Top groups head to Nitra

ON THE poster, a head is wrapped in red-white tape, much like the tape used to cordon off construction sites from passers-by. This poster, created for the 17th edition of the Divadelná Nitra theatre festival, depicts the feeling that the commissioned artist got when listening to organisers discuss the themes of shows selected for the international festival, which starts on September 26.

ON THE poster, a head is wrapped in red-white tape, much like the tape used to cordon off construction sites from passers-by. This poster, created for the 17th edition of the Divadelná Nitra theatre festival, depicts the feeling that the commissioned artist got when listening to organisers discuss the themes of shows selected for the international festival, which starts on September 26.

“The tape prevents the person from all communication,” Darina Kárová, director of the Divadelná Nitra festival, told The Slovak Spectator. “He or she cannot see, cannot speak, cannot hear and cannot even breathe. It is a person completely isolated from the rest of society, pushed to its very edge, handicapped in a certain way as if cut off from communication.”

When organisers started to think more deeply about the shows selected for this year’s festival, they found at the centre a theme about people whose fate is inseparably connected with some social or political context.

“These are, for example, people who, often pushed to the very edge, and sometimes mad, act as if they do not realise the responsibility or consequences of their deeds,” said Kárová. “Or, they have found themselves in situations unprotected by society, as if it is unaware of the responsibility it has towards them.”

From this, the organisers derived a clash of the individual with society that questions the individual’s ability to bear the consequences of their deeds or influence or change the fate of others. Above this, there is the question of what is still acceptable for society, what is still normal, healthy and motivating and what is destructive, discouraging and even paralysing, leading to tragic consequences.

Usually, when selecting shows for the next edition of the festival, there is a highlight that brings up a certain issue. It inspires the organisers to see how other theatre ensembles respond to this topic and in the end the festival serves as an overview of various attitudes and directors’ views on this theme.

“For this edition it was Pornography, a play by the Deutsches Schauspielhaus from Hamburg directed by Sebastian Nübling that catalysed the selection process,” Kárová told The Slovak Spectator. “This is a play that connects the marginal fates of people with the global situation of the world, such as with events like the terrorist attacks in London in 2005 or the Summer Olympic Games. It is a response to global joys and tragedies of humankind seen via a mosaic of individual lives.”

The organisers always try to make the festival’s main programme diverse and feature various genres. This year is not an exception, bringing professionals and top performances by strong European personalities to the Slovak audience.

“There are pieces for a large as well as a small stage. There is a classical drama, parody, contemporary dance, movement theatre, visual art performance as well as opera,” said Kárová.

This year, after years of effort, the festival organisers are very proud to bring RO Theater from Rotterdam to the audience.

“In Nitra it will perform Baal, a play by Bertold Brecht inspired by poet François Villon,” said Kárová. “Baal is one of last season’s discoveries in the Netherlands. “Here, under the direction of Alize Zandwijk, top Dutch actress Fania Sorel plays a man’s role.”

A man’s role played by a woman also occurs in July by Ivan Vyrypaev.

“In this piece, a young and delicate actress plays a septuagenarian, a mass murderer and a cannibal,” said Kárová. “Polina Agureyeva, one of the most distinguished actresses of her generation, performs the monologue of an old man who has become, due to tragic circumstances, a murderer.”

Bárka Theatre from Budapest arrives in Nitra with the Frankenstein Project by well-known film director Kornél Mundruzcó.

“It takes place in large metal dwelling containers and is about a boy who, in the aftermath of the circumstances in which he grew up and which formed him, became a mass murder,” said Kárová.

Jan Klata, a Polish director, will also appear at the festival this year. After last year’s successful production, entitled Transfer!, he will bring a production dealing with the mechanisms of revolution entitled The Danton Case.

“I think that Klata may be successful also with young people with his open, even anarchistic, view of revolutions,” said Kárová.

Productions from this young director are always a challenge for the organisers. Last year, he required tonnes of soil on the stage. This year, the audience will have to go to the Agrokomplex fairgrounds to see the play, as it needs an extremely long stage.

“This is simply a young rebel who makes himself felt not only by picking controversial themes and doing them in a very provocative way, but also by the always original form his plays take,” said Kárová.

Then there is a rather small piece from the Czech Republic, Tomorrow There Will Be, about the 1950s political trial of Milada Horáková in Czechoslovakia. This story is about the manipulated and unfair trial of a politician charged with conspiracy and treason. While it ends with her execution, a chamber opera written for Soňa Červená, a legendary opera diva, is brought to the stage.

Slovakia will be represented by three pieces. The host theatre, the Andrej Bagar Theatre, will perform Everything for the Nation, directed by Michal Vajdička. This play is a novella by Božena Slančíková-Timrava, an author of unique observations and sharp criticism of Slovak society at the turn of the 19th and 20th century.

The Slovak National Theatre will arrive with Leonce and Lena directed by Martin Čičvák and the ElleDanse Alternative Theatre brings its project Canto Hondo.

The organisers had a bit of a problem selecting Slovak plays for the festival, as responsibility is not a very popular theme in Slovak theatres.

Contrary to taxpayer-financed theatres abroad whose plays intervene in social and cultural life, Slovak theatres have only the ambition to entertain the spectator, said Kárová.

“Slovak theatre plays to the gallery,” she commented.

This may result from the fact that, contrary to theatres abroad, Slovak theatres do not “teach” their audience and do not cultivate an environment that results in future spectators.

The festival wants to address this issue in a panel discussion showing some examples from abroad of successful educational projects targeted at theatre audiences across Europe.

“I wouldn’t watch something that I don’t understand and remains hidden from me,” Kárová said. “I can search for and find a lot more value when I know something about it.”

The six-day festival will feature ensembles from 10 countries including Slovakia. All plays will be available in English, either via subtitles or headphones with interpretation. The accompanying events include the Museum of Broken Relationships, White Night, opening local museums and other cultural sites on the night of September 27. For more information, go to www.nitrafest.sk

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