In the creation of the new Bitef edition, and with the appreciation and respect for the legacy of the previous artistic management, which made a significant impact on the shaping of the festival's identity, the curatorial team decided to keep the Prologue this year as a connecting point that aims to maintain continuity with previous festival editions. The choice to keep the Prologue as a means of continuity is not only an act of respect but is at the same time in line with the cultivation of collective work and appreciation of the multiplicity of voices and perspectives. Accordingly, in the Prologue of the 57th Bitef, outside of the competitive selection, there will be a play Divine Comedy directed by Frank Castorf, produced by the Belgrade Drama Theatre. The exceptionally playful performance of the ensemble, and the ambiguity of the text, stage, music, and movement that Castorf skilfully employs, all contribute to the strength of this critique of consumerism in today's neoliberal capitalism, which is equally skilfully reproduced in all times.
About the Performance
The shortest content of the Divine Comedy is as follows: on the day of the jubilee, while Pope Boniface is demonstrating his power to everyone and while the Christians are gathering around him, Dante is wandering through a dark forest. He is saved by Virgil, who takes him to see hell and purgatory, and after that he climbs to heaven with Beatrice and reaches the face of God. Allegorically, Dante is the soul, Virgil - reason, Beatrice - grace, love. The entire Divine Comedy is divided into three parts: "Hell", "Paradise" and "Purgatory", with thirty-three songs each, while the first part, "Hell", also has an opening song, so thirty-four cantos. All three parts, written in tercet, have the word "star" in the last verse to remind us of the only real goal, the aspiration towards the world of light. Dante's poetic soul found a way to express all feelings, all natural phenomena, all yearnings of the spirit. He is a poet of drama and lyrical storytelling, a poet of comic expression and realism, a poet of feelings and inexpressible concepts. (...) In this work, the poet descends into the darkness of human sin and reaches the light and liberation from it, and on his way through the three realms of the afterlife, he encompasses heaven and earth, time and eternity, divine and human. It is the search of the human soul for absolute happiness, freedom, peace, and ultimate enlightenment.
From the preface to the Divine Comedy by Dragan Mraović
FRANK CASTORF was born in East Berlin in 1951. He studied directing at Humboldt University. He started his career as a dramaturgе at the Senftenberg Тheater, and later also as a director at the Brandenburg Тheater. From 1981, until his politically motivated dismissal in 1985, he was the head of the drama section of the Anklam Theater.
In the following years, he directed plays by Goethe, Lorca, Shakespeare, Lessing, Ibsen, Brecht and several plays by Heiner Müller in city theaters throughout East Germany. Since 1988, his plays have been performed in Germany and Switzerland. From 1990 to 1992, he directed at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin. Then he became the artistic director of the famous Volksbühne Theater am Rosa Luxemburg Platz in Berlin, where his performance The Robbers was already a symbol of unwavering contemporary theater in the 1990s.
Under his leadership, the Volksbühne became a respected and world-famous institution that had a huge impact on German theater and whose performances toured all continents. In 2011, he participated in Bitef with the play To Moscow! To Moscow!, he meets the stage designer Aleksandar Denić, who becomes a part of his author team, giving Castorf a new, wondrous space for his works.
Frank Castorf also works as a guest director in other theaters and operas in Basel, Hamburg, Munich, Stockholm, Vienna, Zurich, Copenhagen, Sao Paulo, Stuttgart, Paris. During his 25-year career, he staged more than 100 plays.
He has received many prestigious awards for his work, some of which are: Berlin City Award, International Theater Institute award, Nestroy Theatre Prize, Schiller Award, Golden Laurel Wreath at the MESS Festival, Faust Award... Castorf is a member of the Berlin Academy of Arts, the German Academy of Stage Arts and a member of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts.
From the Reviews
The venture of the season, a five-hour "monster project" by an institutional theater (Belgrade Drama Theatre) and one of the greatest German and world directors, the German Frank Castorf. Without lowering the bar of expectations from himself and his collaborators (since it is staged in Belgrade and not in Berlin), and true to his own style, by mixing theater and film poetics, he created a very radical, inspired, and witty deconstruction of Dante's Divine Comedy, incorporating material from Peter Handke's The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick and other literary texts.
Ivan Medenica, “World Without Men,” NIN
The peculiarity of Castorf's artistic approach, but also the general stylistic characteristic of post-dramatic theater (one of the best examples of which is the work of this German director) is that the material is not hierarchically organized, that it is not a matter of interpolating secondary texts into the main one. (...) However, just as in this kind of theater, due to the abundance of material, perception is inevitably selective, so its reception is extremely subjective and comes down to each individual viewer’s intimate associative connections.
This kind of reception is not based only on the arbitrary montage of different texts, but also on the appropriate nature of other, non-linguistic stage signs. In Frank Castorf's performances, all these theatrical signs - related to stage design, costume, choreography, acting, music, and others - are extremely imaginative, dense, abundant, charged with various, contradictory and unsystematized meanings.
The conceptual interpretation that such a divergence is in the spirit of postmodern collage, and in the director's general deconstruction, would be a reach and probably incorrect, while the main value of such a discrepancy is found in something else. In that our (mostly young) actors showed everything they know, everything they were taught. It in itself is touching, but the real poignancy came from the contrast of bitterness, roughness and alienation of the modern world of goalkeeper Bloch and his wives, and the sublime and ethereal relationship between Dante and Beatrice (Aleksandar Radojičić and Dunja Stojanović). Bloch kills a woman for no reason, Dante also loves a woman for no reason other than the purity of his soul... If this ending of the text sounds pathetic, it is because the end of the play, with the appearance of Dante and Beatrice, left the same effect. A cynical critic would say that the cynical director finally relented and ended at least one performance on a sentimental note.
Ivan Medenica, “Castorf's Divine Penalty,” NIN