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UCLA Performances Highlight International Entertainment


Some of the world's most innovative music and theater can be seen on the U.S. West Coast in the annual performance series of the University of California, Los Angeles. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan spoke with series director David Sefton about this year's offerings, which feature the U.S. premiere of a British war drama and a musical group formed in the refugee camps of Sierra Leone.

The National Theater of Scotland will make its U.S. debut in September as part of UCLA's International Theater Festival with the play Black Watch. David Sefton says, with raw language and emotion, the play tells the story of the famous regiment and its experiences in Iraq.

"It is told through the mouths and the words of the soldiers on the ground," said David Sefton. "The Scottish battalion were the first to be sent out from the UK to back up the American troops, and this is about the soldiers on the ground in Iraq. So it is very, very pertinent, as well as full of historical detail."

The UCLA performance series, called UCLA Live, will also feature Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars, a group formed in refugee camps during Sierra Leone's civil war in the 1990s. The conflict displaced two million people - one-third of the population - including these musicians.

"And they put together a band in the camps," he said. "And this band is great. Their records are a kind of a very indefatigably cheerful mix of African music with a kind of reggae tinge."

Other performers include South Africa-born trumpeter Hugh Masekela and his nine-member Chissa All-Stars, and a musical show called Spiritual Sounds of Central Asia, with performers from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, and this musician from Kalmykia, a constituent republic of the Russian federation.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Mary Oliver will also appear during the season. Here she is reading her poem, At Blackwater Pond.

"At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have settled after a night of rain," said Mary Oliver. "I dip my cupped hands. I drink a long time. It tastes like stone, leaves, fire..."

Sefton says the performances feature music, theater, dance and the spoken word from every corner of the world.

"The work is right across the board," said Sefton. "We have brought work from South America and from Europe and from Japan and from China and from Africa. There really is not a continent or is not a country that has not been represented on the season. We really see ourselves as a place where you get to experience a vast range of culture. And it is very exciting."

Among the highlights of the season will be performances by Britain's Royal Shakespeare Company. The troupe, with actor Ian McKellen, will present Shakespeare's King Lear and Chekov's The Seagull in October.

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