We’re honoured that Patrisse Khan-Cullors joins us for Friday night’s event No More. She helped start a worldwide movement back in 2013 when she coined the Black Lives Matter hashtag and has some great advice for activists.

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at WOW 2017

WOW favourite Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (pictured above), author of Half of a Yellow Sun and We Should All Be Feminists, returns. She’s appearing in conversation with Reni Eddo-Lodge, who burst on to the scene last year with her book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, in a conversation that covers race, gender, feminism and more. At the moment the event is returns only, but do keep an eye out in case more tickets go on sale.

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For those lucky enough to get weekend or day passes, the following events are included (if you missed out, please check our social media channels for coverage).

Melanie Eusebe

Friday has a focus on women at work and in businesses. You can hear Senegalese entrepreneur Mariéme Jamme, as part of Power, Purpose and Progress; and June Sarpong, Melanie Eusebe (pictured above), Deborah Williams and Shona Baijal, who appear together at a talk called Diversify. Also on Friday is our special event Code Switching, which looks whether Black women are forced to compromise to fit into the workplace and the impact this can have.

Reeta Mumbai

On Saturday, outspoken model Munroe Bergdorf, who hit headlines last year when L’Oreal dropped her for comments about white people’s racism, appears as part of Sweep Through the World. We’re asking the question ‘Desi Lesbians, Where are you?’ in an event chaired by Reeta Loi (pictured above), co-founder of Gaysians.

Also keep an eye out for Mother Tongues, a screening of Victoria Adukwei Bulley’s acclaimed film of poets working with their mothers to translate their work into their first language The screening is followed by a discussion with Victoria and poets from her film.

On Sunday you can see Laura Marks and Julie Siddiqi chairing We Stand Together, an event where Muslim and Jewish women speak out, or join the WOW Book Club for a discussion of Sister Outsider by Black lesbian poet and feminist writer Audre Lorde. There’s also the Power & Protest event looking at activism and disability, hosted by the Sisters of Frida collective, and LGBTQI+ Resilience with Black Pride UK, chaired by Black Pride UK co-founder Phyll Opoku-Gyimah.

wowfriday2016_071

There are plenty of free things to do if you missed out on a day pass. Search our website for details of events like the Women, Drumbeats and Self Care twerkshop; an interactive demonstration by Muslim Girls Fencing (pictured above); Scar, a film about violence against women in Rio de Janiero’s largest favela; a poetry reading with Momtaza Mehri; and Women for Refugee Women singing songs, to name just a few.


 

WOW – Women of the World 2018 takes place from Wednesday 7 – Sunday 11 March.

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WOW 2018 would not be possible without its generous sponsors and supporters: Bloomberg, UBS, American International Group Inc (AIG) and The Chartered Insurance Institute.

Inspired by WOW? You can support the future of the festival by donating today.

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Antonythasan Jesuthasan: the remarkable story, from migrant to moviestar

Antonythasan Jesuthasan is not like other leading actors. And those few words are very much an understatement. At 15 he was a child soldier in Tamil Eelam. At 25 he was living as a refugee in Thailand. At 35 he was leading a double life as a noted Tamil author and a Parisian bellboy. And at 45 Jesuthasan was the lead actor in a film that would go onto win the Palme d’Or.

Dheepan, directed by Jacques Audiard, tells the story of three Tamil refugees forced to pretend to be a family in order to flee civil war-ravaged Sri Lanka and escape to France, in the hope of reconstructing their lives. It’s a story the man in the title role knew all too well. Like Dheepan, Jesuthasan had also fled war-torn Sri Lanka as a Tamil refugee. He too had found a passage to France, and he too had to eek out a new life from the very foot of Paris’ social ladder.

DHEEPAN- Official UK trailer - Out now on DVD, Blu-ray & digital

Jesuthasan's story begins in Sri Lanka where, as a teenager, he witnessed first hand the severity and brutality of the 1983 Black July attacks on Tamil people by factions of Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority. 'Sinhalese members of the Sri Lankan Army came to our village and executed people on our front yard, our sisters were raped and sexually assaulted by them. The [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] were resisting against these atrocities, and so I joined them with a great confidence; it was a time when, all over the world, lots of resistances were taking place, for emancipation from all kind of oppressions. By reading in newspapers about events in Vietnam, Palestine, Nicaragua, and the Indian Naxalites resistance, we were moved to believe in the armed resistance.'

When Jesuthasan joined the LTTE as a child soldier, he was becoming part of a guerilla group which resonated closely with his own beliefs. 'Self-determination of socialist Tamil Eelam was my dream at that time. LTTE proclaimed that they were fighting for a socialist country and I took up that call, as I was dreaming of a socialist nation which would be free of cast, gender and religious differences.'

However, the LTTE grew quickly, and soon became the dominant opposition group in the Civil War that would engulf Sri Lanka for more than a quarter of a century. As the LTTE’s power base and influence grew, Jesuthasan sensed a shift in their focus. 'The socialist discourse which they had previously claimed, turned into rhetoric of ethnocentric Tamil nationalism. The leadership of LTTE dismantled and destroyed all other alternative political factions with its weapon. I left the movement then, so did many others. All our dreams had been burned inside three years, but history has subsequently proven that my decision to leave at that movement was the right one.'

Leaving a group like the LTTE is not something one does easily. Jesuthasan’s decision to walk away from the organisation ensured that from that moment on his very existence in Sri Lanka would be under threat. And so in 1988 he left the country for Hong Kong - the only place it was possible for him to travel without a visa - and from there he moved onto Thailand. Here, under the auspices of the UN Refugee Agency, he would live as a refugee in a Bangkok suburb for a number of years. In 1993 the chance to move on to France, travelling on a fake passport, fell his way and he took it. Jesuthasan has lived in Paris ever since. 'I love Paris a lot; this is the city that made me a famous writer and a world known actor, after I arrived here initially as a refugee'

I wasn't a born artist, I was a child of war. War and the injustice which were imposed on my people inspired me and pushed me forwards.

Does he still consider himself to be a refugee? 'Who wishes to be a refugee? Nobody wishes to inflict upon themselves the identity of a refugee, or an outsider. I consider Paris to be my home, but the French government keeps me as a refugee. Me considering Paris as my home bothers Madame Marine Le Pen; it is a big problem to her.'

Whilst Jesuthasan’s status as a resident remains locked in a status of flux; his life in France has seen him gradually gravitate back towards long-held passions, and the search for a means through which to tell important stories. He is something of a natural artist; whilst a member of the LTTE he wrote and acted in street dramas on the liberation of the Tamil people, which the organisation would deliver in local villages. But despite these early steps into the arts in his teens, to forge a career in literature or acting remained far from his thoughts.

'I wasn't a born artist, I was a child of war. War and the injustice which were imposed on my people inspired and pushed me forward in the first instance. I never considered Literature as a means to earn money. I studied until tenth grade, and the only language I can speak and write is Tamil. My knowledge of literature is also pretty small. But I always liked to resist, and I would always like to talk about the subjects others were reluctant to talk about. My stories are a medium by which to express my stance.'

With barely a handful of small film roles behind him, Jesuthasan initially auditioned for a minor part in Dheepan. But just weeks before the scheduled start of shooting Audiard learned of the actor’s backstory, and, after rushing him through classes took a chance on the inexperienced actor, casting him in the lead role. An incredibly bold move but, with the film going onto win the Miami Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize as well as the Palme d’Or, one that ultimately paid off.

Who wishes to be a refugee? Nobody wishes to inflict upon themselves the identity as a refugee, or an outsider.

So after the success of Dheepan, and with the film roles that have followed it, does Jesuthasan now consider himself to be an actor? 'Above everything I like to be identified as a left activist. To achieve, and to be identified as such I have needed to work hard, and to have lost a lot'.

And work hard he has. It was only in the late 1990s that Jesuthasan, encouraged by friends in the Revolutionary Communist Organization, first began to document his thoughts and experiences. Under the pseudonym Shobasakthi, he wrote short stories, essays and plays based on his experiences during the Sri Lankan Civil War, publishing his first novel Gorilla in 2001. But the transition from refugee to writer to actor was neither swift nor smooth. For more than two decades, right up to being cast in the role of Dheepan by Audiard, Jesuthasan trod a very ordinary life, earning a living as, amongst other things, a shelf-stacker, dishwasher and street-sweeper.

'It was hard, surviving with these lowly jobs. The time to stand up with my own theories and experiences didn’t arrive at my doorstep; I had to work hard to pull it towards me, so I could tell my stories'.

When I ask Jesuthasan whether the success of Dheepan has changed or altered his life, or expectations, it is the escape from the stress which these many jobs placed on his mind and body which he moves to acknowledge first. 'I have been emancipated; rescued from the torment of becoming disabled, mentally and physically, from being squeezed and sucked in the name of work at supermarkets and restaurant kitchens'.

But he is aware too, as any left activist would be, of the wider impact of the film’s success, and what it has meant not just for him, but for the people whose stories and voices he has long strived to represent. After the success of Dheepan prominent French directors have begun to give roles to Tamils in their movies; many other faces have now made their debut in French cinema'.

When I was working on Dheepan I fully submitted myself over to the great artist, director Jacques Audiard, and as a result I didn’t feel any tension or worry.

It is understandably difficult for anyone seeing Dheepan, and knowing Jesuthasan’s own history to avoid drawing parallels between the life of the actor and that of his character. But simply being able to resonate with a life, doesn’t mean portraying it comes easily. 'Yes, I was able to understand the screenplay clearly, since Dheepan and I had endured similar experiences. But Dheepan's mindset and mine are not the same at all; completely different from each other. Dheepan was a creation of the director, not me, and so I had to work hard to bring this created character through on screen. I had to keep my own emotions in control; losing that control would’ve been dangerous for the art’.

Though Jesuthasan had acted before Dheepan, this was by far his biggest role to date, his first title role, so how does it feel to make that step up, and to do so with a director as accomplished and revered as Audiard? 

‘It felt really normal. If I had worked with a debut director then I think I would have felt greater pressure - after Dheepan, when I played two further lead roles, I had that sort of a pressure. But when I was working on Dheepan I fully submitted myself over to the great artist, director Jacques Audiard, and as a result I didn’t feel any tension or worry. I was happy, but worked very hard.’

Hard work, and a willingness to work hard to earn the right to tell his stories are evidently significant cogs in the machinery of Jesuthasan’s character. He is a man who is under no illusions of the struggles and fights an increasingly global community must face in order to make themselves heard. He is a leading man unlike any other, so what does being a man mean to him?

‘We are in the era of globalisation and the time of refugees, it’s a context which pushes me, and many of us, to the very edge of slavery. The establishment, laws, and the justice system have invented means to keep us as slaves forever. It is by standing up to this we find some sort of meaning for our very existence’.


 

Migrant to Moviestar: Dheepan’s Antonythasan Jesuthasan, a special screening of excerpts from the film Dheepan with contextual discussion from Jesuthasan took place in Royal Festival Hall as part of 2017's Being A Man festival. This annual festival explores what it means to be a man in the 21st century.

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interview by Glen Wilson

Practise the Swedish art of moderation

With preparations for The Great Nordic Feast in full swing, it might seem an odd time to look at the topic of balance and moderation – unless you consider the Swedish expression ‘lagom is best’. This means practising moderation, for the mind and the body, in order to achieve balance.

Which is why our feast is about more than joyous eating and drinking (although it’s definitely about that!). It is also a celebration of Nordic lifestyles and an exploration of how we can embed Nordic values like equality, sustainability and openness into our own lives.

Before the feast starts, Visit Sweden shared a few tips from Bertil Marklund MD, PhD, a medical doctor, researcher, author and professor of general medicine, and a specialist in public health. He believes that balance is of utmost importance and wrote The Nordic Guide to Living 10 Years Longer to help people work towards lagom. Here are three of the strategies he advocates:

Measure your stomach height

  • Monitoring abdominal fat will tell you how much fatty acid is being released into the abdomen by fat cells when you are stressed, which ultimately damages the heart, arteries, liver and pancreas. A healthy figure for men is less than 22cm; for women less than 20cm.

Drink 3 to 4 cups of coffee daily

  • Researchers at Lund University in Sweden found that a few cups of coffee a day may help to prevent the recurrence of breast cancer, while scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm found that the equivalent of two large cups a day could offer up to a 30 per cent reduced risk of multiple sclerosis.

Sleep for 6 to 7 hours

  • A Swedish study of 70,000 women showed that short and long sleepers ran a greater risk of premature death – although negative effects of too much sleep are offset by physical activity. The optimal period of sleep for most  20- to 40-year-olds is seven hours, reducing to about six hours by the age of 60.


 

If you’re feeling inspired by the Nordic way of living come and get a taste of a simple, balanced lifestyle at The Great Nordic Feast, which takes place from Friday 20 to Sunday 22 October.

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Change and continuity under China’s two-child policy

Ahead of the latest instalment of our China Changing Festival, co-founder and editor of WAGIC (Women and Gender in China) Séagh Kehoe offers their interpretation of the impact, considerations, complexities and ambiguities around China’s introduction of the two-child policy.


 

On 29 October 2015, China's state news agency Xinhua reported a significant change to one of the most widely recognised and controversial symbols of the Communist Party’s rule - the one-child policy. From 1 January 2016, the two-child policy took its place, allowing all married couples in China to have two children.

Introduced in 1979, the one-child policy was originally intended as a temporary measure to curb China's rapidly growing population and stimulate economic growth. It ultimately remained in place for more than 35 years.

Strictly  enforced, the human toll of the one-child policy could often be enormous. Couples who failed to comply with the policy could face loss of employment, forced abortions and sterilisations, and vast ‘fines’ for ‘illegal births’.

This policy, and its impact on the lives of millions of people in China, have been the subject of various pieces of dystopian fiction, most notably across the chilling pages of Ma Jian’s The Dark Road and more recently, Maggie Shen King’s The Excess Male.

To what extent the policy was responsible for the great fall in China’s birth rates is still a point of discussion. Many argue birth rates were already in decline before the policy was introduced and would have continued to fall as a result of urbanization, rising incomes, and, as Nobel laureate and economist Amartya Sen contends, ‘the empowerment of Chinese women through rapid expansion of schooling and job opportunities’.

While a number of exceptions to the policy were gradually implemented over the years, the policy generated a number of major demographic issues for the country. With couples allowed to have only one child, a strong traditional preference for sons led to sex-selective abortions and resulted in a dramatic gender imbalance with roughly 116 boys born for every 100 girls. As a result, notes Xinhua, China now has 34 million more men than women, many of whom will be unable to ever find wives.

The government introduced the two-child policy in the hope that it would alleviate the mounting pressures of this extreme gender imbalance, and also arrest other big issues such as a rapidly aging population and a shrinking work force. However, many wonder to what extent this new policy encouraging married couples to have two children will really put a dent in a demographic trend that has been established for decades.

China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC) reported that the number of new-borns in the year following the policy’s introduction increased by 1.31 million against 2015, while the birth-rate of second children rose to 45%. These numbers however still fell short of government estimates.

Yet in urban areas, high living costs, long work hours, insufficient provision of social welfare, maternity and parental leave, along with ever-rising child-care expenses often means many couples are reluctant to have a second child, or even a first one.

For women the policy also presents additional concerns about how it might impact their careers, promotions, and earnings. Many fear that it could feed into what is already an overt and widespread culture of gender discrimination in the workplace. Discussions about the new policy on Chinese social media regularly point to anxieties about discriminatory employment practices and how employers will react to the prospect of having to now potentially pay maternity benefits twice.

For all its controversy the one-child policy is often credited with improving women’s status in urban spaces, particularly in terms of girls’ education. With families only permitted to have one child, girls often became the focus of their family’s aspirations and financial resources. What the new policy will mean for these advancements in gender equality made during the old-child policy era remains to be seen.

The baby deficit is a serious challenge for the government, and could curtail China’s future economic growth and ability to provide for its aging population. The government will now need to consider options such as more affordable housing, healthcare and education, better regulations to protect women from gender discrimination in the workplace, and perhaps tax breaks to encourage couples to have more children.

Another option would be to make it less difficult for single women to have a child. Without a ‘reproduction permit’ from the government to have children outside of marriage (notoriously difficult to obtain), unmarried single women and other pregnant people may face ‘fines’ and their children may be denied birth certificates. The government also continues to prevent single women from accessing assisted reproductive technologies, such as egg freezing.

Despite the new challenges and changes the shift to the two-child policy has brought, one thing remains constant – a strict state policy of birth control. The new policy will not end forced sterilizations, abortions,or ‘fines’ for ‘illegal births’, nor will it make it easier for single, unmarried women and other pregnant people to have children. As long as the State continues to intervene in and override people’s personal decisions about having children, questions of bodily autonomy and reproductive rights will remain prominent.


 

Séagh Kehoe’s take on this, is just one of the many perceptions to be discussed at Women, China and the Two-Child Policy, one of a number of talks taking place at Southbank Centre on 7 October as part of our China Changing Festival.

listen to the talk

Séagh Kehoe is a PhD researcher as the School of Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham. They are co-founder and editor of WAGIC (Women and Gender in China), an online project dedicated to discussing gender, sexuality, and feminism(s) in China past and present. They can be found on twitter via @seaghkehoe, and @halfthesky49

How can I listen to poetry in a language I don't speak?

At Southbank Centre, home of the National Poetry Library, we’re proud to host an inspiring programme of live poetry readings all year round. And we’re similarly delighted to be the venue of the biennial festival Poetry International, which has taken place here ever since it was founded by Ted Hughes in 1967.

Not only do we present poetry in English, but we also offer you the chance to hear work by poets who write in other languages. But what if you don’t speak that language? Is it merely a waste of your time to listen to the work of poets delivered in a foreign tongue?

We certainly don’t think so. Hearing poetry in any language is a meaningful, often moving, experience, and there is still much to gain from listening to verse, even when you don’t grasp the meaning of every word.

Poetry is a universal language of understanding in which we can all hope to meet
Ted Hughes, founder of Poetry International

But how can you listen to poetry in language you don’t speak? Here are a few pointers.

  • Focus on hearing the sound of the poem, rather than what individual words mean

  • Listen out for the music of the poem

  • Think of a poem as a ‘language game’, rather than operating in the world of information

  • Try exploring the idea that poetry exists as an ‘air language’, as poet and Southbank Centre Translator in Residence Stephen Watts puts it

  • Sometimes it’s OK to just trust that an artist (in any medium) has a clear intent, even if you don’t know exactly what it is

Want to put this advice to the test? Watch this short video of the famous Armenian poet Razmik Davoyan, recorded at the National Poetry Library’s Poetry Parnassus festival in 2012. Or, if you speak Armenian, try Ethiopian poet Bewetu Seyoum below, and if you’re fluent in both Armenian and Amharic, then please accept our apologies.

Razmik Davoyan - Armenia

Bewketu Seyoum - Ethiopia

Sound poetry

There is a great tradition of poets focusing on the sound of language rather than words. A good example of which is the Austrian writer Ernst Jandl, who translated Wordsworth’s ‘My heart leaps up’ using German words that sounded like the original English, changing the meaning entirely.

My heart leaps up when I behold           mai hart lieb zapfen eibe hold
A rainbow in the sky                                    er renn bohr in sees kai

More recently, the English poet Hannah Silva has combined sound and sign language in her work, to very powerful effect.

Schlock! by Hannah Silva trailer

If embracing poetry in another language still seems a little daunting you may be relieved to know that many of our events featuring works in languages other than English also have translations.

help save an endangered language

Do you know a poem in an endangered language? If so then you can help the National Poetry Library project to help save languages that are under threat and preserve them for future generations.

Teju Cole, on Blind Spot and human fragility

Teju Cole: Blind Spot by Southbank Centre

Earlier this autumn, acclaimed author and photographer Teju Cole came to Southbank Centre to talk about his new book Blind Spot, in which his images of the contemporary world are accompanied by his lyrical and evocative prose. Listen to the highlights.

In this discussion with our Senior Programmer for Literature & Spoken Word, Ted Hodgkinson, Cole explores the unexpected connections between the visual world and written word, and offers a guide to seeing in our troubled times. 

Each person is a highly specialised library that cannot be replaced
Teju Cole

Each year we welcome a host of writers, authors and international voices to Southbank Centre for London Literature Festival.

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Introducing and protecting endangered languages through poetry

Endangered Languages Exhibition by Southbank Centre

To mark National Poetry Day on 28 September, the National Poetry Library at Southbank Centre launched a major new project to collect and preserve poems in endangered languages, and commissioned four poets to write new poems in languages under threat or lost to them personally.

According to UNESCO, of the 7,000 languages spoken in the world, over half of these are endangered with languages dying at the rate of one every two weeks. Their figures estimate that by the end of the century, half the world’s current languages will be lost which will also mean the loss of poetic traditions.

Southbank Centre’s National Poetry Library believes it is vital to capture this poetic activity for future generations and which is why we've launched the Endangered Poetry project.

find out how you can get involved

Brighten your summer with Nordic performances

The beach is open, the deckchairs are out and summer’s in full swing at Southbank Centre. With it comes Summertime, our programme of art and performance featuring dance, music, theatre and more from a flock of international artists.

Beneath the stunts, high-flying acrobatics and humour, these performances carry strong messages, ranging from explorations of masculinity to the refugee crisis and personal interpretations of religion.

Many of the events overlap with Nordic Matters, our year-long celebration of the unique cultures and values that put Nordic countries at the forefront of human rights and social change.

Sara Veale spoke to some of the Nordic artists receiving their UK premieres at Royal Festival Hall this August.

Somersaulting over borders

Cirkus Cirkor present Limits

Cirkus Cirkör

Sunday 13 August - Wednesday 16 August

From Scandinavia’s leading contemporary circus troupe comes Limits, a show exploring the refugee experience and broader issues of displacement and migration. The production is centred on the personal accounts of 27-year-old Qutaiba Aldahwa and 20-year-old Javid Heidari, who respectively fled Iraq and Afghanistan during the migrant crisis and now live in Sweden, training with Cirkus Cirkör at its school in Stockholm.

‘In 2015 we established a transit residence next to our circus hall, and that was soon full of new arrivals,’ Cirkus Cirkör founder and creative director Tilde Björfors says. ‘We collected stories from them, and Qutaiba and Javid’s ended up as the primary focus of Limits. Other voices are included... newly arrived artists from Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and Palestine are actually part of the cast’.

The troupe is famed for rich, unconventional fusions of theatrical expression, and Limits is no exception, featuring aerial acrobatics, teeterboarding, live singing and on-stage painting - all blended into a fearless choreography that challenges limitations ‘both mentally and physically’, according to Björfors.

‘There’s a fairly cemented picture that circus is simply entertainment,’ she says. ‘But to me, circus is about crossing borders and making the impossible possible. It’s a physical exploration of what human beings are capable of, and it has the power to explore and challenge the outside world. We felt we could not be silent while the peace project of Europe, which is supposed to be about open borders, closed its borders to the rest of the world in the most inhumane way.

‘We want to spread hope and encourage people to feel like they can do something about it.’

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Creativity as a new religion

Sacrifice

Iceland Dance Company

Friday 18 August - Sunday 20 August

Iceland’s national dance institution takes over Royal Festival Hall for three days with Sacrifice, a new series of performances contemplating the relationship between art and religion. The programme includes works from Iceland Dance Company artistic director Erna Ómarsdóttir and her partner, composer Valdimar Jóhannsson, as well as visual artists Matthew Barney, Ragnar Kjartansson and Gabríela Friðriksdóttir.

The four theatrical creations on show unite dance and visual art, music and expression, with some presented conventionally and others more immersive. ‘Together they form a festival,’ says Ómarsdóttir, who conceived and directed the project with Jóhannsson. ‘Each piece complements the others with a kind of floating but connected element.’

The idea for Sacrifice grew out of a personal discussion between the couple about getting married. ‘That made us think about the possibility of “customising” the wedding ritual to create our own personal version of the rite,’ Ómarsdóttir explains. They were also inspired by the broader way ‘art has been used throughout history to elevate religion and help people get in touch with their spirituality. Our conclusion was to regard creativity as our own personal religion, seeing it as a driving force and a motor for things in everyday life.’

Ómarsdóttir has choreographed two works in the series, including Shrine, which she describes as ‘dark, humorous and painful, with a lot of rhythmic breathing, screaming, ballet and hair.’ In it, a 12-dancer ensemble examines life, death and existence against a vivid moodscape set ‘somewhere between purgatory, the tourist experience and the biology research room.’

‘I hope the audience comes away filled with creative inspiration and the understanding that we can all find a way of expressing our personal beliefs and desires and become the masters of our own existence,’ she says. ‘IDC is a small company, but we’re a strong group of people who work passionately to make things happen.’

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Morphing the masculine

Morphed11_hi-res

Tero Saarinen Company

Thursday 10 August

‘Resolving issues by doing rather than talking.’ This is how dancer Jarkko Lehmus describes his experience working on Morphed, a 2014 contemporary dance work from celebrated Finnish choreographer Tero Saarinen. The piece grapples with masculinity, addressing themes like change, renewal and sensuality as it considers what it means to be a man.

‘The creative process was really about sharing information, experiences and learning from each other,’ says Saarinen. ‘I think the whole perception of manhood has been under scrutiny for a while now, and rightly so. As a contemporary male dancer, one does not need to be provocative and shocking to enhance one's manhood. By daring to be sensitive, responsive and alert, we men can ultimately ”bloom” in more poignant ways.’

Like much of Saarinen’s work, Morphed is a layered composition of contemporary dance, classical ballet and other styles, including street dance. ‘My aim was to [create] a tightly knitted choreographic entity, but with individual voices and talents within that,’ Saarinen says, ‘there’s something animalistic and primitive as it dives into the depths of dance and music rituals.’

The seven-strong cast ranges widely in both age and background - ‘one of the most exciting parts’ of the show, according to dancer David Scarantino. ‘We have people as young as 21 all the way up to 45. Some of us have been in ballet companies, some are freelance-based, some have studied classical modern techniques in the US. There’s even a breakdancer.’

‘In many ways Morphed is about the boxes and cages we set ourselves in,’ Scarantino continues, ‘but also how we can break, mould and love those cages and fully become ourselves as human beings. You’ll see seven different and strong characters develop throughout the journey on stage.’

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by Sara Veale

Summertime at Southbank Centre

Our Summertime programme at Southbank Centre lasts until 28 August.

New African Male Diaspora Identities - Africa Utopia 2017 podcast

New African Male Diaspora Identities by southbankcentre

What does it mean to be an African man in the diaspora? This panel discussion is chaired by writer and broadcaster Ekow Eshun.

What does it mean to be an African man in the diaspora? Global media brand, Nataal, celebrates work by photographer Mehdi Lacoste and stylist KK Obi in this podcast celebrating contemporary African masculinities.

Speakers include video director Akinola Davies; writer and curator Kareem Reid; and illustrator Jermaine Ampomah.

Africa Utopia is Southbank Centre's annual festival celebrating the arts and culture of one of the world's most dynamic and fast-changing continents.

More podcasts from Africa Utopia
 

Now it's 2017, the goalposts have shifted, we're more dynamic as people.
Akinola Davies, Video Director

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