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British Council disavows freedom of expression PDF Print E-mail
In an act of pre-emptive captitulation the British Council disavowed the principles of freedom of expression, opinion, thought and conscience when they cancelled the premiere of a ballet that was to have been performed on September 8, UK National Day at the Shanghai Expo. In a statement, the British Council said the ballet had become a political vehicle. This is apparently due to a personal dedication to the Tibetan people written on the music score by composer Pete Wyer a score that was not going to be in Shanghai, because the dancers were performing to a recording of the music. 

Image A personal dedication is not something that defines a work as a whole. That the British Council chose to interpret this personal dedication on the musical score as being political and then take the view that it politicised the entire production without their Chinese counterparts even having to murmur any disquiet should be of great concern.

The dedication text in full is: "This music is loosely based on the original folk tale 'Swan Lake' which famously inspired Tchaikovsky. It is a story of truth triumphing over deception and darker forces. It is dedicated to the people of Tibet, for speaking the truth, protecting their cultural identity despite the dangers they face".

Tibet Society strongly feels this decision is both pusillanimous and sets a dangerous precedent. It does not inspire confidence in the British Councils integrity or independence when promoting and supporting creativity, artists and performers in countries that do not have the same civil liberties as enjoyed in the UK. Isnt freedom of expression an important British value that the British Council should defend?

If decisions like this are accepted without comment, then slowly and invidiously everyones human and civil rights are eroded as we yield to or anticipate unacceptable restrictions, perceived or real, from authoritarian regimes on freedom of expression and free speech.

Ironically, the UK National Day in Shanghai coincides with Tibet Week at the Shanghai Expo, in which China gives its own representations to Tibetan culture. The British Council had a choice when dealing with this issue; firstly they should have said that in the UK it is not possible to withdraw an artists work because of that artists views; then they could have suggested that there is no harm in a dedication to the Tibetan people when the Chinese government is marking Tibetan culture at the Expo on that same day. In this way, the British Council could have proudly exemplified the freedoms enjoyed in the UK by supporting the dedication as a positive affirmation of the importance of preserving cultural identity, something the Chinese organisers of the Shanghai Expo would find hard to dispute. 


Background statement
Premiere of The Far Shore at Shanghai Expo cancelled

The premiere of the ballet The Far Shore, with Pete Wyer's original score, choreographed by Van Le Ngoc and to be performed on UK National Day at the Shanghai Expo on September 8, has suddenly been cancelled. The cancellation by the British Council and English National Ballet was made public by The Times on August 28, following a press preview of the work in London at the English National Ballet, where the ballet was described by journalists present as beautiful and moving.

The cancellation has arisen because of a personal dedication to the Tibetan people (see below) written only on the score, seen only by the musicians during a recording, and not ever planned to be taken to or seen in Shanghai.

It is standard artistic practice for a composer to dedicate their work to whoever they wish. In this case Pete Wyer dedicated the work to the Tibetan people and their culture a culture that is also appreciated by many Chinese people in China. It was a small personal gesture in keeping with the works artistic context, and not a political one.

The dedication text is as follows:
"This music is loosely based on the original folk tale 'Swan Lake' which famously inspired Tchaikovsky. It is a story of truth triumphing over deception and darker forces. It is dedicated to the people of Tibet, for speaking the truth, protecting their cultural identity despite the dangers they face."

The Chinese government seeks to control representations of the Tibet issue and to suppress all outside comment about it. UK National Day coincides with the opening of Tibet Week at the Shanghai Expo, in which the Chinese Communist Party seeks to present their version of Tibetan culture. 


In the press
The Times | The Guardian | Phayul
BBC Chinese service |
Other links
British Council website | Pete Wyer's website |


Pete Wyer's statement (online on his website)
Image Im deeply disappointed that the premiere of the ballet The Far Shore, with my original score, choreographed by Van Le Ngoc and to be performed on UK National Day at the Shanghai Expo on September 8, has suddenly been cancelled. The cancellation by the British Council and English National Ballet was made public by The Times on August 28, following a press preview of the work in London, where I heard the ballet described by journalists present as beautiful and moving. I am dismayed about the impact on the choreographer, dancers and others involved in the production, who put their hearts and souls into the work over a period of many  months.

The cancellation has arisen because of a personal dedication to the Tibetan people (see below) written only on the score, seen only by the musicians during a recording, and not ever planned to be taken to or seen in Shanghai.

It is standard artistic practice for a composer to dedicate their work to whoever they wish. In this case I dedicated the work to the Tibetan people and their culture a culture that is appreciated by many Chinese people in China, too. It was a small personal gesture in keeping with the works artistic context, and not a political one. Ultimately as a musician one hopes that the work will speak for itself and can be enjoyed without the personal dedication being relevant or apparent.

Inspiration for The Far Shore
I have long been interested in Buddhism, and both Tibetan and Chinese religious culture. In the ballet; its title, The Far Shore, is a reference to a concept of the Buddhist teachings as the wisdom that propels us upon the raft of our human existence, across the ocean of suffering to the far shore of spiritual enlightenment.

I refer in the dedication to the Tibetan people speaking truth, which is a Buddhist precept, and which seemed to underline the story behind the score of the original folk tale of Swan Lake, about the prince who triumphs over the darkness of illusion.

I began to be inspired to write The Far Shore while on a visit to Beijing in November 2009 for the premiere of one of my orchestral works, Somehow The Miracle - dedicated to the memory of my friend Gill Nightingale - at the APAC Orchestra Festival, which brought together student musicians from across Asia.
 
I am an artist, and not an activist. But like many artists, I am concerned about serious issues, and express that through my music. My work is often based around telling stories about important contemporary subjects, including a project on the Moscow theatre siege by Chechen terrorists in 2002, and a time-structured mapping score on space and the planets with the Orchestra of the Swan.

My interest in Tibet developed after I attended a Buddhist teaching by the Dalai Lama, and also following a meeting with a Tibetan nun who had been imprisoned for expressing her loyalty to the Dalai Lama in a peaceful act of dissent, and whose sentence was extended for singing songs in her prison cell. I was struck by the connection to music in her story and by her strong spirit, and inspired to write about it in an operatic aria, called Ga Sho (May You Be Loved), which is part of a work in progress that was previewed at the Royal Opera House in March. I am also starting work shortly on a piece that is loosely inspired by the Tibetan Buddhist Kalachakra (Wheel of Time) ceremony.


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