Working for a major cultural event, a festival in particular, is exhausting yet exciting, chaotic yet dynamic, complex yet diverse, and it inevitably means that, unlike the audience, you will not manage to see everything that’s on the programme. Although being in the position to hear and read a lot about the performances way before the festival, gives you the feeling that you have already seen everything, there are performances you’d like to attend for real. Sometimes, you even purchase a ticket so as not to rely on the volatile power of the festival pass, but alas - sometimes an urgency arises, something that you must do that very evening if the audience is to see what you wanted to see.
Still, from time to time, you do manage to see the programme, and occasionally, when you’re truly lucky, and when stars and planets get mysteriously aligned in your favour, what you see truly exceeds your expectations.
I started going to circus very early, with my dad, who loved it, and I took a shine to it straight away, but - being incredibly sensitive to animals and their destinies - I was always deeply concerned that they, as it seemed to me (and which proved not so far from the truth), actually suffered. I would sit under the tent watching all those whips and hoops and, instead of being impressed by the taming, I’d squint and wait for the clowns and acrobats to come. That might be why contemporary circus has fascinated me ever since I discovered it, and why I am thrilled that Cirkobalkana is one of Bitef programmes.
And, occasionally, I even manage to see a performance or two.
This double festival year of Bitef’s glorious return to Belgrade audience after last year’s shortened and corona-baffled edition, I managed to see only one circus performance - “The Weight of the Soul - Everything Is Temporary” by the Italian artists Chiara Marchese, performed under the Cirkobalkana tent at Dorćol.
And it wasn’t “one is none”. On the contrary, it was - one is everything.
The artist appeared in front of white canvas stretched across the stage, scurrying across the floor dressed in a trench coat that revealed her almost naked body covered in a scanty, crocheted costume. Her red curly hair in a bob, her big eyes wide open, and her arms full of props - a toy synthesizer adorned with colourful pompons, a roll of wide adhesive tape, and a mess of ropes and ribbons - she looked exactly like a sad circus clown. And then, drawing us, slowly and imperceptibly, into her play, revealing herself more and more, both literally and artistically, she remained completely naked, ready to fight a monster only she could see, but clearly a huge and powerful one; a monster that made her scared and lonely, and who could be confronted only with the help of pharmaceuticals. She kept throwing around numerous empty blister packs that make her angry, but which obviously (had) helped in her heroic struggle. Eventually, she remained completely naked, stripped of everything but her soul, which she was hiding behind, to tell us her stories, to sing for us, to collapse and stand up again, to try to put on a mess of tangled ribbons, and to skilfully balance thin ropes that were neither tight, strong nor thick enough to support her. And yet, she did manage.
And then, at one point, she approached the audience, timidly asked if she could come even closer and when we nodded in agreement, she climbed among our masked faces, completely naked, silently pleaded: “Please, support me”, and out of all the laps she could sit on - she chose mine. I placed my hands under her forearms to support her, while she was playing her embellished synthesizer.
An hour later, as she bowed to our prolonged applause that greeted her courage to put the weight of her soul onto the stage, even if only temporary, Chiara Marchese smiled at the audience, then caught my eyes and nodded with gratitude, leaving me content for having fully experienced Bitef, happy to have had an opportunity to lend at least someone such a concrete support, and still completely immersed in the performance that made us, forced us, asked us to wonder if we are our own worst enemies or our own strongest allies.
That evening, Bitef had its closing ceremony, we had fine wines, some great cheese, cut a delicious cake, some danced to live music over the cobblestones in the bohemian quarter, and I missed the last night bus. My hand already up to hail a taxi, I unexpectedly stopped another bus, who, on his way to the depot, offered to give me a lift and then, telling me about his plans during the ride, placing the weight of his soul onto my shoulders, he decided to get out of his way and take me all the way home. I guess that’s the way things are - once we lend support to someone, someone else will lend it to us. For, everything is temporary. Except for kindness, I hope.