This year's selection of the festival's repertoire includes productions that have emerged from enticing and unstereotypical theatrical premises and have consistently carried out certain (very different) theatrical aesthetics. By emerging from working processes that have tried to avoid stereotyped stage, dramturgical, acting and other solutions, these productions have generated – an event.
They are not easily put under a common denominator, because they were made by very different theatrical personalities who left their distinguished imprint on them. Even if there does exist, on some level, a type of error within the productions, this error is the product of a search and, as such, it again becomes intriguing and opens up a space for theatrical discussion. I could say, though, that this year's Gavella Evenings might be called a festival that will gather theatre creators to whom their theatres serve as producers, whereas they, according to their own artistic consciousnesses, have opened up a free path in search of hidden dimensions of literature, theatre form, genre and, finally, its social role.
I will present my selection by grouping the productions in four blocks.
The first and the most represented block is the one whose search is initiated by reading classical texts. Personally, I am always excited when a big classic appears on the repertoire. Performing an old, yet grand title, is a priori a sensitive and demanding task. Yet, a new performance cannot occur when strictly repertorial ambition drives us to it, but when it meets a sufficient number of theatrical conditions. The most demanding one and, I believe, the most sensitive one is hidden in the ensemble and their possibilities. Only when a grand, classical title is performed do we have an opportunity to see several acting generations on stage and value their quality and number. One such production that is based on a grand title and is, at the same time, challenging in terms of the quantity and the quality of the ensemble was performed in the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb. Just as we were drawing closer to the conclusion that it was almost impossible to have a great cast in Croatian theatres, out come The Devils. This production, directed by Janusz Kica, brought 23 actors to the stage. But what really impresses is the range of notable actors' creations which were made under sensitive fingers of Janusz Kica, of course, among the production's other qualities – its painfully provocative opening, spatial framing backed by an expert scenographic solution, thematic focus.
The last time Hamlet was performed in the Croatian National Theatre in Split was in 1994. Since then, the dramatic face of this theatre has completely changed. Alexander Ogarev decided on this title clearly confident in the young and the youngest part of his ensemble. The result – an intriguing Hamlet whose basic stage characteristic is the mixture of genres. In a caleidoscope of circus, family drama, infantile grotesque and tragedy, Ogarev, along with his actors, seeks the answer to the question how much a love for the past (Hamlet is obsessively tied to his dead father) can be fatal for the entire community. The Hamlet in Split was made in a search which, I dare say, hasn't been undertaken so far in the readings of this text in our theatrical space.
In order to read the poetry and the philosophy of Ibsen's Peer Gynt, the director Aleksandar Popovski has chosen a couple of strong dramaturgical (dramatization by Dubravko Mihanović) and directorial procedures: retaining verse in the first three acts, whereas the remaining two are in prose, confining the cast to the fullest and commenting the nature of theatrical play. Thus, Gynt's world transfers from the dimensions of a philosophical long poem into a world of theatrical conditionalities that do not reduce the seriousness of the question about the gynt-esque ''I'' or the troll maxim: ''to yourself be enough''. We recognize this maxim easily today as the imperative of contemporary life, the same as Peer's desolation at the end of his life's path reminds us of the desolation of the modern man and likewise gives us the answer to the question why Peer Gynt today.
Jean Genet's The Maids, staged by Marin Držić Theatre from Dubrovnik, are using the language that is dictated by the very nature of the play (directed by Georgij Paro) to open up both the pathology of social relationships and the humiliated man towards himself. By having nothing in life except the imposed social role of the maid, they give up on themselves and offer us in the end Genet not as an author of today's absurd, but modern tragedy.
Borivoj Radaković wrote the dramatization of The Birch Tree if not in cahoots with the present day actualities, then definitely with the eternity, where the same primitivistic mentality which swoops down on and breaks those who are the most sensitive rules. He wrote it as an hommage to the significance of Slavko Kolar, but also as an inscription to the kajkavian dialect. His dramatizaton makes a large creative portion of the production (directed by Želimir Mesarić) which spirally twists in from a realistic code to a grotesque by actualizing an event that we both laugh at and get stomach cramps from at the same time.
Regardless of how much we agreed or disagreed in our estimates of the individual achievements, I find the described block of productions intrinsic for the repertorial condition of the Croatian theatre. The trust in the great literature brings an indispensable framework of thought to the theatre and makes it a tool for the consideration of crucial topics which we fail to be aware of, or sufficiently dimension. This function of the theatre, which the pogrom of estradization would like nothing better than to see erased from the stage, shouldn't be questionable if we have any ambition to deal with the theatre as an artistic act. That is why I hope the aforementioned productions will show us that the path of opening up the classics is no less provocative than reading the latest play. On the contrary.
The second block is comprised of productions which, by being based on contemporary texts (literally – written yesterday), question:
- the role of the actor and the theatrical illusion when faced with the ''commonplaces'' and the depth of human suffering (Mate Matišić's The Baloon, directed by Mislav Brečić, performed by the EXIT Theatre from Zagreb and Theatre 2000),
- the courses of violence and inhumanity (The Kick, a docudrama by German authors Andres Veiel and Gesine Schmidt, directed by Martin Kočovski and performed by PlayDrama from Split),
- ''the limits of uneasiness in a world of terror'', self-awareness in a scenario of the future (The Garage, based on the novel by Zdenko Mesarić, directed by Ivica Buljan and performed by Zagreb Youth Theatre),
- an x-ray image of a wounded female in a world of incomprehension (Barbelo, of dogs and children, by Biljana Srbljanović, directed by Paolo Magelli and performed by Gavella Theatre)
Four different directorial procedures consistent with their quest for their poetics, profound in their search for the theme, have achieved the best and the most intriguing productions of the season. While The Baloon ''blows'' the emotion and the grotesque in the theatrical act, vibrating at the same time with actors' skills which support the subtle director's solutions, The Garage sinks us to the very bottom of endurance of the physical theatre and to the remarkable ability in the montage solutions that swirl within the plot. The Macedonian director Kočovski turns a brechtian approach to docudrama of German authors (created as a reconstruction and a document of an actual event) into a procedure with which he accurately, to the point of being impudent, touches the sore spots of our reality and the problems of violence that we experience here and now. What Magelli seeks in Srbljanović's tapestry is a provocation and an aesthetics that is reminiscent of the perfomances of Marina Abramović. I interpret the readiness for being exposed as a starting point for working on a production like this and its path, as a path that needs to be taken on a profoundly artistic act. As a result of the coherent attitudes of the actors, the director and the author towards it, Barbelo is, in the end, much more than a successful repertorial title.
The third block of productions is dedicated to laughter. Thinking of the reasons why one of the former selectors of the festival said that there was no room for comedy at Gavella Evenings, I've decided to take the opposite stance. Comedy, yes, but a comedy as a theatrical challenge, not a comedy for oblivion. Production-wise, two completely opposite performances, one rich in ensemble, the other boiled down to ''the three of us can perform anywhere'', should bring an unbearable lightness of laughter to this year's Evenings. And while The Bourgeois Gentleman uses all of the theatrical features to build a completely new genre with an unconcealed satyrical blade, The Victims of Geography 2 are laughing at themselves. The question that needs to be answered is very simple: how to get a production to a European festival? While searching for the answer they're disecting the condition of (Croatian and European) spirit and its jadedness, they're laughing at the theatre and themselves, criticizing others and finally themselves again. While doing so they are skilled, charming and surreally ironic, somewhat reminiscent of the British ''flying circus''. But don't worry – ''they have the formal education to practise what they do''. Of course this observation isn't necessary in the case of Zagreb's Gentleman. The Gentleman makes the audience laugh (and with the latest that happened in theatre circles, even concerned) carried on the wings of the actors' and the director's virtuosity.
Finally, on a theatrical island of conceptual direction stands Branko Brezovec – alone. Eurokaz production Galileo Bound, created as a fruit of the international cooperation (Italy, Montenegro, Croatia), directed by him, is dedicated to the questioning of the opera corale form, made by blending Aeschylus's Prometheus Bound and Brecht's Life of Galileo. With this production Brezovec proded deeply into the great theme of contradicitions between knowledge and power, simultaneously embarking on a quest for the form that would support the theme. In a mixed performance of Croatian and Italian performers and singers, Galileo Bound is definitely the production with the most intriguing theatrical discourse of the season.
Lada Martinac Kralj