ZORAN DJERIĆ, Director of the Serbian National Theatre (SNP): Theatre is Eternal Change

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Since the appointment of Zoran Djerić as the head of the Serbian National Theatre, this cultural institution has changed both internally and externally. These days, the theatre is breathed in the spirit of Christmas and New Year’s festivities, and next year, we cannot wait to see the classic plays like “Na Drini Ćuprija” (“The Bridge on
the Drina”), which, last autumn, thrilled the South Korean audience, as well as a number of new and beloved drama, opera and ballet performances. Behind the scene, the SNP is also embarking on a new year of financial struggle to keep this prestigious theater going.

You have recently participated in the conference titled “The Future of Performing Arts in Serbia”. What is the future of the SNP and performing arts in general?

— The main problem of contemporary theatre is that it attempts to solve its crisis at the beginning of the 21st century using formats that were formulated at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. These formats were once effective, but today, in the face of the challenges of our time, they do not possess the necessary plasticity, they are resisting change, and they are rigid and irresistible, just like the systems from which they originated. The main role of theatre has always been to purify and enrich the audience, as well as all the participants in theatre acts. The theatre is not and cannot be perceived only as a job, because it also has exalted goals, which we recognize as artistic achievements in drama, opera and ballet, through text, music, play, through “harmony of spheres” , to quote Laza Kostić. The main role of theatre has not changed for thousands of years and maybe it is more pronounced today than ever, because we live in cathartic times. However, I do not agree with Aristotle that art and theatre should mimic our reality, but it should rather create it.

Ever since you came at the helm of the SNP, the theatre’s budget increased. How much did these funds help you with ensuring proper functioning of all three ensembles and their repertoires?

— The Serbian National Theatre was and should be a cultural institution of national significance. It significance must not be overlooked, nor abolished, by law or some regulations. It is a historical institution that has been proving its worth for over one and a half century. Therefore, institutions, national and artistic, such as the SNP, must not be equated with any kind of troupes, ad hoc groups and the like, in order to get some money from projects. Both domestic and foreign foundations are aware of this, and count on us, not only in terms of distribution of funds, but also in devising programmes. We cannot imagine any European capital of culture without a theatre. We are not talking only about spatial capacities, which are undoubtedly important, but also about the artistic potential that the Serbian National Theatre definitely has.

The last premiere this year, “Smrdljiva Bajka” (“Stinky Fairytale”) is the first performance on the renovated Chamber Stage that talks about homeless people who inhabit an abandoned factory. To what extent are theatre audiences willing to watch something that does not resonate with their everyday lives?

— Theatre reflects not only our present, but also our past, and our future depends on it too. Audiences know that theatre is temporal art, and it is much more than just a reflection of reality, or what is, or what we believe will be. This project is supported by the Novi Sad 2021 – European Capital of Culture Foundation under the auspices of the “Audience in Focus” programme and the city of Novi Sad – City Administration for Culture.

What role does the SNP play in Novi Sad’s preparation for the 2021 European Capital of Culture?

— I believe that this will not be a one-off example, namely that the Novi Sad 2021 – European Capital of Culture Foundation will continue counting not only on spatial but also on the artistic potential of the Serbian National Theatre. As you have already noticed, the Serbian National Theatre has Drama, Opera and Ballet, but it also has Technical Department, three halls of different capacities, infrastructure, and creative potential. We regularly apply to all competitions. Several international projects are underway in which our theatre plays a key role. There is no reason for this not to continue until 2021, when the SNP celebrates its 160th anniversary.

What would you recommend to our readers to see from the existing and new SNP repertoire in 2019?

— In terms of drama, I definitely recommend “Blood Wedding” by F. G. Lorca, directed by Igor Vuk Torbica, a play that was made in co-production with the Budva City Theatre. Then there is Arthur Miller’s “Witches from Salem”, directed by Nikita Milivojević. When it comes to established performances, they should definitely see Ivo Andrić’s “Na Drini Ćuprija” (“The Bridge on the Drina”), directed by Kokan Mladenović, as well as the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”, which is staged in co-production with the Novi Sad Theatre, and directed by Atila Bereš. At the beginning of 2019, we are going to have two drama premieres – “Antigone 2018”, directed by Milan Nešković and “Komično u Klasičnom” (“Comical in Classical”), authored and directed by Igor Vuk Torbica, in co-production with the National Theatre from Sombor. When ballet is in question, as in previous years, Tchaikovsky’s ballet “The Nutcracker” has always been a hit during Christmas and New Year’s holidays. As for the opera, I recommend “Pop Ćira i Pop Spira” (“Father Ćira and Father Spira”), directed by Dejan Despić and Rossini’s “Cinderella”.

One of the most popular SNP plays is definitely “Na Drini Ćuprija”. Kokan Mladenović, who directs the play, said in an interview that while he was preparing for it, he was constantly thinking about cycles of evil as the destiny of this part of the world. How did the South Korean audience understand this motive that is deeply ingrained in us, since you staged three performances there?

— Ivo Andrić’s novel “Na Drini Ćuprija” has been translated into Korean. So, both the writer and his work are already known and appreciated in South Korea. There is a Serbian language lectorate in Seoul which is attended by 150 students. Otherwise, the students were the main audience at all three performances that we staged during the
international theatre festival. Due to the complexity of the theme, the show was subtitled in Korean, and actors performed this play the Turkish, German, Hungarian and Serbian languages. The end itself is in English. Even our audience needs a translation, let alone the South Korean one. But this did not affect they reception that we got in Seoul. It is not just the motive of evil and violence that characterizes this play, but the play is very layered, with the topics such as tragic love, play and seduction, dance, constant competition between good and evil, the
removal from power, the passage of time… Since the performance is visually and audibly striking, I believe that this was the first thing that the South Korean audience noticed. They felt the acting energy, and the extraordinary passionate potential of our ensemble.

When you were appointed the director of the SNP, you said that you would put domestic authors first. How often, besides the classics, do you come across good young playwrights?

— J.P. Sterija, Nušić. Jakov Ignjatović and Dušan Kovačević are our staples but we also have an inclination towards new domestic playwrights like Božidar Knežević, whose plays are on our repertoire, and then also young playwrights like Tijana Grumić. In collaboration with Sterijino Pozorje we staged plays that were award winning or received special jury recommendation for the best original script. I believe that we will continue with this practice. The dramatization of the scripts of contemporary Serbian writers such as Vladimir Pistal, Franjo Petrinović and Miodrag Kajtez are in progress. And we are open to cooperating with other talented young and contemporary domestic playwrights.

CONTINUATION OF RESTORATION IN 2019

It seems that the situation at the SNP is improving, but there is still a broken and a rather ugly looking pavement in front of the theatre. Is there any chance that this will be fixed?

— The stairway in front of the main entrance was restored before the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the accession of Vojvodina to the Kingdom of Serbia. A new road was paved, as was the access road leading to the building’s official entrance and the parking lot. We also put up street lights and planted shrubs. I believe that next year we will start restoring the remaining area that surrounds our building, arranging it and removing all defects. This, of course, requires certain funds, but I believe that we will get them, because our building is in the city centre, and the Theater Square is one of the priorities in the 2019 plan.

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