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MILAN SLÁDEK'S 1969 THE GIFT WILL BE REPLAYED IN ORIGINAL FORM THIS WEEK IN BRATISLAVA

Top Pick: Mime still bearing gifts

MIME Milan Sládek, 64, was on vacation in Bulgaria in the summer of 1968 when Soviet and Warsaw Pact troops invaded his Slovak homeland. With the borders closed, he was unable to return or defend his Bratislava theatre company, which was dissolved by the hard-line communists as "undesirable".
While initially a great shock, he says, the famous invasion eventually proved a source of artistic inspiration.
"We all needed to find a way to cope with the shock the invasion caused us. So, when I got an invitation to move to Göteborg in Sweden, where I had stayed shortly before my Bulgarian vacation, I began to work on a new play as a reaction to the tragic events of 1968," says Sládek.


SLÁDEK survives another attack by a ravenous bird.
photo: Ctibor Bachratý

MIME Milan Sládek, 64, was on vacation in Bulgaria in the summer of 1968 when Soviet and Warsaw Pact troops invaded his Slovak homeland. With the borders closed, he was unable to return or defend his Bratislava theatre company, which was dissolved by the hard-line communists as "undesirable".

While initially a great shock, he says, the famous invasion eventually proved a source of artistic inspiration.

"We all needed to find a way to cope with the shock the invasion caused us. So, when I got an invitation to move to Göteborg in Sweden, where I had stayed shortly before my Bulgarian vacation, I began to work on a new play as a reaction to the tragic events of 1968," says Sládek.

Sládek's play, called The Gift, was finished in 1969, and premiered in Köln in 1972 (Sládek had emigrated to West Germany in 1970). Eventually performed in almost 50 countries, the play grew and developed with its creator.

Sládek recently decided to revive The Gift's original 55-minute version. Its two performances this week at Bratislava's Aréna theatre will be supplemented by three solo pantomimes by Sládek: The Sunflower, Kefka at a Party and Samson & Delilah.

The Gift tells the story of Kefka ('small brush', a nickname Sládek received at school because of his cropped hair-do), who receives an unexpected gift - a big, odd-looking bird. He takes care of it, feeds it, even teaches it to dance. But the appetite of the ravenous and fast-growing bird cannot be satisfied. Soon the bird starts eating Kefka.

"It's basically a parallel with life in Czechoslovakia at the time, expressing the nature of coexistence with the Soviet Union. I had been searching for the substance of the communist system, and this is what came to mind," says Sládek. "The bird is a monster Kefka unexpectedly receives and learns to coexist with. The bird eats him, yet doesn't destroy him. And I didn't attempt to solve the national problem with the play... it was about me, an individual, how I experienced and got through those events."

The Kefka character has accompanied Sládek for 42 years, showing up as the protagonist in several of his pantomimes.

"Kefka is my second self, behind which I hide in order to get the courage to say things which shouldn't be said," he says.

As Kefka has grown and aged with Sládek, the play has also evolved. A new version of The Gift is planned soon.

"I realised when the play was first staged that the empathy other countries felt for us during that time would disappear. I knew the scars would remain only within ourselves. That's why I tried to find a symbol which would be more universal. The play is now an equation that can be applied to several things, leaving it up to the viewer to solve."

Performances on April 19 and 20 start at 19:06 at Aréna theatre on Viedenská cesta 10 (on the Petržalka side of the Danube, just right after crossing the Old Bridge). Tickets: Sk60-100. Tel: 02/6224-6875. www.milan-sladek.sk

By Zuzana Habšudová

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