“—An informal group of theatrologists, critics and drama artists who followed the 22nd Festival of Small and Experimental Stages of Yugoslavia in Sarajevo, with desire to affirm and encourage research work in theatre, believes that the play “Somebody has Killed the Play” by theatre “Maska i Pokret” from Sarajevo, performed by Iva Kostović-Mandić and Petar Mandić, is the most appropriate to the original intentions of this festival and, therefore, its most significant event.
The play “Somebody has Killed the Play”, by theatre “Maska i Pokret” from Sarajevo, exploring the function of seemingly secondary elements in drama theatre (mask, movement, music) achieved a complete dramatic whole.
As people who have followed this festival for years and matured on its plantations, and taking into account the opinions expressed at the Round Table of Critics, with this recognition we strive, and will strive, to maintain that fire that, with founding of ‘Kamerni Theatre 55’, as the first small scenes in Yugoslavia, and with founding of Festival of Small and Experimental Stages in Sarajevo, its founder Jurislav Korenić and the circle of theatre enthusiasts who have supported this festival from the very beginning have ignited.—”
And so has informal group of theatrologists, critics and drama artists, including the signatory of this text, decided to award their informal prize, the only non-institutionalised prize of this festival, to theatre “Maska i Pokret”. Moreover, this text could be understood as a manifesto which, if it does not fully cover it, at least initiates one future content of this festival.
More than any previous one, this year the Festival was reduced to a gathering of conventional repertoire performances of our theatres. Even the accompanying (midnight) festival, which usually used to present new aspirations of informal and student groups, even if they were not aesthetically shaped until the end, this year was reduced to a convention equal to the official selection.
The festival of small and experimental stages of Yugoslavia, little by little, is becoming a conventional festival, which is just a reflection of the convention of one institution in which there are no young nor dynamic, creatively confirmed personalities, who care about igniting a real theatrical atmosphere in Sarajevo, by searching, by polemics, by true theatrical provocation. That atmosphere has been once created and was preserved by Jurislav Korenić, so that today’s “successors” of his would begin to place it in a civic framework, determined by huge compromises, “considerations”, “decency”, etc. Perhaps the blame for this bourgeoisie of the festival lies elsewhere, not only in the institution that administratively and completely uncreatively runs and programs it, but I simply cannot believe that our theatre and all its institutional and non-institutional quests ended in these mere civic forms that were presented to us here.
If we would briefly summarise what we saw at this festival, it could be said that we saw little of theatre, and a lot of literature. Lots of prose (stories, realism), and little of poetry (imagination, invention). Lots of deadly theatre, and little of anything else. When we saw that Beckett also started enrolling in academics, the dead, divinizing himself in his own directing (West Berlin’s “Godot”), and when we were convinced by the example of “Godot” of the Novi Sad theatre “Ujvideki Szinhaz” that Beckett could really be dead bigger of all dead classics, then it is really time for those Yugoslav theatres that intend to be avant-garde to turn, not backwards like the Kundering turn to Diderot (presented to us by the “ITD” theatre), or worse, to Eden von Horvat’s Offenbach’s vanities (such as Paolo Madeli and the Yugoslav Drama Theatre), but with something new, perhaps still invisible, but for which there are enough visible indications that we would accept it with the engagement and sacrifice of true artists.
“SOMEBODY HAS KILLED THE PLAY”
On such sacrifice, almost the only one so far, agreed Iva Kostović-Mandić and Petar Mandić with their (two-member) theatre “Maska i Pokret”. What they gave us in their play “Somebody has Killed the Play” is irreplaceable as an incentive to preserve this festival in its original idea, but also as one completed, aesthetically almost completely purified work. This completeness should not be equated with the static finality of the form, as almost all other performances of this festival had. Although a completed work in its own aesthetic structure, it reopens each time both semantically and formally.
From performance to performance here again happens something very new. Reducing everything that turns out to be superfluous is ruthless. From its premiere until today, the play has undergone a purification that in civic (so to speak conditionally) dramaturgy, which arose in the written text, it is not possible to perform to such an extent. So, we can freely say, it’s the play that’s still going on. Most of the others, crowned with the “golden laurel wreaths” of the official juries of this festival, probably experienced their end, their culmination point in which their eventual artistic aspirations were exhausted.
In the “working notes” of Iva Kostović-Mandić and Petar Mandić it states: “…The role of mask in play ‘Somebody has Killed the Play’ is not exhausted in banal explanation, it is not reduced to communication according to the principle of ‘type recognition’; here the mask is brought into close connection with action, it is its physical sign. Thus, the action is developing through the action of the mask and at the same time – the mask does not remain a rigid, ‘flat’ (finished in itself) creation, a mean of ‘depersonalisation’, for following an interesting plot, but it also develops through action…”
Of course, when it comes to this type of theatre critics usually impose comparisons with some earlier similar attempts, from which they could further report some eventual tradition of this theatre. Thus, in connection with this play, Pina Bausch and Schumann’s theatre “Bread and Puppet” were mentioned. However, this quoted fragment from “working notes” by Iva Kostović-Mandić and Petar Mandić only underlines their different intentions from, say, Schumann’s treatment of the mask, underlines what is evident in their play. Schumann insists on a certain reduction that leads the mask to only one sign, to one function. And that is her artistry. Inevitably, this also leads to a certain staticity, to the omission of any dramatic tension, and to the loss of any possible content identified with dramatic action.
Iva Kostović-Mandić and Petar Mandić insist on drama, and mask is not only an accompanying sign, a symbol of a certain event, but one of the main participants, protagonists of that drama, its plots, tensions, catharsis *… So, the mask is the most visible form of content that by no means remains within the framework of its formal, physical conditioning, but develops both above and beyond that physical plan.
Iva Kostović-Mandić and Petar Mandić are succeeding in this, because they do not treat mask exclusively as an artistic image, a symbol of an idea; they constantly bring it into a dramatic relationship to the other masks, to the movement (the whole choreographic network), to the space and to the music finally. From such a dramatic relationship, there is a development, dynamisation of the function of the mask, to its acting, almost to say character, participation in one drama that we are attending.
The plot unfolds thanks to the masks (with equal participation of the extraordinary choreography, music and visual meaning of the entire stage space), and masks are “developing – through the plot”, as the authors themselves say. So much for differentiating the treatment of the mask of theatre “Maska i Pokret” and some similar realisations in world theatre.
Robert Wilson said during one guest appearance at BITEF: “Our consciousness is much more complex than we can express in words.” And his theatre was the most magnificent expression of drama that is created either with the absence of words, or with a minimum of their use, mainly through the vocal, phonic treatments of their, to say the senses, but not their ideas. I would not want to bring theatre “Maska i Pokret” into any significant connection with Bob Wilson’s theatre, but I think they are united by an aspiration to universalise the theatrical sign through the synthesis of certain elements that “no longer represent any barrier” (Wilson) in understanding in most various ethnic groups and the most diverse types of consciousness.
What I want to emphasise in particular about this theatre and this play is that their symbols, to which certain purely human dramas grow within the play, or the whole network of these symbols connected in some archetypal signs, do not require exclusively rational resolution and interpretation in order to be maintained as meaningful.
Understanding these symbols and this whole play takes place in the right way only at the moment of its enactment on one inseparable emotional-intellectual plane that does not require the kind of resolution of meaning that comes down to “type recognition”. First of all, we enjoy, we sensually enjoy what is happening in front of us, and isn’t that one of the basic, somewhat forgotten, functions of theatre. Any literalisation is absent here. I would say that the play has one poetic structure, and all meanings emerge in the same way as it happens in a poem. What we call action, therefore, is not subject to any clarification but, in fact, allows for a series of associations and certain associative groups open to the meanings of the very essence of the aesthetic.
This is direct theatre, like the greatest theatre I know, the Robert Wilson Theatre, a theatre that does not seek any mediation to act on us. This is how I imagine the future desanthropomorphising function of the aesthetic sign in theatre. The invisible acts on us through the visible. And the most necessary forms of that visible here are movement, image, music. So anything that excludes any prose, or that minimises it to a particular story.
I believe that Iva Kostović-Mandić and Petar Mandić, walking this path where sacrifices are not only inevitable, but also necessary for their own constant deconfirmisation (which is much harder in institutional theatres), will make another bigger and stronger, great show not only of our theatres. They have all predispositions for that. One of them is called “Somebody has Killed the Play”, a play that the official jury, ossified in its institutional function, did not even mention.