The International Baku Theatre Conference is a biannual conference held in Azerbaijan's capital, where speakers confer to share knowledge, information and networks.
The conference brings together some strange bedfellows - delegates from the USA and UK mix with regional friendlies Georgia and Iran, a surprisingly large Indian representation, and of course the omnipresent Russia - with more than a quarter of total delegates, and far more than the host nation. Conversation focused (or at many times strayed from) the central theme, which this year was 'Theatre art in a system of multiculturalism and universal values' - a theme somewhat diluted by the conspicuous absence of one neighbour to the near south.
The outcome was a strange cocktail of public relations, government interest, networking and a disappointingly small proportion of critical enquiry. The air inside the Music Theatre Baku stayed taut with officialdom and affirmation, with volunteers from the local tourism school acknowledging the two-pronged focus of the conference (Azerbaijan's culture and tourism department are one and the same).
At best, the formalities of government combine oddly with art, and coupled with this, the conference battled against a theme that many in the West would now find passé - multiculturalism was a horse flogged to death in the 90's, as waves of immigration combines spectacularly with capital interest in many places, and has given way to either resentful tolerence, a nationalist xenophobia or full-blown fascism - depending on your point of view.