By Ivana Bilić
MILOŠEVIĆ ON THE ISLAND OF DREAMS
Dijana Milošević, director from Serbia brought something new to the audience in Gušterica, Gračanica. “Twenty-five glasses of wine” performance represent twenty-five years of Dah Theater. “Some of my years (glasses) were half-full, and others were half-empty,” says the director. Every glass had its own story. A personal story. The story started from the idea of an independent, small theater in the beginning of the nineties.
In spring 1990, young and enthusiastic Dijana and her friend Jadranka got an invitation from Odin Theater from Denmark to participate in a three-week theater workshop. For their application to be completed, they needed someone who had a fax number, whom they found through a friend of a friend. The confirmation from Denmark got faxed, but they needed to pick it up personally at the restaurant of the football club Crvena Zvezda (Red Star). They found it a bit odd that their letter was transmitted to the club that was a place of gathering of nationalists and criminals connected to military and paramilitary circles. But the awaiting response was more important.
It turned out that the secretary who received their fax worked for some businessmen in the club. And just because Dijana shares her last name – very common last name in Serbia – with the one who will become one of the most despised men in the modern history, she was invited to the informational interview with some of the leaders of paramilitary groups preparing for the war, to see who they were working for. She explained to them how their theater project was against the war. The huge businessmen and their bodyguards laughed at two young theater artists.
Dijana continues with the story from 1991 about her last summer on the Croatian island Šipan where they would rest and officially create their theater group. That was the Island of dreams: they dreamed about workshops with their new theater troupe. But then came the moment she learned that they were no more one nation. They were no longer welcome there, and that was not all. Stones were thrown at them. Because they were Serbs. “We became “the other”, not even knowing it.” They got banned everywhere.
CROISSANTS FOR BREAKFAST
In 1993, she was invited to take part in a Festival in Liège, Belgium. During breakfast, while serving coffee and croissants, their host told them they had to leave. She learned they were from Serbia, and she expected guests from Bosnia. “While leaving, we felt shame, fury and powerlessness, while trying to explain that we were against the criminal politics our country is leading and that we organized the first anti-war theater show in the center of Belgrade, surrounded with people in uniforms.” Then she gave the glass to one person in the audience.
ZANA HOXHA AND THE VALLEY OF HER SUFFERINGS
Dijana shared a very personal story of meeting Zana Hoxha, theater director and director of Artpolis and FemArt, who came to Belgrade with the performance she directed that brings testimonies of women’s sufferings during the Kosovo’s war.
Since then, they met several times in Belgrade and in Prishtina, and in 2016, they both took part in the festival Transit in Odin theater in Denmark. During lunch, they talked a lot and finally, Zana shared her war stories. Dijana was swallowing her tears when a colleague of theirs from Taiwan approached them asking weren’t they supposed to hate one another. The Albanian and the Serbian directors glanced at her absently and hugged.
POWER TO HEAL
Dijana Milošević with her lecture and performance spoke how her and her theater group were threatened. Serbs were threatened. Wars were fought in their names. Regimes changed. Even the names of their county constantly changed. They were not welcome anywhere just because they were “others”. However, she continued doing what she believed in. She witnessed the power of theater to heal, to tell stories which will become important even to those who hadn’t experienced them.
She made performances that brought peace and reconciliation with her former country. According to her, theater puts us all together in the same space. Even people who do not necessarily think alike. She saw that there were people in the audience who did not really agree with what she thought, but she decided to hand them a glass of wine and in the end to invite them to dance. Dance together. The theater director continued to believe that creating theater means creating meaning that defies the violence and meaninglessness.
CONUNDRUM OF REVOLUTION
‘If you throw one stone, it’s a punishable offense. If 1,000 stones are thrown, it’s political action.’ Urlike Meinhoff.
This performance took place a day after in Prishtina, on 20th of June. An interactive play with full participation of the audience was a very intriguing setting in three stages in Oda Theater. This very play reflects this year’s edition of FemArt and talks about revolution. There are some crucial questions according to the director Dijana Milošević: ‘Are revolutions real? Did they exist?’ We have to question ourselves. Where do revolutions start? With whom?
EVERYBODY TALKS ABOUT THE WEATHER. WE DON’T!
The spectators enter the main theater hall and at the very entrance a woman in a white shirt and black gloves distributes them a paper with a code. Once seated, everybody is welcomed by their host saying that the rehearsal can start. Then, two protagonists divide the audience into two groups based on the passwords they had and that were distributed at the entrance.
They treat them as masses in revolutions. People leave the central stage and one group heads toward the foyer, while another one gets up on a balcony. They all get seated, waiting eagerly to see what will happen next. The actors speak mainly in Serbian, but Spanish, Polish, Russian, English and a bit of French can be heard too. With very minimal scenography interventions, spectators are invited to choose a revolution if they want to, or not choose it at all. The goal of the performance is to give the agency to the audience, where they are no longer simple observers, but potential actors or accomplices.
PERSONAL IS PUBLIC
The performance references many philosophical texts from Bertold Brecht, Noam Chomsky, Pablo Neruda, Camilo Cienfuegos, Fanny Kaplan, Daniil Kharms, Rosa Luxemburg, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Ulrike Meinhof: and others. This process reveals the ideas, delusions, and passions of those who believed in a revolution and a better world. Some of their quotes and citations are distributed to the audience written on pieces of paper, to make them engage, reflect, and question their definitions. Who is a revolutionary? ‘The revolutionary despises public opinion. He must accustom himself to torture.’ They handed the definitions from Nechayev’s Catechism of a Revolutionary: ‘The revolutionary has broken all the bonds which tie him to the social order and the civilized world with all its laws, moralities, and customs.’
Then, there is another round of citations, until all the papers are distributed sending the final message about the GENERAL UPRISING, in capital letters: ‘Our association will use all its resources and energy toward increasing and intensifying the evils and miseries of the people until at last their patience is exhausted and they are driven to a general uprising.’ This group of actors leave, so that others come and continue with a different sub-topic. They practically rotate between two rooms with different spectators, but all get to have the same message. The character of Urlike Meinhoff enters the stage and sends her famous saying about the protest: ‘Protest is when I say I refuse to go along with this anymore. Resistance is when I make sure everybody else stops going along too.’ This entire play with audience ends with a final distribution of one letter to each spectator, to create a very famous feminist slogan ‘Personal is Public’. The audience is then invited to get back to the main hall to continue the rehearsal.
LONG LIVE REVOLUTIONS AND POP CULTURE!
This abundance of revolutionary references contrasted with references of pop culture with Lady Gaga, Camila Cabello and Boney M. The actors enumerate all the possible revolutions and give the audience the choice of picking the one they like. The February Revolution! Long live the October Revolution! Long live the French Revolution! Long live the Cuban Revolution! Long live the Arab Spring! Tunisian Revolution! Egyptian Revolution! Libyan Revolution! Long live the Congo Revolution. Coup d’état in Greece! Coup d’état in Spain! Long live the Second Intifada and before it the First Intifada! Long live the 5th of October! Turkish coup d’état! Long live the Krajina Revolution! Then they pick up a French Revolution to say something about it. They took Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance as a melody for their own lyrics of liberté, égalité and fraternité, while holding the bread in their hands.
While talking about the February and October Revolution, after some historical facts and information, they proceed with Rasputin from Boney M. While one of the actors talked about Cuba, others would hum Havana from Camila Cabello. The director reached way back in the past for historical facts to intertwine it with pop culture from the late 70s, to very recent hits from 2009 and 2018. Very surprising, and at the same time ingenious choice of historic, revolutionary and modern, contemporary elements that left nobody indifferent. “Either you’re part of the problem or you’re part of the solution.”
Ivana Bilić (Sarajevo, BiH) is an intern in Artpolis where she will conduct her research on the role of performing arts for social change. She is a translator and interpreter in English, French and Bosnian and a human rights student with special interest in women’s rights, minorities and LGBT+.