Tag Archives: Berlin

words, words, words – issues of translation and the wonders of skype

“A translation is no translation…. unless it will give you the music of a poem along with the words of it.”  Millington Synge

 It is an extraordinary time, of revisions, of translations, reconfigurations, of developments – of conversations on opposite sides of the world…

The past week has been a series of meetings on the ether as well as in what used to be called ‘meat space’. I spent three hours sitting in an office in Berlin listening to a reading in Mandarin of my performance text the 9 fridas which was happening seven hours into ‘my’ future in Taipei. Skype is a remarkable invention – and free! The actors from Mobius Strip in Taiwan thought I was probably eccentric. Did I speak Mandarin? No. Did I understand the language? No. So why spend three hours listening in as they read the scenes, and then painstakingly discussed the translation by the wonderful Betty Yi-Chun Chen?

As a playwright, I write dynamic. I write tempo-rhythm and linguistic movement. This is still discernible even through the vagaries and differences of other languages. I could tell Betty had paid great attention to the tempo-rhythm and flow of my work – and the very particular punctuation I use in my dialogue, to suggest a certain pace and musicality to the actor. This new performance text, the 9 fridas, is informed by our perceptions of the life and art of disabled Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, and has many monologues. I could tell in the reading, across the language divide, that the inherent pace, tempo-rhythm and fluidity of voice was as I had hoped.


Through listening in, I was able to clarify next steps and liaise with the director and designers about intentions, concepts, costume and set design. I was able to make notes for a few developments in the script whilst also getting to know, via the computer screen, some of the actors I’ll be working with when I go to Tawain in July to work on this production for the Taipei International Theatre Festival.

I continued the conversation several days later in a Greek restaurant in the southwest of Berlin, just down the road from the graveyard where Marlene Dietrich lies.

Ramona Mosse is a scholar and dramaturg currently translating my play ‘peeling’ into German. Among many things, we discussed how difficult the title is in German – the alternatives in tone and energy were very different from the original in English. The choices spanned from the more violent equivalent of being skinned or flayed to the more literal peeling of an onion, which is already used in a Gunter Grass title. We discussed the relationship of the title to the contents of the text and Ramona provided an alternative title which was more about ‘getting under the skin’ – an action which could be applied to what happens to the characters in the script as well as the hoped-for impact on the audience whilst experiencing the stories from the play.

“Translators are the shadow heroes of literature, the often forgotten instruments that make it possible for different cultures to talk to one another, who have enabled us to understand that we all, from every part of the world, live in one world.”   Paul Auster

Letting go…

Mandel ja merihobu_kodukassuur

It’s strange when your work goes out into the world and starts finding an existence of its own. I always expected to have a close relationship with productions of my plays were I fortunate enough to have additional productions after the premiere. I anticipated being as involved as I am with the first production – speaking at length with the directors and cast, sitting in on rehearsals, or working closely with the translators if the productions were using languages other than my native English.

At first I thought I’d be deranged and dangerous – ‘The Controlling Author’ – sort of late career Bette Davis, fag in mouth, martini in hand, screeching out from the darkened auditorium during rehearsals: ‘ It’s not said like that! Didn’t you see it was a four dot pause, not three?’ as actors and directors wept copiously and swallowed handfuls of diazes…

Thankfully it didn’t work out like that. I found it more instructive, creative and beneficial for all to have a loose hold on the script and see what the skills, experiences and imaginations of the director, cast and company brought to the material. If there were certain points where I felt my intentions weren’t being presented, I would step in and make my case, but luckily for me, by easing off from being ‘the expert’ on my script (and the only voice), I have learned, grown, made good relationships with my collaborators and had much better productions.

So far so good…. But things are different again when the productions are not in the country where you reside…

I’m currently working in Berlin, and have a show opening tonight in Estonia, and needless to say, I shan’t be at the premiere. It feels distinctly odd, this sense of something so intimately connected to me – which came from me – having its own place and existence in the world without my connection. I don’t know the cast, have no notion of how the director hopes to stage it, and didn’t liaise with the translator. In fact, I didn’t even know this production was happening until earlier this week and I suspect this then is a kind of rites of passage. There reaches a point when our work is published, or out in the world, and totally independent.

Early in the process, I control it. I write it, I decide who gets to see it, who even knows it is in development. When it is completed in early draft stage, I am the conduit through which it goes, selectively, into the world. As the work gets polished and ready to be seen by a wider audience than my selected ‘first readers’, the narrow stream widens, and it is my agent who is placing the script under noses and so the tap root expands from there. What I’m experiencing today is what happens when work is published and readily available to whomever wants to read it, across the world. Gifted translators transform my words into another language and so its pathway into the world grows even more.

I’ve had productions before in other countries where I couldn’t travel and so see the work. I’ve had readings and productions in thirteen countries across the globe and I hope the productions were creative and successful and that the experience was a happy one for all involved. I hope each made the work fresh, and truly theirs – without any sense of a controlling authorial eye, or a ‘thou shalt not’ limiting imaginations.

So this evening, I’m letting go, and raising a glass to ‘The Almond and the Seahorse’ at Theater Endla in Estonia – wishing joy and broken legs, toi toi toi, and all those other superstitions. I will dream of what an Estonian Sarah, Dr Falmer, Gwennan, Tom, and Joe may be like – and hope that sometime over its long run in repertoire, I get there to see it.

Trailer at:  http://www.endla.ee

Enabled -Manifesto Project. Call out for disabled performance artists, Berlin, May 2014.

Performance artist/curator Rebecca Weeks emailed me, requesting I share this call out for Berlin-based disabled performance artists:

Please note: I am not not involved in the organisation of this project, I’m simply passing on the information, so please don’t contact me or the blog about the call out. Any correspondence and/or applications needs to be through Rebecca by 10th March 2014 at  rebecca@artdept.org.uk 

Rebecca Weeks writes:


Call out for disabled performance artists – deadline March 10th 2014. 



9th -11th MAY 2014

Expressions of interest are sought from performance artists who are living and working with disability who would like to participate in a workshop and performance event/ sharing to take place 9 -11TH MAY 2014 as part of the MPA-B 2014 programme to be hosted by SAVVY Contemporary, Neukolln, Berlin.

This project is intended to offer group activities and dialogue whilst supporting individual approaches to making work within a small informal friendly group. The workshop will result in a manifesto of some kind that addresses the participants concerns, needs and desires in relation to disability and performance art and will result in a performance platform/sharing event/and or discussion as an outcome to be shared with an audience within MPA-B 2014.

The project supports SAVVY Contemporary’s ongoing work as a laboratory of forms and ideas engaging with conceptual, intellectual, artistic and cultural development and exchange.

English and German will be spoken within the workshop.

Participating artists will also be offered a communal meal prepared with love by Joseph Patricio.

The project is curated by UK based performance artist/curator Rebecca Weeks, and supported by UK artist led organisation CAZ, UK based artist/graphic & web designer Ian Whitford, by Berlin based artists Marcel Sparmann and Joseph Patricio and MPA-B and the project will be hosted by SAVVY gallery, Berlin.


EMAIL: rebecca@artdept.org.uk by 10th March. Successful applicants will be notified of the result of their application in April.

Please email Rebecca with a brief statement outlining: your contact details, your performance practice, your interest in participating in the project, and what you hope to achieve through participating, a CV/biography and a few photos of work as jpegs. Rebecca is interested in hearing from emergent, mid career and established artists in order to encourage cross – generational dialogue.

For more information about CAZ: www.cazart.org.uk

For more information about SAAVY: www.savvy-contemporary.com

For more information about Rebecca Weeks & Ian Whitford: www.weeksandwhitford.co.uk

For more information about Marcel Sparmann: www.marcelsparmann.com

For more information about Joseph Patricio: www.nowherekitchen.com/about

20 Questions….. Johanna Devi.

Earlier this year I started a strand on this blog where I invited a broad spectrum of artists – novelists, sculptors, choreographers, directors, poets, burlesque dancers, playwrights, visual artists, and many more in between – to engage with the same twenty questions about creativity and process. I hoped this might create  interesting and illuminating reading, and an intriguing archive – not just in the often wise and considered answers these individuals give, but as a body of opinion, shaped by experience and form.

I’m delighted to continue this series with dancer and choreographer Johanna Devi, whose complex, graceful, and innovative  work it has been my pleasure to witness in Berlin over the past two years.

Johanna Devi

Johanna Devi

Johanna Devi was trained in contemporary dance and ballet from the age of six at Jessica Iwanson, Munich, Germany. Additionally she has been studying the classical Indian dance form Bharatanatyam in India, Germany, USA and Canada since 1995. She concluded her studies with the ‘arangetram’ in November 2006 in Berlin under Rajyashree Ramesh .
Johanna completed her modern dance training at danceworks-berlin e.V. and at Alvin Ailey School of American Dance Theater in New York City. Besides her dance trainings she studied classical music (piano and music theory) with professors of music universities in Munich, Graz and Berlin.  Since 2007 she has worked as a freelance dancer and choreographer throughout Europe, Canada, the Middle East, India and Cuba. She has danced for companies like Felix Ruckert, Sampradaya Dance Creations, Mavin Khoo, Sadhana Dance, Gwyn Emberton Dance and has created Solo and Company work as a choreographer. In 2012 she founded the Johanna Devi Dance Company in Berlin, Germany. In 2011 she has been invited as one of eight dancers worldwide to perform at the 2nd International Dance Festival (sponsored by ICCR) in Delhi and Chandigarh, India. In 2013 she won the prize for best staging at the 17th International Theater Festival in Baghdad, Iraq (Bernarda Albas Haus; director: Ihsan Othmann, choreography: Johanna Devi)

For further information please also see http://www.johannadevi.com

What first drew you to your particular practice (art/acting/writing, etc)?

I started my dance training (ballet and contemporary/modern dance) as a child. I saw my first Bharatantyam performance when I was about 8 and started to train in that style at 14. I had visited India already and simply wanted to combine my passion for dance and India. Dance and Music just came naturally and easy to me and fulfilled me to an extend that I kept wanting to investigate more. So I feel like I didn’t really make a conscious choice.

What was your big breakthrough?

It’s yet to come…

What is the most challenging aspect of your work?

To define what I am doing.

It seems like people like to label art-forms. But I am dancing inbetween different styles or languages as I like to call it. I am neither a ‘typical’ German contemporary dancer, nor an Indian dancer. I am usually confronted, when talking about my work, with questions like if the dance style I am doing has something to do with folk, ethnic dances, multi culturalism, esoteric spiritualism, Bollywood, belly dancing or other forms of show dancing. But I simply created my own choreographic signature. Merging contemporary dance with Bharatantyam, working with contrasts and just taking selected aspects of the different styles (such as polyrhythm, isolation, coordination, release and flow etc)

What’s more important: form or content?


 Do you read your reviews?


What work of art would you most like to own?

An original (i.e. hand written) score from one of the great composers

 What are you working on now?

I am working on a dance piece with my dance company where rhythm, sound and movement work symbiotically together.  Complex rhythms are made visible and tangible before they are audible.

What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out?

How important it is to stand to yourself and to take the feeling of being ‘different’ as a strength rather than as a feeling of not belonging.

How do you tackle lack of confidence, doubt, or insecurity?

I redirect my focus to a place that is free of my own judgement

 And the best thing?

(translated from German; a review on my production ‘santosham’)

“Moving Poetry
The movements are as soft as velvet, as fluid as water. Fareastern sounds are opening the heart, the soul is exposed. Magnetized one follows each of the soothing, soft gestures of the three dancers. They remind of priestesses of ancient cults, who try to bring themselves in accordance and unison with the world. Classical Indian and contemporary dance merge poetically into one wave, one stream of energy. Again and again one dancer breaks out of the triad of the synchronized movement patterns, tells her own story and depicts physically her conflict. Dynamic and reflection create a mystical dialogue throughout the fingertips of the graceful dancers. Everything flows. (ail)”
100Wort! independent newspaper of 100° Festival 2012, Feb 25th 2012

If you were to create a conceit or metaphor about the creative process, what would it be?

A flexible, transforming and flowing, labyrinth

 What is the single most important thing you’ve learned about the creative life?

To be determined and simultaneously be open to surprises and changes

What is the answer to the question I should have – but didn’t – ask?


Johanna’s showreel from 2012
The trailer for the Johanna Devi Company production called SANTOSHAM

London, Paris, Berlin, Dusseldorf… Border Control at Tanzkongress

I'm grateful to Susan Basham and her lovely website of humorous quips and quotations from writers for the above. http://www.susanbasham.com/2012/05/04/humorous-quips-and-quotes-from-writers/

I’m grateful to Susan Basham and her lovely website of humorous quips and quotations from writers for the above. http://www.susanbasham.com/2012/05/04/humorous-quips-and-quotes-from-writers/

I’m en route to Berlin, travelling via Paris on the train, to continue my Fellowship at Freie Universitat’s International Research Centre: Interweaving Performance Cultures. Apart for continuing to reflect on my work between Deaf culture and hearing culture, disability culture and the mainstream, I’ll also be presenting a paper at Tanzkongress in Dusseldorf next week.

Border control – framing the atypical body. You say radical, I say conservative; you say inclusive, I say subversive…

The talk will explore notions of what I call the director/choreographer’s dramaturgy of impairment. I hope to briefly explore several examples of ‘border control’ in inclusive performance – the politics and cultural meaning involved in framing the atypical body and the radical or problematic [mis]representations which can ensue. Some of the questions I will explore will include:

What are the politics and cultural meaning involved in framing the atypical body?

What is the relationship between ‘mainstream’ culture and notions of normalcy, and politicized disability culture, embracing the wide variety of human difference?

As a dramaturg, a very central question for me: Who controls the frame – or does it not matter?

Information about the talk, and the four day gathering in Dusseldorf between 6-9 June 2013 can be found at:


Meanwhile, I will enjoy the journey, the landscape slipping past the train window, the hoard of books to read on my e-reader and the hours of idle thinking as I make my way overland (and through the Channel tunnel) to Berlin.

A week of balancing…

It’s been a week of balancing…. Balancing the completion of a polished draft of my first novel with a first draft commission of a performance text for Sherman Cymru Theatre. A week of seeking parity of meaning between languages, and of promoting gender parity in those working in professional theatre.

News of the novel I will keep for another time. I haven’t yet ‘come out’ as a would be novelist, and the public admission, above, of my advanced stage in the process of  writing long fiction feels quite enough, frankly, at present…. Suffice to say the ms has gone off to my relatively new literary agent and from her hands it will head out into the world…. I’m new to the process and not sure quite what to expect, but will begin covering this departure here, as and when….

Meanwhile, apart from completing drafts, I’ve been liaising with Frank Heibert in Berlin, a brilliant translator it has been my good fortune to have worked with twice before. Frank is translating my play The Almond and the Seahorse from the original English and Welsh into German, and we’re finding unexpected areas of dissonance and a disparity in cultural and everyday experience.

One of the main issues is not, as I expected, about specifically Welsh cultural traditions such as the national Eisteddfod (festival of poetry, literature, music and performance), but around the word ‘respite’.

The play focuses on survivors of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and so touches on the various systems and supports available in the UK for people to live more independently. Residential respite care is central to this – a time for those living with specific conditions and impairments and their partners or family who have been helping care for them at home to have a break, a holiday from each other – ‘respite’. Frank and I were astonished to find that there is no equivalent word in German to describe this most common of experiences in the UK. We spent hours searching the internet, and him interviewing several doctors, trying to find what would be a recognisable equivalent for a German audience. Day centres exist, but not this central concept of ‘respite’ – which is unfathomable to me and a major surprise to us both (and further cause to celebrate and protect our threatened but brilliant NHS).

Monday saw a trip to Covent Garden and Equal Writes, organised by Mandy Fenton as part of the nationwide campaign calling for UK theatre to fully engage with the need for gender parity. Equal Writes was an evening of monologues and short scenes presented at the Tristan Bates Theatre on March 11th ‘focusing on women, women’s stories and women in situations we are not presently seeing represented on UK stages.’

Mandy Colleran in rehearsals with National Theatre Wales on O'Reilly's 'In Water I'm Weightless' 2012

Mandy Colleran in rehearsals with National Theatre Wales on O’Reilly’s ‘In Water I’m Weightless’ 2012

My monologue Walkie Talkies was one of the dozen selected from over 800 submissions, and was performed by my long standing friend and collaborator, Disability Diva Mandy Colleran herself.

It was a fantastic evening – the auditorium was crammed as the event sold out. I was delighted to be part of such an important initiative and to share the stage with such a diverse and stimulating array of women characters, presented by a strong cast of female performers of all ages and cultural heritages, directed by a team of female directors and written by male and female playwrights.

For further information on the evening, go to:


I wonder whether the rest of the week will be such a balancing act…