High Plateau was an original dance drama performed by a small cast of young people aged 16 – 25. It was inspired by Mark Beeson’s long poem ‘The Blue Monkeys of Zomba Plateau’, broadcast on Radio 3 in the spring and summer of 1999. The production was a collaboration between playwright Mark Beeson, choreographer Rosalyn Maynard and composer Gillian Webster.
Based on Beeson’s diaries, ‘The Blue Monkeys of Zomba Plateau’ charted his experience as a young British primatologist living on a mountain in central Africa studying an endangered population of Blue Monkeys. In 2006 Mark revisited the Afro-montane forest where he carried out his work 25 years before, leading to the production of ‘High Plateau’ back home on Dartmoor.
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In 1981 Mark Beeson conducted a study of blue monkeys on the Zomba Plateau in Malawi. The monkeys were under threat of being shot to protect pine plantations, due to fears that their bark-stripping behaviour was causing economic damage. However Beeson’s research dispelled these concerns and enabled their survival. Through his experiences Beeson observed the tensions inherent within conservation issues, brought into sharp focus by the poverty of the local population of Malawi, and highlighted deeper psychological tensions within himself caused by loneliness, homesickness, alienation and cultural and historical guilt.
The production of ‘High Plateau’ flashed between the highlands of Malawi and Dartmoor, comparing the two igneous plateaux through the primatologist’s own link with the English National Park where he grew up. A key concept in the creation of the dance was the counterbalance of scientific complexity and mythic perception: four elements (earth, air, fire and water) were represented as the mountain, the mist, the sun and the streams. The performance used dance, music, poetry and drama to depict the unfolding of a single day, radiating forwards, backwards, up and down through time.
The project was launched in March 2006 with an African arts workshop led by Ayodelle Scott, featuring drumming, singing and dancing, held in Manaton Parish Hall. Ayodelle was born from Sierra Leonne but came to England in 1987 and now lives in Ashburton. He founded the multi-cultural dance and singing troupe Kabudu and also plays with Baka Beyond .