Timing: The scheduling of a program can be extremely tricky, given all of the aspects that need to be considered, some of which are entirely out of your control.
Case in point -- our project in Mongolia.
We had to juggle the puzzle pieces of a 6-country regional tour in which some of the pieces were locked into place early, and others had to be fit in as the logic of flight itineraries, budgets, availability of venues and coordination with local host institutions necessitated. The Mongolia program was short because it had to be shoe-horned between the Taiwan and China programs that were tied to specific dates. However, it ended up being notable for the big impact of our performance at the opera house (which was televised nationally), our easy affinity and sharing with the Arts Council of Mongolia, and our master classes at the conservatories. We would have liked to interact much more intensively with the local professional dancers; however, their tour and performance schedule clashed with our dates, so we only had one very brief master class.
Technical Issues: As reported in the narrative, the opera house stage was in very bad condition; likewise, the lighting equipment and soft goods. Only because our technical director Barry Steele was inventive and had a positive can-do attitude which was matched by our liaisons at the US Embassy and the Arts Council of Mongolia, were we able to perform. The value of these qualities -- optimism, we-will-overcome (all challenges), and resourcefulness/inventiveness cannot be overstated.
Upon arriving in Mongolia, we had to attend to the mundane business of a dance company on tour: Laundering costumes and exchanging money. In the first instance, we were astonished to find Metro Laundry, a giant establishment buzzing with workers, washing machines and every possible detergent known to mankind (mostly imported from Germany where I know from experience one can find great quality stain removers, cold water washes, etc.) Having unloaded a bundle at Metro, we headed to the bank where we were relieved to find tellers and ATM's on a Saturday who were able to change money for us and deliver the clean crisp bills that we will need on Monday morning when we apply (for the 4th time) for our Chinese visas. Check back later to see how that story unfolds...!
It was time for our trip to Terelj, accompanied by Nomi and Monki from the Arts Council of Mongolia. A former contortionist who performed with Cirque de Soleil, Nomi has made a seamless transition into an expert arts manager, and as we found out, a fun tour guide. Monki is a former teacher and museum curator who has recently joined the Arts Council. After a delicious lunch of local specialties in a country inn, we mounted pint-sized, furry Mongolian horses (never mind that the stirrups were too short) and enjoyed a two hour jaunt into the wilderness. The hills were dusted with pale green, a hint of the grass that will eventually coat them. All in all, this was a cleansing and amazing real-life geography lesson and fascinating introduction to a country that is neither Asia nor Europe, but something in between and unto itself. We feel incredibly privileged to be the first American dance company to perform in Ulaanbaatar (according to Nomi).
Again a multi-layered day with the Company split up into groups who fanned out across this city of the Steppes to teach, meet/greet, and learn about contemporary art and folkloric dance and music of Mongolia. The streets were dusted with snow this morning as we left for our various assignments: Sean, Carmen and I went to the College of Music and Dance where we were first treated to a performance of classical ballet, followed by an exquisite Mongolian folk dance and finally the first modern dance choreography essayed by the school. Following the terrific showing by the students, Carmen took the helm and taught a hard-core modern dance class to which the students responded gamely. Standing in parallel position (after having learned for years to be turned out) was a struggle, but they managed it and followed Carmen's lead through some twisting, turning and other modern moves. Sean raved about their response to hip-hop. I left early to join Barry at the theater where we packed the costumes and tech equipment, inspiring mirth among the wardrobe ladies whose haunt we occupied back stage. I don't think they'd ever seen a man folding and packing garments before.
Bafana & Mayuna headed off to the University of Arts & Culture to teach a modern dance workshop and see a demonstration by the dance students; A fabulous lunch at the new Black Pearl, hosted by Alexei Kral, our gracious Public Affairs Officer here, set us up for an afternoon schedule that included a meeting with two dozen bubbly 16-year-olds at the Educational Advising Resource Center. These kids, who have been learning English in a special after-school program twice a week, had lots of wonderful questions about New York, and comments to share about our performance last night -- wow! Perhaps Mongolia is breeding some dance critics and writers to help support the budding dance scene! After some cashmere shopping (!), we finished off the day at the Saran Chuluu traditional song and dance ensemble performance. A group of 25 musicians and an equal number of dancers, sporting elaborate folk costumes, took us through a crash course in Mongolia's very rich performing arts traditions, including the famous throat singing and plenty more. We met some of the performers after the show and congratulated them on their superb show. Our show at the State Opera House this evening in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, was a great surprise -- with a minimum of time and a maximum of human effort and mind-over-matter visioning, Barry (lighting) and the dancers managed to pull off an extraordinarily professional lookingshow. The underseams that no-one saw were almost as compelling as the staged show: 1) the 60+ cardboard boxes, flattened and taped together (purchased by Otgon and me on the Q.T. from the workers at the State Department Store) that formed the under-flooring covered by old, distressed linoleum covering. This cardboard layer served to mitigate the impact on the dancers balance and confidence of the "undulating" wooden stage floor that has seen quite a few too many heavy opera productions 2) the disruption of the dancers' preparation time on stage due to the need to make an appearance at the Chinese Embassy to obtain visas for our arrival two days hence... We'd been turned down 4 times earlier, and dared not cause any ripples since, with the Embassy closed tomorrow, and our departure time on Wednesday being 9 a.m., this was "it". 3) the seriously, sadly under-equipped Opera House where the lighting structures and instruments appeared to have been installed along with the gouged wooden floor in 1942... Luckily, art transcends practical problems; all of us wanted to do our best for the Mongolian audience, and at 1:15 a.m., before crashing, I can honestly say that we outdid ourselves.