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Theatre „Eugene Ionesco” Biennial in Chisinau 2010

Travel Reviews

Petru Vutcărău, Mediator Between the EU and East Neighbouring Countries

“Who should be concerned with the Republic of Moldova?” A question frequently and openly asked in the West when one proposed reports on the small country between Romania and Ukraine, on other issues than politics or the conflict between East and West on one hand, or wine and brandy trade on the other. People and their concerns, their sensitivity to intellectual or entertainment issues and are too thin topics to be taken into consideration for daily coverage by the western EU media. Why wonder then when a foreigner in the Republic of Moldova is regarded somewhat suspiciously and is asked nearly straightforwardly which of the luggage he carries could be of financial advantage for the country and its people. For what else should you expect from the abroad, when in your country, every euro and every dollar is cause for grief? At a close look, however, other things come up. The surprise comes when you come across the sea of green in the capital city, Chisinau; when you realize that responsibility is reflected in the unexpected tidiness on the streets and even in the blocks of flats in the second row. Love for Moldova and its capital covers many other aspects and causes you brief moments of reverie before falling back into the depression of the shortcomings in everyday life.

“Who should be concerned with Moldova?” We come again to this subject, which must necessarily be addressed if you want to understand this country and its people at least to some extent. Without the regular grants coming from abroad, the survival in this small state would be even more difficult to take than it is already anyway. The writer Constantin Cheianu describes situations of immigration out of financial reasons. In the play “In Container”, he makes so that the destinies of such immigrants meet somewhere in Belgium, reflecting thus a Moldovan reality that almost every family is facing. It is good to finally know what is going on, and it’s good for those outside the country as well to understand, but in a theatre biennial in Chisinau, is this not like taking owls to Athens? You see the Moldovan audience in the Chekhov Theatre, looking at the drastic staging by Romanian director Cristian Ban, as a tragic comedy, between some urinals and the congestion in a shabby hotel. In the end, the audience applauded in deep understanding of their situation – a situation that came to be presented like that, and of the few foreign visitors – within a festival theatre! Almost every family placed the bitter experience of emigration on the hope for a better tomorrow: “Only together can we make the world a better place”, was the slogan of the Biennale Director, Petru Vutcărău.

But the situation in Romania is also presented to stage. “Romania. Kissing Me!” by Bogdan Georgescu, highlights, under the direction of David Schwartz, the situation in the neighbouring country. The audience receives, by means scenography and original music, olfactory interspersed with various flavours, local answers to the question “what do others really know about us?” (Germany and the New Plays from Europe Festival at least caught the bait. In the 2010 edition of the festival, this part of Romanian will be presented in Wiesbaden. Well done!)

The Romanian director (for the export) Radu Afrim, already confirmed in Europe, winner of the Culture Prize Europe 2009 awarded by KulturForum Europe, was preparing to present a production of theBraila Theatre, “A tricky Thing, the Soul” by Dimitre Dinev. “The tales of Austrian origin Bulgarian are by no means depressing social reports, but a furious blend of Slavic soul and German spirit”, Carsten Hueck enthusiastically describes it on the Deutschlandradio.

Probably for budget reasons, the festival had unfortunately little to offer from its own country. A must see, nevertheless is the version after Bertolt Brecht of the “The Good Person of Szechwan”, a powerful work of director Boris Focsa and theatre company in Chisinau. The premiere of the “Morning Star”, a Romanian poetry masterpiece by Mihai Eminescu, enchanted the visitors of the festival, this time on the stage of the Puppet Theatre. Tallinn company, and the Mytischi Puppet Theatre in Moscow, especially, which melted in a “Cherry Orchard”, exactly in a Chekhov year, realism and puppet theatre elements, showed that puppet theatre is not for children only.

The Biennale of the “Eugene Ionesco” Theatre touched in 2010 the “Gypsy issue” in a highly successful manner. A brass band, from the Zece Prăjini village, with muddy streets, proudly presented the talent it he can best make use of, namely voice. Just like “Dhoad”, a band from Radjastan, India, the home country of the Gypsies, for whom music is the export message of an ethnic minority in the entire world. Not eventually, I could watch a flamenco band from Malaga, on a more commercial tone. BITEI evolves as a festival with educational ambitions. This approach becomes even more obvious with the participation of the Roman Viktiuk Theatre from Moscow, for the first time present in this festival, in an artistic act mimed and supported by exceptional bodily expression and reformulated songs and ballads.

In Moldova, 40% of the population is of Russian origin. Therefore, the second language spoken is Russian, and the festival stressed out this aspect. In a monodrama, we finally get to see the director’s and of the Festival’s and “Eugene Ionesco” Theatre’s Artistic Director, Petru Vutcărău. An outstanding one-woman-show in which the director enables the dramatic skills of actress Antonina Dobroliubova, indicating to her wide gestures on a coloured stage light. (Olga Khokhlowa, from the Russian nobility, dancer with the famous company “Ballet Russes”, presents in a confession, retrospectively and full of pathos, her relationship with Picasso, whom she, his only legitimate wife, survives, in the view of the author Brian McAvera). It is a production from Sakhalin, the island Russian part of Japan on times of war. This leads to an invitation for participation to the MODE Theatre in Tokyo, whose director, Osama Matsumoto, created an internationally acclaimed Kafka.

In Russian context, Vutcărău marked with the presence of the Ukrainian director Romanian Viktyuk and two of his superproductions the culminating point in the BITEI festival: four young men are fighting over putting up the sails and sinking in mattresses, in the eternal Shakespearean love story “Romeo and Juliet”. With what ease and dedication manage the four young British cadets of the Naval Academy to translate this play into our own and their own reality, playing their luck like schoolboys – the heroes come close and fall in love with “an intensity that can be experienced only by very young people”, according to director Viktyuk, which pays a tribute to the love between the two people, staged with extraordinary sensitivity, and based on the immense power of the actors, especially that of Igor Nevedrov (Juliet). The actors are called on stage repeatedly. The masculine charisma and persuasive presentation of the lovers is pure poetry. Jean Cocteau, how you would have loved it!

However, this play is not the only gift offered by director Vutcarau to the audience and the celebrated director. The spectacular production of theatre in Moscow, staged by Viktyuk is awaited with excitement by the 1,200 spectators at the Chisinau Opera.

Jean Genet, the French poet who was imprisoned for his work, wrote on the “Maids” in 1947: “They are monsters, like ourselves, when they dreams of one or another”… How would have Moscow responded in the ‘80s to Viktzuk’s construction presenting on stage deletion and heteronomy, addiction, love, hatred and humiliation?

As for the parallelism between the actual and the apparent, between the imaginary and reality, the director went with Genet’s postulate according to which such roles should only be performed by men. “An actress can get into such a role, but unreality would not be quite as radical, as she has no reason to play or show that she is a woman.”

Who then should be surprised that the director put forward a personal and outstanding version of this text? The protagonists are male, perfect appearances, dressed in samurai skirts, with slippers and feathers over their underwear, in opulent furs and painted faces to replace unreal masks – everything to bring into light, most dramatically, the abysses of the feminine soul. Viktyuk turns the maids into male characters in motion. He assigned solos, grace and fake accent to each performer, which gives a much higher intensity to the scenes than id played by shrieked voiced ladies. The audience feels awkward at hearing the men-women singing some ‘80s popbeat, although the current version includes newer music. Viktyuk marked each line, each word of the songwriter in the androgynous song of Dalida “Je suis malade”, either by movement, gesture, word, dance, or with the perfect representation of the female body by a man. But hold on! This is not about cross-dressing, but about the love of the director for the outraging poet, expressed in the actors’ gestures, through every tone and light effect, making this performance into a timeless work of art.

I remember the old Jean Marais, who showed all his love for Jean Cocteau in a performance, when he jumped with his motorcycle on stage and said everything in one sentence: “I am Jean Cocteau!”

I feel the same closeness to the author and when I hear the legendary Genet saying the speakers: “I noticed that some roles should be played by women.” But this time it is Roman Viktyuk speaking. The applause and standing ovation lasted over 20 minutes. They are like a liberating cry over the curtain of the performance, over Chisinau and over what is left unsaid about the BITEI festival. We hugged, me, Roman, Peter and a lot of the visitors. “Only together can we make the world a better place”. At that time I strongly believed in the message the festival’s director, Petru Vutcărău, and in the role of the BITEI, “Eugene Ionesco” Biennial Theatre in Chisinau / Moldova.

If the new BITEI Festival – despite the low budget – presented itself to participants, guests and especially foreign visitors at a good level, the next edition will certainly be visited by better theatres and more art lovers outside Republic Moldova. The foreign cultural journalists would have many to report on what is happening in Chisinau, even outside the festival, so that, in its tenth edition, the festival is more popular, gather a wider audience and brings money into the country.

(Photo: Florin Tabirta)