IVAN MEDENICA, Art Director of BITEF: Always Crossing the Line, Beyond the acceptable and accepted

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BITEF has always been something that steps beyond, over the line, moving the borders of usual in the world of theatre. This avant-guard approach was always BITEF’s trademark, and if you thought this year „everything is already seen“ you will be profoundly suprised: BITEF has prepared even more surprises. We have talked with Ivan Medenica, Art Director of BITEF about this year’s festival.

BITEF always pushes the envelope in terms of what is acceptable and accepted. What are you planning for the 51st BITEF?

  • As you can sense from the slogan of the 51st BITEF – Epic Trip – we are expecting something epic, big and magnificent, as well as trippy. But, joking aside, this slogan refers to all of the main aesthetic and thematic features of the main programme. Some plays have all these features, some just few of them. The term „epic“ primarily refers to the epic material, or broadly speaking, the mythical material that is interwoven into quite a few plays. For instance, Jan Fabre’s Mount Olympus is based on the entire ancient Greek mythology. Then there is the play called The Bible, which is a first attempt by Jernej Lorenci to create a play based on Biblical texts. Another of Lorenci’s plays is called The Kingdom of Heaven, and it is based on the Serbian medieval epic literature. The reason why we chose these plays is that, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the history did not come to an end in a sense of people living in a conflict-free society of liberal democracy. On the contrary, we are intensely living through history all over the world with numerous wars, the refugee catastrophe, the rampage of right-wing movements and neoliberal capitalism, the disintegration of parlimentary democracy, global terrorism…. Under such circumstances, we need to go back to formative narratives of our civilization in order to try to realize where did we fail it. Continuance is also epic because the aesthetic focus this year is on long plays. Last but not least, epic also refers to the dominance of story-telling in relation to dramatic stimulation in most plays. As far as the term trip goes, it refers to the journeying back to the past civilizations, as well as to a special physical and psychological state; the haze that is caused by duration of something. In terms of „moving boundaries“ that you asked me about, I think that, this year, it relates to lasting. I do hope that showing naked bodies on the stage is the thing of the 1970s, and that, in this day and age, naked body is not considered pushing the envelope.

Ersan Mondtag is probably the leading rising star of the German theatre who will present himself in front of the Belgrade audience with two plays. What are these plays going to be like considering Mondtag’s Kafkaesque inclinations?

  • Ersan Mondtag is a young German director of Turkish origin, and is the biggest international “discovery” of the 51st BITEF, something that we are very proud of. As you have mentioned, his work is recognized in the German speaking area, and BITEF will be his first world promotion. I don’t know if I would call his plays Kafkaesque, but they are rather cynical, brazen, and provocative, while, at the same time, strange, joyful and full of life.

If we are to believe various announcements, “The Extermination of Olga Bach” is a trash-camp version of Trainspotting, painted in LSD colours. How much are we going to be shocked or shaken by this play?

  • It will shock you with its stage poetics which you have excellently described in a couple of lines contained within your question. This is something that is the typical Mondtag. On the other hand, the Olga Bach play is the only drama at the BITEF, and I think it is going to shake us with its rendition of the impotence of today’s society, the inability to push ourselves and the world forward, to make things better individually and collectively, and to be happier. BITEF starts with an explosion of the cosmic force of Eros in Mount Olympus, and ends in the aforementioned contemporary impotence.

We haven’t had many opportunities to see the Iranian theatre. What will Amir Reza Koohestani bring with his play?

Although young, Koohestani is currently the biggest name in the Iranian theatre in the international framework. His play is different from most other plays at the 51st BITEF because its story-telling format reminds us of another civilization narrative – the stories from “One Thousand and One Nights” – which fully corresponds to the term epic. On the other hand, there is nothing trippy about it, because we are talking about a subdued and totally minimalistic play. This formal strictness is in full balance with the strong emotion carried by the story that talks about the position of women in the contemporary Iranian society. I have a feeling, a completely justified one, I believe, that many people will find this play their favourite at the 51st BITEF.

TO MAKE A SHORT STORY LONG

This year, there will be several extremely long plays at the BITEF, lasting 3.5, 6 or even 24 hours. Do you think that the audiences will be able to understand them and stick it out until the end?

I think that there is nothing special to understand here, but they definitely will need to stick it out until the end. Very long plays, the so-called durational performances, axiomatically break down the classical scenic illusion, and take us to the very limits of the performance, because physical exhaustion works on performers too, so the audience does notice their private and occasionally very tired bodies behind the fiction they are conjuring up. Of course, the fatigue does affect the audience too, and it lowers their concentration, but, at the same time, and this is something that it is the most important, it relieves them of all constraints of modern day living, and its barbaric speed, hysteria and superficiality. In such theatre, the experience that you live through is its main effect and this is, dare I say it, the experience of freedom. Plays like this have a similar effect as Woodstock or a rave party.

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