Where "White Mane" Takes Us, photography: Zorana Jović
Where "White Mane" Takes Us, photography: Zorana Jović

- The idea of Bitef Polyphony is poetical pluralism. How much does this artistic approach correspond to what you do? How close is that idea to you?

It is very close and that is why I have been following Polyphony for a very long time, almost from the very beginning. I believe that it is very important that such a program accompanies Bitef’s efforts and tendencies that have been developing since its founding. I consider it important that very diverse voices - which are sometimes marginalized, which sometimes do not have the ambition to be emphasized that much in the public sphere, but represent a significant resource of social changes - find their place within such a large and important project as Bitef.


- Within such performance art there is often talk of the need for reaction from the audience. In what ways does the audience react and which is the most desirable, the most needed one?

Since its beginning, Bitef Polyphony fostered participative practices, which in a way we can now reformulate in the discourse of immersive theatre. The idea that the boundaries between the participants of public events, within all the artistic disciplines, are pervious appears in different forms of engagement at Bitef Polyphony. Participative art is actually based on the idea that professional artists work with different population groups that have no professional training in art, for the sake of certain social interventions, so almost all the programs at Polyphony greatly insist on the perviousness of that boundary. In a way, the event does not even exist without direct and synchronized interactions. That is the essence of the generative process where we create a social act, as well as an artistic one.


- Is that what makes Bitef Polyphony such a significant segment of this festival?

I think that the production of sociability is important and that the directorate of Bitef recognizes this. When it was founded, the festival started precisely from radical theatre practices, which were marginalized much more at that time than they are today. Today, as an established festival, Bitef includes high-budget production projects. There is no space for small marginalized practices. There is no space for beginnings that are too novel, and Polyphony is a space for new beginnings that can also be mistakes. There is space for that mistake, for exploration and reexamination. There is a dynamic whole and I think that Polyphony is a significant complement to the “big” Bitef.


- In your work you have succeeded in merging two things that are in the sphere of science, on one hand, and in the domain of art, on the other. In the projects and experiments that you have carried out you have problematized of the relationship between the individual and the society in which they live. Who today needs that type of directorial or generally artistic engagement?

Some things that I do are purely scientific: experiments that examine generative processes, the course of our cognition within a group when creating something new. They are completely aimed at fundamental scientific insights; they have no aspirations of being immediately applicable. Then again, other work is completely artistic, and some - as you said - are on the boundary, at a crossroads, and they intersect contemplation about art through its language. That could possibly also be classified as meta-artistic practices where the positions and roles of the artists in production relations are reexamined, as are their social functions, the responsibilities that members of the middle class have in our society of inequalities. This has become very important to me. It seems to me that we don’t have the right to engage in art (to abolish it through some self-proclaimed autonomy), while other people don’t have fundamental living conditions. That is why artistic practices that attempt to seriously intervene in the field are a great resource: I follow them the most, and I consider them relevant - occasionally very bold, very awakening. That is why I spontaneously became involved.


- I would like for you to reflect on this experiment that you carried out at the Šabac Theatre last winter. How deeply is our society divided into classes, if we can find the echoes of such a structure even in such a small collective as a theatre?

In a way one can distinguish the analogy with all our social injustices. It is not difficult to discern. You will immediately notice the how the cleaning lady lives, the one who comes in to clean up before rehearsal. The real question is how much do we recognize our own power to do something about that. We might have already become indifferent because we can’t see the space for intervention, therefore one of the functions of the study was precisely to reexamine abilities. It is too complex a study to present here in detail, perhaps we can say in a few words that it focused on socioeconomic differences and attitudes towards communing, which is immanent in theater. Theatre is an art of proximity and it cannot exist without relations, therefore perhaps it should not relinquish them in the broader, civilizational context.


- What is the origin of the fear that appears already at the mention of the collective? What is lies behind the backing down from one’s own responsibility?

The stratification that we can see in theatre truly is analogous to the social segregation whose reasons we can look for at different levels of personal relations, but it is a systemically induced fragmentation. That is how neoliberal capitalism works: it is based on the creation of inequality and atomization of society. When we start talking about work condition and about how (un)protected someone is at work - the system has to change. That is where the space for change is hidden, and those top-down changes are as important as bottom-up changes. We cannot create a labor union, for example, until we start talking about work conditions. If we don’t have a labor union, we cannot initiate greater political change. In fact, this study did not have the ambition to change those relations - because they actually cannot change through a study - but it can awaken the will for people to address and perhaps understand that they will gain something from it.


- You have been at Bitef Polyphony almost since its founding. One could say that, in a program sense, you have had quite a lot of influence on what has been happening at it. How does White Mane communicate with what you have pointed out as the tradition of Polyphony?

I believe that I have learned at lot at Bitef Polyphony. I have learned from those practices that Ljubica Beljanski Ristić came up with before Polyphony, for example from Škozorište. I am one of the children who attended those workshops. Then I spontaneously continued working on Bitef Polyphony. I think that all those experiences are in White Mane. There is that need to create an event through communication; all the skills that I learned at Polyphony are in it, so it is actually based on the polyphonic practices. This is where ideas on exchanges between big and small people, young and old, cross paths; it is based on different subgenerational and educational intersections. We have high school students who have a very significant role and who work with professional artists, and we also have direct participation by the audience in the creation of the event. This complex ending, which René Guillot wrote and which is emotionally very demanding for young people, is in this production left up to the audience, which can choose and change something if it wants.


- It is pointed out that the play is intended for persons over the age of six, but also for those who have not forgotten childhood. To what extent do you target the intimate or sentimental memory of reading Guillot’s novel?

I think that one must count on that. The intention is for adults to spend quality free time with their children during the performance. I don’t believe in theatre that is intended only for children, which deports parents and they can get away for coffee with their friends. I think that it is quality leisure time of adults, with children, regardless of whether it is your child or your little friend, something that takes you back to original values. Towards the end of the performance, I find it interesting to follow the reactions of the older audience members, those who remember the book, and to observe the extent to which the tragedy is anticipated. There is a moment of expectation that everyone is involved in together, to the end. I think that this experience that White Mane carries - which we have internalized - is extremely important for understanding other experiences from our childhood; tragedy due to loss of the possibility that we had here at one moment.


- Working with youths is a very important feature in your biography. Is that the best space for any type of artistic engagement and social activism?

Yes, youths are open systems. The older we get the more conventional we become. Society places us in different boxes and there is increasingly less space for us to stretch our social roles. That is why youths can be the most awaken part and they can always be adequately dynamic structures, if you think quickly while working with them, you can achieve the most wonderful things. This does not mean that older people should not be included - on the contrary. One should insist on the encounter, on different subcultural intersections: educational, professional, social, generational. I think young people are important. We learn from students and participants in our workshops - that is clear, although the intention is precisely to create conditions for intersections. When you stick to your safe place, your reach is proportional to its size. Every auto-ghettoization has its limited span. It is only when you cross the boundary that great things can happen.