The International Theatre Festival Divadelná Nitra turns 25


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Why Does Herr R. Run Amok, Germany

Divadelná Nitra ’2016: Ode to Joy

A major European event in the field of theatricals and Slovakia’s largest theatre festival, the International Theatre Festival Divadelná Nitra celebrated its 25th anniversary this autumn. Established in 1991, following the fall of the Berlin Wall, as part of a common to the countries in Central and East Europe movement for renewal and opening up to the world and Western European cultures, the festival established itself in its very early years providing a prestigious platform for some of the best directors and productions from both Eastern and Western European stages. Ever since the turn of the new millennium, the festival is increasingly gaining ground with its themed programmes dealing with burning political and social issues or topical theatrical trends. The 25th-anniversary edition held 23–28 September was themed Ode to Joy: Past – Present – Future. By choosing the title of the EU’s anthem as the festival’s thematic focus, the team of the organisers have clearly stated their intention to both recap the expectations and hopes pinned on a united Europe and comment on the present challenges to the continent and to highlight what gives cause for optimism or brings joy to us in contemporary theatre.

Traditionally, the festival’s programme had three sections: international selection; the Festival Plus section (where the domestic Teatro Tatro traditionally built its tent in the square in front of the local playhouse of Nitra, where most of the performances on the main bill are played, performing its new production The Circus’ Chram on a daily basis) and a rich accompanying programme of street performances and concerts, films, art exhibitions and discussions. One of the highlights here was the public debate titled after the festival’s slogan and moderated by the festival’s director, Darina Kárová, where renowned Slovakian experts in foreign relations and philosophers conversed about Europe’s present issues. Undoubtedly though, the most interesting were the Divadelná Nitra traditional morning meetings held on a daily basis with the companies, who have shown their performances the previous night, with students in Theatre Studies and the young critics attending the event within V4@critic residency 2016 under the leadership of internationally acclaimed theatre theorist and critic Patrice Pavis and especially, his regular comments on the productions as well as his final conclusions on the output at the anniversary edition.

The main programme of selected performances included six productions from Germany, Iraqi/Sweden, the Czech Republic, Poland, France and Ukraine: Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (stage adaptation of Fassbinder’s film by Michael Fengler) by director Susanne Kennedy and Münchner Kammerspiele; The Pillars of Blood by Iraqi director Anmar Taha, an admixture of dance and physical theatre by the Iraqi Bodies group in cooperation with two Swedish dance companies; The Hearing by Ivan Krejčí and the Chamber Stage Arena, Ostrava; Kantor Downtown of Teatr Polski Bydgoszcz, a staging by Jolanta Janiczak, Joanna Krakowska, Magda Mosiewicz, Wiktor Rubin; Suddenly the Night by Nathalie Garraud and Olivier Saccomano of Du Zieu company; a recently highly acclaimed female orchestra consisting of six musicians and singers, Dakh Daughters Band from Kiev with their cabaret performance The Roses, as well as 5 Slovakian productions.

The best of the Slovakian stages

Back Then in Bratislava, a powerful staging by Patrik Lančarič and Slovak Chamber Theatre in Martin must be highlighted among the five productions presenting the best Slovakian stagings in the last season. An adaptation of a book about the life of Slovakian intellectual of bourgeois Jewish extraction, Žo Langerová telling the drama and the struggle to survive of the woman and her two daughters, after her husband, Oskar Langer was sentenced and imprisoned in 1951 by the communist regime.


Opernball, Slovakia

Inventive and interesting was also the dance performance Opernball, an ‘authentic replica’ of a kind of inputs from the popular across Europe annual ball at the Vienna opera, traditionally broadcast live in Austria and Slovakia and stirring up unflagging interest of several generations. The concept of the performance was devised by the female director and choreographer Petra Fornayová, a major figure on Slovakian independent stage in the field of contemporary dance. Dancers and performers immediately reproduce excerpts from the balls broadcast over the years, screened onstage on a large display behind them. Their enthusiastic but also critical and ironic ‘repetitions’ of dance episodes, of captured by the camera relations and celebrities presenting themselves at the popular TV event evolve into an unexpected and ingenious commentary both on the screened inputs and the present obsession with the virtual reality, produced by the e-media.

Polish production Kantor Downtown was the centrepiece of the international programme

This production is undoubtedly among the most interesting recent premieres in Poland. This is evidenced by its selection for and inclusion in the programmes of most of the major international festivals held this autumn: BITEF ’2016; Theatre Confrontations ’2016, Lublin; the festival in Cluj, Romania as well as the 25th anniversary edition of Divadelná Nitra.


Kantor Downtown, Poland

Staged in 2015 at Teatr Polski Bydgoszcz, the production is part of a an array of performances and events occasioned by Tadeusz Kantor’s 100th anniversary (1915–1990), a great theatre reformer and an outstanding representative of the Polish and European avant-garde scene of the 1950s, the 1960s and the 1970s. Kantor Downtown strives to achieve much more than just fit into the celebrations. Actually, it seeks to document the presence of Kantor’s influence nowadays, to find out what is left of his legacy outside the museums or how his theatrical ideas function in a new context and in the conditions of a globalising world.

The crew includes four artists of different generations: Jolanta Janiczak (b. 1982), a dramatist and a playwright; Joanna Krakowska (b. 1965), a theatre historian at the Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences, essayist and editor of Dialogue magazine; Magdalena Mosiewicz (b. 1967) has made documentaries and shorts; graduated in Philosophy from the Jagiellonian University and the Department of Cinematography at the Film School in Lodz; and director Wiktor Rubin (b. 1978), who studied Sociology at the Jagiellonian University and Drama Directing at Krakow Theatre School. To implement their idea of following the way in which Kantor’s influence and legacy are felt and function now within the theatrical space, they have opted for a critical moment of his career: his visit in 1979 with his emblematic production of The Dead Class (staged in 1975; film adaptation by Andrzej Wajda in 1977) to La MaMa e.t.c., NYC, which has strongly influenced his own work and the American avant-garde and underground scene during the 1970s and the 1980s. Wiktor Rubin and his crew have built an interesting stage installation, placing the Polish director’s students and followers from his stay at the USA in the context of a reconstructed setting of Kantor’s key production of the mid-1970s (the famous two rows of desks, at which the dead classmates are sitting who have perished in World War 2, replaced or confronted or complemented by their dummies). Presently, the installation has large monitors in the stead of the actors and the dummies, screening on monitors at a signal by Tadeusz Kantor (Grzegorz Artman) himself exclusive live interviews with famous and less famous American artists who have belonged to the New York avant-garde scene in the Lower Manhattan (Downtown) during the 1970s and the 1980s, telling about their meetings with Kantor and the influence his theatre has wielded on them. Such artists as Lee Breuer, Linda Chapman, George Ferencz, Barbara Hammer or Ozzie Rodriguez are among the 12 interviewed.

In Kantor Downtown, in their accounts of their meetings with Tadeusz Kantor, the American avant-garde artists of the 1970s and the 1980s, comment from various viewpoints and in the light of their different personal experience and their own careers, on the Polish director’s fundamental principles (the concept of the subject, the concept of the reality of the lowest rank (the austere stage reality) and the concept of the autonomous space), with their thoughts inspired by their memories of him wittingly or unwittingly referring all the time to the present situation and the present problems of the independent experimental stage. The unexpected direct relation between the reconstruction of Kantor’s theatre, the multimedia participation of the American artists and the immediate particular audience is ensured by the living presence of Marta Malikowska, who periodically and skilfully switches between an actress under the bold Polish director and a contemporary performer, persistently raising the question about the fees and the standing of an experimental actor/actress these days.

Why Does Herr R. run Amok? by resourceful Dutch director Susanne Kennedy (working in Hague and Munich and awarded the prize for a pioneering, artistically innovative achievement at Theatertreffen ‘2014, Berlin) and Münchner Kammerspiele was yet another memorable event at the 26th anniversary edition of Divadelná Nitra that has to be mentioned for the fairly precise and masterly visual solution (stage design by Lena Newt; lighting design by Jürgen Kolb) and play in spite of the production’s tedious monotony.

Returning to the festival’s slogan and recapitulating what audiences and theatre reviewers, attending its anniversary edition, took delight in pertaining to present theatricals as featured in the programme, it should be said that these were first and foremost the excellent professionalism and the high average standards of the selected productions, which though failed at times to satisfy the need for creative surprises and new discoveries. What, Divadelná Nitra ’2016 reasserted unquestionably and categorically was that the theatre, singled out by the festival as the best and most essential for the life of the people nowadays, in a world fraught with conflicts and tensions, is the topical socially committed theatre regarding the pressing and burning issues of the society.


The International Theatre Festival Divadelná Nitra turns 25

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