Hwyl fawr

Sometimes you don’t realize how much you’re leaving until you’ve left.  Leaving Cardiff illustrated this to me: I was overwhelmed by quite a number of farewell events that were organized for me in my final fortnight,  which made me stop and pause and wonder why on earth I was going. Maybe sometimes you don’t realize that you’ll be missed until you’re leaving, either.

I’ve finally unpacked the last box in my new Leicester digs and have the brainspace to compose the promised Wales Millennium Centre wrap-up blog.

Over the course of my Festival of Farewells I kept being asked to name the highlights and lowlights of my time in the job.  I was quite coy about doing so-  too many amazing memories to choose from that I didn’t want to diminish any by omission.  But I’m bowing to pressure now, and so have chosen some highlights- and thrown in a couple of lowlights- from each year in the job.

2004: Opening the Centre. Strong friendships were forged by those of us who lived through relentless 16 hour working days in the months pre-opening, which lay the foundation of an incredible work ethic and culture that has taken the Centre forward ever since.   I will never forget the feeling in the pit of my stomach when our new safety curtain malfunctioned and couldn’t be raised at interval on opening night, with BBC television doing an outside broadcast going out as live across the UK.   And none of us there will ever forget the Welsh audience spontaneously bursting into song and entertaining themselves- in four part harmony- until the problem was solved.   Incredible. 

2005 was a rewarding year, bringing so many international companies to Wales for the first time- the Mariinsky (Kirov) Ballet, Australian Ballet with Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake, Mark Morris Dance Group, James Thierree and the UK premiere of Philip Glass doing the Qatsi trilogy in consecutive evenings were my highlights.  As was presenting the first of many Cameron Macintosh productions to visit the Centre- Miss Saigon.   Prize for best trip goes to Martin Hunt and I heading to Moscow to see the Mariinsky Opera at the Bolshoi Theatre- and spotting Gorbachev in a nearby box.  And dozens of feral cats backstage.

2006 brought our first Breakin the Bay festival, inspired by a show I’d seen in Edinburgh the year previously, Renegade Theatre with Rumble, a hip-hop Romeo & Juliet. Having got straight on the phone to the German producer, we secured UK tour dates- and so Breakin the Bay began – 3000 people seeing hip hop in the Donald Gordon Theatre and hundreds more watching free events in the Glanfa, or taking place in workshops, over our first weekend.  I knew this was the start of something really special- now more than 10,000 people come to the Centre each Breakin the Bay weekend annually. 

2006 also saw the start of Incubator in the Weston Studio, developing upcoming Welsh companies and artists-  some amazing projects have since come out of there.  My favourite show of the year, hands down, had to be Jerry Springer the Opera– perhaps not my most popular programming choice ever, but one I’m still proud of.   Though to top the year off, because we hadn’t been busy enough, we presented the UK Premiere of the Mariinsky Opera’s Ring Cycle:  16 hours of opera done in four consecutive evenings. Crazy stuff- the planning and delivery of which was like the opening weekend all over again. But sitting in my seat in mid-stalls Row D (for the extra legroom, check it out) and listening to Valery Gergiev conduct an orchestra of over 100- all tucked away with plenty of room in our pit- whilst watching the Cycle unfold, was simply extraordinary.

2007:  From the sublime, to the less so.  2007 was not a great year.  Some valued colleagues left us- including Ruth Garnault and Heledd Williams- and we faced cutbacks and restructure- I mean economising and streamlining.  Still, some highlight productions: Zoonation Into the Hoods, Rufus Wainwright and Slava’s Snowshow in the Donald Gordon Theatre would be my picks. As was the UK Premiere of Philip Glass’s 70th Birthday work, Book of Longing, which we had co-commissioned. But if there was a year I could have done without, probably 2007.  Though sharing an office with David Pearce had its amusing moments.

2008:  A highlight for most of us was the Rainbow Project, a residency by the Fezeka High School Choir from Gugulethu township outside Cape Town.  They spent four days at the Centre working with local community groups and our resident companies, before giving a performance of Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man, conducted by the composer, in the DGT.    To meet these high school students was a humbling experience for all of us working on the project: their courage, talent and commitment was an inspiration. I’ve been to visit them since at their school in the township, and it’s hard to comprehend how these young people can give so much, when, in our material terms at least, they have relatively little.  

And of course, there was that trip to Baden Baden Festspielhaus to see the Mariinsky. I’m not sure whether bumping into your co-worker in the shower room of a German spa whilst you’re both stark naked can be classified as a highlight or lowlight.  We really should have compared plans at breakfast, Martin.

2009:   Our fifth birthday year started with the opening of Hoddinott Hall, the new home for the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.  Getting a scholarship from the Welsh Assembly Government to attend a leadership course at Harvard University: a tremendous experience that I could never have afforded otherwise.  Midyear was marked by the first Blysh festival, the brainchild of  Gareth Lloyd Roberts, now in its third year and getting better every time. Camille O’Sullivan in the Weston Studio- nice work Gareth.   But the real focus of the year was the fifth birthday celebrations, which ran through Autumn. Again  the whole organisation pulled together to deliver some major events- the return of the Mariinsky Opera, seeing Gergiev and Bryn Terfel share a stage for the first time in the UK, Cape Town Opera’s Porgy & Bess,  opening the new Cameron Macintosh production of Les Miserables, the Open Weekend involving all the resident companies-  and the whole Make It Yours fifth birthday marketing campaign- seeing posters all over Cardiff made me proud every day as I came in to work.    A lowlight for me was Judith Isherwood leaving the Centre- such an important figure in the organization’s history and of course the person who in 2004 convinced me to move to the other side of the world.  

2010:  Loads. WNO’s Meistersinger with Bryn.  Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. Finally- after presenting so many of his other productions- Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake– which frankly could never look better on any other stage.  Travelling to Chongqing with Jonathan, Bet and Jo to deliver a training programme for the British Council.  Slicing my hand and ending up by myself, without a translator, in Chongqing A&E. Being told they needed to ‘knit’ my hand. Working out that meant stitches.   Being in South Africa during the World Cup and seeing one of the first performances of African Songbook– the new work by Cape Town Opera the Centre hopes to UK premiere in 2012.  Working my way up and down the music stages along the Lorient waterfront with Gareth and a few Breton ales. CINARS in Quebec. Working with Jo Taylor- that is, trying to keep up with Jo Taylor- as she tirelessly pursued pricing, segmentation, website projects, the fruits of which are now all coming to bear. Jo leaving (definite lowlight).  Handing in my notice.

2011:  We Will Rock You press night – Brian May’s surprise appearance onstage performing Bohemian Rhapsody.  Tabi Milne and the new Dance brochure- the Centre’s commitment to dance looking stronger than ever.  Louise Miles-Crust’s speech at my leaving do- Lou, it all started with you, and it was fitting it ended with you too.  Thank you.

Really though, if I could narrow down the highlights of my 6 1/2 years there it comes down to two things.

The first is, of course, the people I worked with.  There were changing faces over the years, but one thing that has never changed is the passion, determination and inspiration of the people who’ve been at the Centre- from Jack on the gate to my colleagues on the Exec- everyone is absolutely committed to making the place the best it can be.   It was a very difficult decision to leave.

To my team in particular- marketing, media, programming, theatre business, learning & participation- I hope you know by now how much I admire you- you absolutely rock.  It was an absolute privilege working with you.

The second highlight has been Wales- a small nation perhaps, but with a capacious heart.  When I arrived from Australia, I made it my mission to try to absorb the way of life in Wales, travelling to most corners of the country; and I was made to feel welcome at every step. In my last week in Wales I received the most lovely email from  Geraint Stanley Jones  in which he generously remarked that I have managed to become, in his words, ‘one of us’.   That was very high praise coming from Geraint, and it does echo the way I feel:  I consider myself very fortunate indeed to have two places in the world that I can call home.   

All that said,  I’ve embarked on a new adventure now, and so from this point my blogs will be about the future, not the past.  Thanks for indulging me, over far too long a word count, some lasting memories of Wales Millennium Centre.  Cariad Mawr.