September 2, 2010
Composer Pete Wyer 'dismayed' at action by British Council and English National Ballet
Below is an article published by The Guardian:
A British composer says he is "deeply disappointed and dismayed" by the British Council's decision to cancel a performance of his ballet in China because it was dedicated to the people of Tibet.
Pete Wyer's The Far Shore was created for the Shanghai Expo and was to be premiered next week as the highlight of the event's "UK National Day".
But the British Council and English National Ballet cancelled the performance after learning of the dedication, saying in a joint statement that it was inappropriate to go ahead because the piece had become "a political vehicle".
China experts said they appeared to be pre-empting complaints from the Chinese government, which is highly sensitive to criticism of its rule in Tibet.
Wyer wrote on the score that the piece was loosely inspired by the folk tale which inspired Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, adding: "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 score would not have gone to China because the music for the performance was recorded in London. It is understood that the British Council and ENB were unaware of the dedication until the Times contacted them.
"I'm deeply disappointed, and particularly dismayed about the impact on the choreographer, Van Le Ngoc, and the dancers," Wyer said. "It is incorrect to categorise the ballet as a political vehicle. The dedication was a small personal gesture and nothing to do with politics. It is standard artistic practice for a composer or artist to dedicate their work to whoever or whatever they like. 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."
He added: "I am an artist, and not an activist. But like many artists, I am concerned about serious issues and causes, and express that through my music."
Wyer said he had long been interested in Buddhism and in Tibetan and Chinese religious culture, developing his interest in Tibet after attending one of the Dalai Lama's teaching sessions and meeting a nun imprisoned for shouting out her support for the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader. He is currently writing an opera inspired by her; an aria from the work was previewed at the Royal Opera House in May.
Professor Robert Barnett, an expert on Tibet at Columbia University, described the decision to axe the ballet as "a special feature of the way people handle Chinese diplomacy – a pre-emptive tribute where you make concessions before they are asked, in case they are asked … we don't see that with other powers."
He said that Chinese diplomats understood that different countries had different values, adding: "Presumably the correct thing is to go to China and say 'We are very sorry if this upsets you. We didn't know it was going to happen but we are not able to do anything about it because British values are that we can't affect the private views of an artist.'"
It is understood the Chinese authorities had no knowledge of the dedication.
Mark Pritchard MP, vice-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on China and secretary of the APPG for Tibet, argued that Chinese leaders' "habitual over-sensitivity on freedom of speech" had led to the cancellation. "It appears the Chinese authorities have, in effect, forced the British Council to cancel this impressive ballet over what were clearly personal remarks," he said.
Wyer said he hoped the ballet will be performed elsewhere. ENB, which owns the choreography rights, declined to comment.
The organisations' joint statement said: "[We] very much regret that The Far Shore, a cultural collaboration between English National Ballet and Shanghai Ballet, has become a political vehicle. We therefore believe it is not appropriate for this performance to go ahead. The British Council is a non-political organisation that runs a range of cultural relations programmes in China to build and strengthen long-term cultural, academic and economic ties between the two countries."