My enriching stay in the Balkan region as facilitated by the Balkan Express Network, particularly Bunker Productions, Ljubljana, Slovenia It is late in the evening of the 8th of December 2006, in a friendly automobile, that I enter Slovenia. My visit here was very unexpectedly offered to me by the Balkan Express network, with whose Romanian member – Ecumest – I had only been cooperating for a short period of time. I am quite excited, and also blissfully free of any anticipatory thoughts, as I know extremely little about the Balkan region (shame on me!). In the brief introduction that Stefania Ferchedau (coordinator at Ecumest) had given me before leaving, the Stara Elektrarna, an old power station in Ljubljana (now under the administration of Bunker) seemed like the thing for me. All along 2006 I gathered powerful impressions of performance places in Europe – an ex-car wash and an ex-beer factory in Bremen, Germany, a wonderful film studio in London and an ex-telecom shop in Bucharest. From Stefania‟s description and the very tiny photo on the Bunker website (girls, you really must enhance your photo gallery), I had imagined Stara Elektrarna to be this immense, brick walled, tall and powerful empty space, where only fantastic performances take place. It was the first thing I got to see upon arriving in Ljubljana. The alley way into SE was wonderfully lit with big candles, Tamara (Bračič, coordinator at Bunker) was bright & merry, but… surprise: inside, the SE looked terribly formal, very neat and the people inside (suits, champagne, speeches) didn‟t look akward at all. I didn‟t give it much thought, and as it turned out, Elektrarna is quite a cameleon. I saw it as it was getting ready for a performance, I saw it on DVD during a highly unusual show (“More”, Via Negativa), and also I experienced it during an early Christmas party – it totally transforms according to need. Simply marvellous. On Saturday I went to a dance performance at Cankarjev Dom – “He said nothing, but he left as if having said everything” (quite a mouthful!), by Branko Potočan. Before the show, I met Mojca Jug from Bunker, and Sanja Nešković Peršin, the dancer whose performances they produce. Lovely women. The performance, my first contact with the Slovene performing world, was impressive. I saw some really creative solutions for moving all along a wall, some acrobatic skills on two of the performers, great sound design delivered live, and even a truly dramatic moment in the form of a badly sung popular tune. However, I spotted the same problem here as in some Romanian dance performances I know, which is the lack of a very clear story line, or the wish to make a statement. Or maybe I just don‟t know how to watch this type of show. It was, in any case, very interesting. Sunday I went to a dance workshop led by the Fičo Ballet group (Goran Bogdanovič, head), in a ravishing location: Kino Šiška. I felt like a fish in the water. I must admit, I don‟t find dancing very attractive as a performer (it may be that this is a poorly disguised fear of failure), so what I really enjoyed about this morning‟s activity was going around the Kino, taking photos, and watching the girls (yes, the workshop participants were all girls! not news to me, it‟s the same in old Ro) do their exercises. I discussed the subject of converting abandoned places into cultural spaces later on with Nevenka Koprivšek, head of Bunker, and it all made me want to start the same process in Bucharest. Even as you read these lines I am striving to convince the right people to support a project of converting some old out-of-use spaces for the good of independent culture. Forgive me, for I don‟t know what I‟m putting myself through. Sunday evening I am given free entrance to a „sound performance‟ in Glej Theatre. This is new to me. The phrase „sound performance‟. I go there untamed by prejudice. And a good thing it is! Tomaž Grom has created something called “Bruto”, and it goes like this: there is a desk with office equipment on it – 2 computers, a printer, writing paper, pens, scotch etc. etc. And Tomaž is writing an application for funds for a performance he wants to do. All the sounds produced by pen on paper, stamping, printing etc. are amplified and arranged in a very interesting way. I liked it a lot. It was self-ironic and quite postmodernist. I also really enjoyed seeing Glej, the first independent theatre in Ljubljana – we too have one like it in Bucharest, only ours is like a retard compared to Einstein in terms of productivity. Good for you, guys! On Monday I spend half a day with the girls in Bunker, and it is quite interesting. They are all very busy, but somehow they manage not to turn into monsters from all the stress. Apparently they really enjoy what they do! We have lunch – a light, marvelous lunch that one of them has cooked (such devotion and unity, it‟s really very nice to see it happen), and then I go to my first big meeting. The first person on what will be known as… “The List”! It is Tomi Janežič, director and acting aficionado. We talk for about one hour, time in which he tells me about a workshop that‟s going on that very evening, and directs me how to go there. I feel like Alice in Wonderland, and I fear nothing. Everything seems to just come to me. Good. So I go to the workshop. It is a Method Workshop, held by the Vajevec brothers (an actor and a philosopher), who have both been in direct touch with the famous Lee Strasberg (Janez, the actor, has actually studied at Lee Strasberg‟s institute for 8 years, so, yes, he knows what he‟s doing). It was a great experience. I went there with a slight feeling of superiority, as I had been told most people attending are amateurs. How wrong of me… It appears that in my school we skipped the first step of the Stanislavski method, the basic one, getting in touch with yourself. This is what the brothers advocate, and a good thing it is. For 90-120 minutes, people just relax their bodies, and, through their voices, try to express their inner state. To acknowledge it first, and then to let it out, to turn it from metaphysical to physical. It was quite an experience. And then, they rehearse bits from written plays. Tonight it was Edward Albee‟s “Zoostory”. I am familiar with the text, so I could follow what was going on. It was very interesting to watch how body language actually works. I went home around midnight and was very happy to start the week this way. On Tuesday, after visiting a beautiful property Mr. Janežič will turn into an Acting studio (good luck!), I went to browse some Maska publications. Maska is a production house that, as I see it, is more focused on publishing drama-related material, and also co-produces various events. Quite interesting, we have no such thing in the independent sector. I was completely enthralled by a book (that I ultimately just had to buy!), about a performance called “Demokino”, virtual agora. It was about how what we call democracy is really something twisted, forced; about how slippery and deceiving the very concept of democracy is. Maska is located in the most charming complex in Ljubljana, called Metelkova. It comprises some 6 buildings – of which one is for NGOs at no.6, one is a ravishing hostel called Celica, and the rest are pubs and clubs. This, plus my visit to Kino Šiška, plus some more talking about it with Nevenka, added to my wanting to do the same back in Bucharest. It is now the 24 th of January and I have obtained a list of historic buildings in the center of Bucharest, an architect to join me in making a study, and a lot of negative feedback from the only State-run source of financing for independent culture. It‟s not much, I now, but perseverare humanum est, or something like that. Right. By now, the right sequence of my many meetings with Ljubljana crème du culture has become blurry, so… I met young director Jure Novak – gave me a guided tour of Metelkova, interesting character, charming girlfriend; then, young yet established director Sebastijan Horvat together with actress Nataša Matašec – what a woman! I was totally amazed at her energy and passion for acting, and hope to be like her as I advance, she is the first actress I meet who honestly loves the acting in her, and not herself in acting – I am so sorry I didn‟t get to see her act and him direct… recently, Tamara sent me an invitation to “Before/After”, and I was actually considering how much it would cost to come, watch the show, and get back to Bucharest… that‟s how in love I became with Ljubljana and its theatre scene; I also met producer Max Soršak and producer Špela Trošt, who both gave me useful insight into how an independent production is led in Ljubljana – I already tried the same here, it doesn‟t work unfortunately… 10 times more people and 2 times less money; one day, Sanja took me to the Opera House, where she was part of the warm up for ballet dancers, and then I watched a bit of the Nut Cracker rehearsal, which included 3 Romanian guys – that was kind of weird, but no weirder than meeting Niko Goršič (who also goes by the pseudonim Nick Upper, didn‟t quite figure that one out…) who brought me a pile of dramatic texts to read, including two written by a Romanian woman now living in New York! Talk about a small world…; Juš Milčinski was kind enough to tell me a bit about how Impro is doing in Slovenia, and to show me around the KUD France Prešeren, which was really nice, and it kind of made me even more envious (in the good way) of the Slovene cultural landscape, as Impro is doing quite poorly over here for the moment; a very brief meeting with Primož Ekart proved how useful residencies are, as we had a liking for Mr. Neil LaBute in common, we exchanged impressions about his writing, I informed Primož about the two most recent LaBute texts, and then I learned about a most interesting experiment of improvisational theatre, “The Wedding” – this meeting was also the only time I enjoyed Slovene red wine, sorry guys, most of them are too dry for me ; the last two people I met in Ljubljana were Helena Pivec, a hero who created the Slovene Cultural Profile by herself, over the course of one year, and was overwhelmingly nice to offer me important online sources for my next project (an online helper for theatre artists – database, source of information for auditions/workshops and such, legal advice an more, feel free to ask me how‟s it‟s going and offer to be part of it, I won‟t say no!), and Mojca Pungerčar, head of Artservis, an online source of information for Slovene theatre artists, and what we talked about is obvious. Phew! That was a long list. Over the second weekend I got to watch DVDs of Bojan Jablanovic‟s Via Negativa (More, Incasso, Would, Would Not, Viva Verdi – unfortunately, I couldn‟t get the first one), which I had read about online, and Špela had told me more about. It was just amazing! I mean, I‟m not a huge fan of nakedness and funny stuff on stage, but these were all just so well motivated, and done with such… well, honesty, that I couldn‟t take my eyes off the screen. I intend to make a presentation about it at the University of Drama Arts here, it‟s just a must-see. I would really love to see the next one live. On Sunday I went to a premiere in Glej, “Murderers”, a sort of talk-show approach on the story of 5 of America‟s most famous serial killers (Charles Manson being top of the list – and my favorite too…). As I couldn‟t understand the words – only the movement, the songs, the lights, the Angel of Death, I really enjoyed it, it seemed like the kind of approach to something really grave in human behavior that makes you laugh and therefore feel even more disturbed about it. However, I was told that it didn‟t quite accomplish that, but only made it look like these killers were all driven into it by the American consumist society. Too bad. I really enjoyed the videoclip at the end, though… Would love to have it. This I must not forget to mention: on Saturday I went to Bohinj by myself, a lake & mountain resort. Everything was closed, except of course the lake, and the old village (Stara Fužina – it sounds so good in Slovene). It was totally wonderful. When I become filthy rich, I will do all my vacations in Slovenia. New Year‟s Resolution. Oh, I also went to a show at the National Theatre – by the way, interesting fact: in Slovene, it‟s not Theatre, but “gledališče”, meaning something like “the place where you watch”, and in Croatian it‟s “kazalište”, “the place where you listen”. Don‟t kill me if I mixed them up… Anyway, the show was “A Taste of Honey”, by Shellagh Delaney, a text I knew from school, so it was easier to follow. It was decent, I suspect the actress playing the Mother to have been actually interesting. But what really surprised me was seeing some pictures from former productions of the Mala Scena, including Neil LaBute‟s “Shape of Things”, and Sarah Kane‟s “Clensed”. I mean, I can‟t know how well they were directed & acted, but, hey, our National Theatre would never produce such contemporary stuff, which is such a shame… I guess I could make some sort of conclusion on Ljubljana, as my story leads to Wednesday the 20th December, when we left for Zagreb. So. Slovenia was like an explosion to me, I was constantly surprised at how active the cultural world is, in a country with altogether 2 million people, 300.000 in Ljubljana. I mean, these people obviously create because they really like it, and their State actually finances them!!! Why don‟t I just move over there… True, I was told the independent productions are only financed enough to premiere and play some 5 times, so no investment in post-production, but honestly, if you have the product done, it‟s soo much easier to find the private finances to keep playing it, to tour with it etc. My opinion. And anyway, this system supports creativity, it‟s easier to be creative. As I understood, this state of affairs isn‟t very old, it‟s been only three years since the inception of the Three Year financing program, but, hey, it is there! I learned a lot about determination, cohesion, creativity, passion and cooperation. Slovene theatre artists work a lot with Serbia, with Croatia, Italy and more. I am ashamed to admit to not even being really aware of my Balkanic surroundings. And I really mean ashamed, as it is a pity not to be in touch with this side of ourselves. You know, Romanians are a terrible mixture of peoples, latins, slavs, native daci, with some turkish influence. This is interesting, but it doesn‟t help much when it comes to communicating in the area. We are surrounded by people who can understand each other – bulgarians, serbs, slovenians, croatians, bosnian, macedonian. We don‟t understand any other language in the area, and it makes me sad. I think I will learn Slovene this year. 24th of January Resolution. So, it‟s Wednesday morning and me and Tamara are taking the train to Zagreb. I will sorely miss Ljubljana, and most of all Glej. Metelkova. The River. The apartment. Stara Elektrarna. The Bunker girls. The old bycicle factory across the street from where I lived for 10 days. The three way bridge. The Dragon (btw, I couldn‟t find one single souvenir that would do the Dragon justice, they were all making it look nice – it has nothing to do with nice, it‟s a beautiful evil beast). Nevenka‟s bike. The series of coffee shops I got to know while meeting all those wonderful people. The Ljubljanski Grad. The way apple trees still had apples in them, but no leaves. Celica. The Hidromel (Medica, was it?). Oh, just about everything. Zagreb. The Balkan Express meeting. Maybe it‟s just me being tired and missing Ljubljana, but Zagreb looks so much more like Bucharest. Big, ugly buildings, distant people. Bad weather! I‟m definitely grumpy on the first day. The hostel is very basic, which I don‟t mind, but what totally tells me it‟s not going to be a friendly stay is the Free Internet in the lobby, that closes at 10 pm and runs a dial-up connection. In the heart of the city. Well. We go to this Student complex, where I am immediately fascinated by an almost-crumpling French Pavilion, which, we are told, will some day be restored. If it doesn‟t collapse first. Too bad, I really would‟ve wanted to go inside. Now I‟m totally positive on doing the “give us an abandoned building for independent culture” thing. In the evening we see two dance performances, one by some amateur girls, and the other by two professionals. The amateurs were full of energy and apparent happiness, and their choreography was nothing but an excuse to bring all that out. Good for them. The Lady Macbeth in Furio thing… well, like I said before, I don‟t know much about contemporary dance. How to decipher it. This was way over my head. I will remember the red steaming teapot, and Selma doing something funny with her head, but the rest just irritated me, because it seemed to have no sympathy for the audience‟s time. Or maybe I‟m just homesick. The next day we visited the TALA Dance Center studio, located in an ex-buttons factory (how cute!). They are also trying to make it work in an old Kino, but it just seems Croatian authorities are more similar to Romanian ones, in that they don‟t care so much for culture as Slovenes do. We at least have a superior dance school. It‟s not really good, but it‟s there. In the afternoon (was it lunch?) we heard from the Center for Drama Arts and BAD Company. Now that was fascinating and worth the trip! These people really have the drive! Again, I hear about “dramaturgs”. In Romania, a dramaturg is someone who writes plays. In the rest of the Balkans it seems to refer to a person who cares immensely about the performing arts, and supports them in every way possible, other than performing. CDU is an amazing organism, they have taken some actions that simply left me speechless, like the Operation City event, or the thing with the mayor‟s picture all over town as a protest for trying to make life hard for independent culture. I wish we had some people like that. On this occasion I understood on a deeper level that what it takes for anything to succeed is the right people at the right time. Resources, willpower, materials – nothing without the visionary people who take walls down. It‟s probably true the other way around, though… the visionaries are useless without the resources. I‟ll have to live through a few more years to know better. “Roland Barthes: Lover‟s discourse”. A truly living performance, that just breathed warmth right into me. I felt reborn at the end. The movement was so clean of any sort of pathetism or effort, the improvisation was sincere and charming, nothing pushed. I hope to experience such things again in this lifetime. At Mama cybercenter we received a lesson about Free Culture, copyleft, revolutionary people in the Information Technology business, and all the marvellous things you can do with the Internet and with General Public Licence tools. It was a very dense lesson, so dense that the following meeting went past my ears without really settling in. Maybe for the best, as I remember listening about some oggrish extreme sort of performances (like making soap out of your own body fat, having someone cut you and capture the blood with suckers, making body- fluid-scented perfume etc. etc.) from a group called Container. The evening went really well after this, with some last minute shopping and a fish dinner, where the star was cuttle fish risotto, that got us all to have black teeth. We shared some interesting inter-cultural stuff, like curse words and a tricky song claimed by too many peoples. It was very interesting. This is where I learned that the Slavic languages in the Balkans are very similar, and that the only people who are different are those in Kosovo, who speak Albanian, which is unlike any other language – yay! we‟re not the only ones! Now that I am back in my own city, in my own daily grinder, this whole experience seems more like a beautiful dream, but then, what else do we feed on? I am forever thankful to Balkan Express Network (which I think should live on), particularly to Stefania, Tamara and Milica as representatives of the network. I enjoyed meeting all the people I met in this two- week period (and The List is long, believe me!), and I hope this is the beginning of a beautiful cooperation, to paraphrase a famous film-line. Hvala lepa!
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