WHAT NOURISHES US? CURRENT STRATEGIES OF THE EUROPEAN POLITICAL THEATRE

Is there a specific idiom of the contemporary political theatre which is the product of the spirit of the age? Is it at all possible to talk about a singular notion of the contemporary European political theatre without falling into a trap we regularly fall in when we talk, for instance, about the common European market? Is a genuine rebellion possible in state theatre institutions or does it require an out-of-institution position? From the point of view of financing of culture, what is, after all, an out-of-institution position? From the point of view of neo-liberal capitalism, what is, after all, rebellion? And what is its purpose today?

New theatre tendencies of this year’s Bitef talk about contemporary performing practices in a very large and somewhat arbitrary area of contemporary political theatre. The subtitle of this section of the programme was inspired by the production The Discreet Charm of Marxism by Bojan Djordjev (production DasArts, Amsterdam and TkH, Belgrade) which in its turn drew on Luis Bunuel’s cult film The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. One of the themes in Bunuel’s film and Djordjev’s production is the insatiable hunger of the humankind – even when food is there. Whilst in Bojan Djordjev’s production the spectators participate in a six-course meal made of papery quotes from different Marxist philosophers, the real food expects them on shelves which are expected to hold books. When we ask ‘What nourishes us’, we indirectly ask ‘What do we crave for?’ In times when, as Brecht put it, feeding frenzy comes first and moral rules follow, when bankers become prophets and a rebellion mere commodity, it is important to ask these questions, particularly in the theatre.

The idea behind this part of the selection directed at the recognition and analysis of modern performing practices as they are constituted or theoretically canonised is to draw the attention to several different models of the so-called political or engage theatre that can be viewed on European stages today. We shall see five productions which, each in its own way, start a lively and unpredictable dialogue with the community they operate in and which inspires them more or less directly. Their production models are different as some of them were created in big theatres, i.e. famous Maxim Gorky Theatre in Berlin or are the result of big regional co-productions between festivals and theatres (Complex Ristić) while, on the other hand, some other could be described as small independent projects (Adishatz / Adieu, Ibsen’s Enemy of the People as Brecht’s Learning-Play and The Discreet Charm of Marxism).

Regardless of the degree of ambition of a production or the production models vary too, because some of them were done in big subsidised theatres such as, theme chosen by productions in this group, it will be interesting to consider also their points of contact. In addition to Bojan Djordjev’s production, mentioned at the beginning of this text, other shows include Common Ground by Israeli director Yael Ronin produced by Gorky Theatre addressing the effects of the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s and the generation of Berlin emigrants who are descendants of perpetrators of crimes and their victims, and models of their mutual post-war communication on alien soil in their attempt to overcome historical divisions and hatred.

Adishatz / Adieu by Jonathan Capdevielle, a young French artist, is not an example of explicit political theatre. It is about the kind of commitment which we could define as gender politics or body politics. This gifted author and brilliant performer tells us, amusingly and gently, the story of his growing up and forming his identity through the imitation of pop stars, notably Madonna. The production grows from a portrait of a seemingly naive adolescent empathy-provoking muddle-headedness into a study of performance with the use of pop culture and transvestism purporting to examine at which point imitation and role-playing become a means of expression per se.

Complex Ristić is the latest in a series of political/theatre projects of Oliver Frljić which consistently and systematically addresses the recent history of the Yugoslav and post-Yugoslav space and its anomalies and hushed up contents. This time Frljić takes up the mythical figure of Ljubiša Ristić, perhaps the most important Yugoslav director whose work united the Yugoslav space but whose political option in the 1990s marked his political and professional status forever. The production will have its premiere at Bitef and is a coproduction of Slovensko Mladinsko Gledališče, Croatian Nationa Theatre Ivan pl. Zajc, MOT and Bitef.

Zlatko Paković’s production Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People As Brecht’s Learning-Play produced by CZKD is an example of extreme political theatre which draws on the legacy of the two greatest representatives of modern political theatre, Ibsen and Brecht, It’s theme is the current social moment in Serbia.

Anja Suša, Curator