Ruthless Jabiru to make Grimeborn Festival debut with all-female programme of music

London chamber orchestra Ruthless Jabiru will deliver Silk Moth, its first fully-staged production for fringe opera stalwart Grimeborn Festival at London’s Arcola Theatre over a five performance season from 9-11 August 2019.

A story of vulnerability and complicity told through the music of Bushra El-Turk, Liza Lim and Cassandra Miller, Ruthless Jabiru’s Silk Moth will examine the complex tragedies of honour crime, family violence and female (dis)empowerment in Britain and beyond.

A continuous and fully-staged programme centred around composer Bushra El-Turk and librettist Eleanor Knight’s hard-hitting chamber opera Silk Moth (2015), the production interweaves the expressive Arabic voice with Western contemporary opera in an opulent sensory tapestry born of El-Turk’s Lebanese cultural heritage. Liza Lim The Heart’s Ear(1997) will preface the opera as a dramatised prologue; a work similarly rooted in Arabic Islamic music and the unique qualities of the ney (Middle Eastern flute). The programme culminates with Cassandra Miller’s Bel Canto (2010); a work conceived as a temporal portrait of Maria Callas progressing from her young voice to the voice of her later years. Ruthless Jabiru’s core ensemble will be augmented by musicians from the experimental Middle Eastern initiative Ensemble Zar as guests within the orchestra.

I’m so happy to share the extraordinary music of three British-based female composers at our first Grimeborn,” said conductor Kelly Lovelady. “We are living through a time when major art music organisations are realising their agency to redress a historical insensitivity to balance. In New music the level of risk often feels high—logistically-speaking—but programming women and diversity is absolutely not one of those risks! That said, I decided on this programme for its sonic connections and the unique way these three works complement each other to coexist momentarily as a new whole. I hope that through this soundworld we can bring tenderness and texture beyond sensationalism to these challenging issues.”

Knight’s libretto explores the psychological landscape of a mother implicated in the forced marriage, genital mutilation, and honour killing of her own daughter. Current figures suggest 5,000 women worldwide are murdered every year by honour based violence, with potentially hundreds more cases unreported. In the UK alone, 60,000 girls under 15 are at risk of FGM and 137,000 girls and women are already living with the consequences.

Conceptualised and conducted by Ruthless Jabiru’s Artistic Director Kelly Lovelady, the orchestra welcomes stage director Heather Fairbairn—whose previous work includes engagements at the Royal Opera House, Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Théâtre des Champs Elysées, and Grand Théâtre de la Ville de Luxembourg—along with her critically-acclaimed Creative Team from the 2017 production The Mutant Man (The Space Arts Centre).

I was drawn to directing Silk Moth because of the way it explores ideas around gender, guilt, and faith.” said Fairbairn. “These relevant topics are deftly handled by composer Bushra El-Turk and librettist Eleanor Knight in a work that is intense and unflinching. Along with El-Turk’s opera, Kelly Lovelady has curated a daring programme of music that champions opera creators who are female and from diverse cultural backgrounds. We’ll present this trio of works as one cohesive sixty-minute dramatic piece for soprano, chorus, and actors, in a production that I envision will blur the boundaries between theatre, opera, and installation.

Through a run of five performances of Silk Moth, Ruthless Jabiru aims to generate increased awareness for local campaigns dedicated to abolishing the continuing practices of honour based violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation in the UK’s Middle Eastern, South Asian, African and BME diasporas. Charities including True Honour, the Iranian & Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, FORWARD and Savera UK are committed to safeguarding the rights, dignity, autonomy and wellbeing of girls and women from vulnerable communities; and to providing education and resources for our mixed ethnicity friends affected by discriminatory cultural practices and fundamentalist domestic abuse. Ruthless Jabiru will draw on these direct experiences and the teachings of our community partners as the baseline of this production.

Arcola Theatre is one of London’s leading Off West End theatres, presenting major international artists alongside cutting-edge local emerging talent. Its socially-engaged, international programme champions diversity, challenges the status quo, and attracts over 65,000 people to the building each year.

Ruthless Jabiru is a conducted chamber orchestra dedicated to New music and humanitarian stories and one of the only orchestras worldwide committed to Activism in its ongoing work. Programmes are devised around existing and commissioned repertoire by today’s composers with a view to promoting sustainability and ethical dialogue. The ensemble has a fluid membership of emerging and professional Australian musicians from within the major British orchestras and chamber ensembles and is held under the official patronage of composer Brett Dean.

“Delicate, dedicated modernism… As ever with this orchestra the performance standards were impressively high, especially given the technical demands of the music.” – The Arts Desk

“A clear statement of intent… The orchestra has a clear musical identity and its future looks very bright indeed.” – Seen and Heard International

“A brilliant company.” – Australian Stage

Ruthless Jabiru will perform Silk Moth at the Arcola Theatre on 09, 10 & 11 August at 20:00 and 10 & 11 August at 15:00: Further details and tickets


Liza Lim The Heart’s Ear
Bushra El-Turk Silk Moth
Cassandra Miller Bel Canto

Creative Team

Kelly Lovelady conductor
Heather Fairbairn director
Charlotte Henery production designer
Sean Gleason lighting designer
Sapphire Goss video designer
Eleanor Knight librettist

source: Kelly Lovelady


Image credit: © Hannah Quinlivan, Immobilised (drawing performance with movement)