From 3 through 14 July 2014, ICAF director Eugene van Erven was in Shanghai to attend a performance studies conference and explore Chinese interest in community arts. He discovered that there is a great deal of potential in that vast and densely populated country. Conversely, Chinese colleagues are very attracted to the gateway to worldwide community arts which ICAF offers. A Chinese presence at ICAF-7 (29 March – 2 April 2017) is therefore very likely.
The Performance Studies International conference was hosted by the Shanghai Theatre Academy (STA), one of the country’s most respected art institutions. As part of the conference they had organized an outdoor show in which amateur dancers, musicians and children performed. STA has received special privileges for international cultural collaborations and, in addition to more conventional training programmes for Chinese Opera and contemporary performing arts, it also has a special division for what they call social performance. This includes projects with deaf people, HIV/AIDS patients, and abandoned children of migrant workers (of which there are millions living on the outskirts of this enormous metropolis of close to 30 million inhabitants).
One of the driving forces of the STA social performance section is Daniel Liang Shen, who became intrigued with the Blue Angel Project of our Australian partners Big hART when I told him about it. (https://www.facebook.com/BlueAngelproject)
As some of you may remember, Big hART is currently working on a site-specific design and performance project involving the plight of seafarers worldwide. Scheduled to open next year at various Australian festivals, there are plans to also develop similar events in other port cities. For this purpose, a Big hART team came to our festival last March to explore possibilities in Rotterdam. Immediately taken by the idea, after the conference Daniel Sheng took me to see China Maritime Museum in Lin’gang New City (which is literally a brand new city, like there are so many in China). The place is impressive in size and in content: it is filled with remnants of Chinese marine history ranging from complete sailboats (that traveled from China to Africa well before Marco Polo arrived in China) to certificates of seafarers.
After the museum, Daniel drove me to the world’s largest container terminal in the port of Yangshan, 70 kilometers south of Shanghai. It is located on an island that can only be reached by a 30-kilometer bridge. Some 4,000 local residents had to be evacuated for the construction of this port which annually processes 9.3 million containers full of goods that are transported across the oceans to your doorstep.
The last day before I returned to Holland, Daniel invited me to a dinner with two former captains of the China merchnat marine, Mr. Pan Meng Chu and Mr. Zuo Hua Jun. Over the most delicious dishes they told me their life story, all the way from their early days as sailors – when Mao was still in power – to the present. Fascinating tales of village boys getting on the high seas to places like Gdansk, Antwerp and Rotterdam and discovering a completely different world and lifestyle. Stories that reflect a closed society that is now gradually opening up, but still very different from western ways of being. It is an exciting thought that at the end of March 2017 our worlds may be brought a little more closely together as we hope to include a community art project from Shanghai in our next ICAF programme.