| Сибиу |
The International Theater Festivall in Sibiu is a leading festival for performing arts in Romania. This year there were performances all over town in theaters, churches, industrial buildings, trams and even on the outside of hotel buildings, where «Xtreme» had a show. For the seventeen year history of the festival, seventy countries from all over the world took part in it. In 2010 famous figures such as Peter Brooke and Eugnenio Barba presented  their avant-garde troupes, whose talent is only matched by their obscurity.
Passage. La Salamandre, France. Photo © 2010 S. Eastman
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For Romania, the last 20 years have been quite a turbulent period, as the transition from communism to democracy involved a long process of complex changes, and, more often than not, the climate has been filled with disorientation and a lack of stability. Not only the economical situation, but also the cultural medium, have felt the difficulties of a new era, which required an imperious need for implementing solid guiding marks. It seems that theatre managed better, and even sooner than other forms of expression, to free itself from the complexes of a culture forced, for almost half a century, to live under the pressure of censorship. Theatre found very quickly the means to release those creative forces which had been held back for so many years. In post-communist Romania, theatre, more than literature, managed to avoid the perfidious trap of transforming art into a manifestation of political feelings and attitudes, which were obviously intent upon revealing the horror of a totalitarian past. Even nowadays, Romanian literature is more attracted to subjects which tackle various aspects of the communist era, although this kind of literature is already abundant. The theatre felt that freedom means more than condemning the past, but allowing art to express itself, in all its possible forms, free from the fear that it may be considered politically incorrect.

Over the last 20 years, interest in theatre has been seen in the increasing number of festivals (in Bucharest, but also in many other cities, such as Sibiu, Gheorghieni, Sfântu Gheorghe and Alba Iulia), magazines (not only magazines totally dedicated to theatre, Okean, Teatrul azi, Semnal teatral, Scena, but also cultural magazines, such as the Cultural observer, which consistently allots one to three pages a week to theatre events) and events dedicated to this art form (debates and workshops for young actors and directors).

In Romania, theatre is probably the only art form which truly achieved decentralization: the capital-city no longer holds the main role of representing and hosting the only real theatre performances and events. Bucharest must share this role with cities such as Sibiu, and I hope this example will be followed by other arts also. Perhaps more than The National Theatre Festival, which takes place in Bucharest every fall, the International Theatre Festival in Sibiu, which usually starts at the beginning of June, takes the leading role in what concerns theatre events. Having this international profile creates the most important link to theatre outside Romania and makes national theatre accessible to foreigners. This year’s edition, the 17th, brought to the public one of the most important Romanian plays, and of course, la crème de la crème was Faust, under the direction of Silviu Purcărete.

Reaching. Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, Israel.Photo © 2010 S. Eastman
God Nijinsky. Director Piotr Tomasszuk, Teatr Wierszalin, Poland. Photo © 2010 S. Eastman
Father or the Anathomy of a crime. Teatrul National Radu Stanca, Roumania. Photo © 2010
The Bacchae. Istanbul Municipal Theatre, Turkey. Photo© 2010

Faust premiered in 2007, and since then has won, alongside the national awards UNITER for best actress in a leading role – Ofelia Popii, for the role of Mefisto –, and for best scenography - Helmut Stürmer, in 2008, the prestigious Herald Angel Award at the International Festival in Edinburgh, in 2009. A brief round-up of international press reviews reveals quite an enthusiastic reaction towards this extravagant adaptation of Goethe’s play. Magazines such as The Observer, The Times and The Telegraph described the Romanian adaptation of Faust as remarkable. Euan Ferguson, in The Observer, on 23rd August 2009, stated that the play left him «saddened only in one perverse way: I may never see a grander, more theatrical event in my life.»

At the recent festival, Faust had two stage plays, and thousands of people, from Romania and elsewhere, queuing to be part of this extraordinary performance. Even Libra House, a former industrial building and the only one with the necessary capacity to host Purcărete’s Faust, proved to be insufficient.

Banishing the extravagance in favour of plain expression of ideas and feelings was a common tendency in Romanian theatre, but Purcărete’s Faust may be telling us that the flamboyant style is not that outdated, and that some adaptations can only be brought up-to-date by a shocking adaptation. By appealing to this style, the director proves that Faust, one of the most frequently staged plays in history, can still find its way into the hearts of contemporary audiences. Faust still has a lot to convey, but it can not do so through a classic adaptation, because it would only resonate as a cliché. Silviu Purcărete has proven that classical works can be revived using an unconventional style. Purcărete reinvents the very notion of a spectacle: the spectacle becomes the major character in his adaptation, the public remains mesmerized by the visual effects, by the grandeur of the decadent décor, by the costumes, by the overwhelming music composed by Vasile Şirli and by the impressive cast of 120 actors, all of them integrating perfectly in the ensemble. Purcărete manages to effectively bring the public close to the performance: the crucial moment in Faust, the Walpurgis Night, is the moment when the audience are moved from their original seats, and brought into the midst of the demonic riot, on a stage placed behind the first stage, and which was, until then, inaccessible to the viewers. The spectators are now in front of an even more extravagant act, where Mephisto is unbound. The color scheme, dominated by red, suggests the unleashing of all evil forces, and pyrotechnic effects complete the atmosphere. Even though the place where Faust arrives on stage gives the impression of immensity, the devices are very mobile, the walls, the platforms are constantly transforming and replaced by others, in accordance with the scene which is taking place.

The amazing role played by Ofelia Popii, who embodied Mephisto, topped the bill and transformed her character into the focus of interest. This new type of Mephisto brings to the stage more than a sly Devil, who, in the end, has a revelation: Ofelia Popii gives Mephisto a more complex nature, creating an androgynous creature and an extremely versatile one, who shifts from humility to cruelty, who modulates her inflexions very quickly so she can sound like an old man and, the next second, like a diaphanous child. For two and a half hours, she manages to remain as challenging and fascinating as she is at the beginning.

Silviu Purcărete’s Faust has taken a fairly big step for Romanian theatre on the international stage and I hope this is just the start that will lead the way to international affirmation for other great Romanian plays.

Purcărete is not the only director who has chosen to re-invent the classical theatre: another famous Romanian director, Mihai Măniuţiu, revives, in an adaptation of Euripides’ The Bacchae, the antique myth of the Bacchantes, the female worshipers of Dionysus. If in Euripides’ play Dionysus is a young man, handsome and charming, in Măniuţiu’s modern adaptation, made in association with The Municipal Theatre in Istanbul, the character is weak and ungracious, and is presented in his violent, dehumanized form. The one who bears these characteristics is, surprisingly or not, Tiresias, the prophet, maybe to suggest that the cloak of a religion is, in fact, the one which is more important: what would religion be without attractive and appealing presentation and persuasion? What Măniuţiu wants to emphasize is the violence which takes place at the birth of every new religion. Dionysus’ cult is reduced to some brief features, and the bacchantes seem to lack any human characteristics, in their orgiastic wildness. The director avoids endowing his play with solemnity, because, after all, Dionysus, like so many other gods throughout history, ended up the same way: by being dethroned. Măniuţiu wants to highlight that, no matter how luminous and liberating a religion seems to be at one point, the negative aspects cannot be ignored: madness and violence, irrationality and crime. In the end, a cult like Dionysus’ crumbles, only to give way to other cults which, in their turn, will decay. What is left is a more or less nostalgic memory, a memory which, in time, will become art. Hundreds of years later, the best place for Dionysus and other gods is on the stage or in other artistic fields.

Even though not as directly represented as in The Bacchae, the theme of the violence of religion also appears in Electra, the other play presented by Măniuţiu at this year’s International Theatre Festival in Sibiu. What is striking in this adaptation is the transfer of the antique background to a Balkan-like atmosphere, in which the chords that can be heard belong to the Iza Group, a folklore band from the northern region of Romania, Maramureş. The god’s cruel order to a father, who had to sacrifice his daughter in order to be helped to win the Trojan War, triggered a string of tragedies. A cruel god who asks for this sacrifice can only cause dehumanized reactions among his followers. The king sacrifices his daughter, Iphigenia, but is killed by his grieving wife, because she never thought a battle was worth her daughter’s life. Nevertheless, her act stirs anger in her other children, Electra (played by Mariana Mihu) and Orestes (played by Marian Râlea, who is very well known for his comic roles, but here, manages to very convincingly play a character as tragic and profound as Orestes). The mother, even though she justifies her deed by saying that her husband did not have the right to sacrifice their daughter, nonetheless feels joy and relief when she hears that Orestes may be dead. Electra and Orestes – reminding us to a great extent of the famous situation that, centuries after Euripides, Shakespeare chose for his character, Hamlet, of the child who has to avenge his murdered parent – feel they are the instruments to re-establish the universal equilibrium. They do not think, not even for a moment, that their mother wanted the same: to put some order in the universe disturbed by the murder of her daughter.

One of the most interesting and extravagant plays at The International Theatre Festival in Sibiu was Gavriil Pinte’s A Streetcar Named Popescu, an adaptation of Cristian Popescu’s Arta Popescu, a volume of poems. Only a privileged few could be part of the spectacle, as the stage, extremely unconventional, had a capacity of only 20 seats. The play took place in a real tram, which, for an hour and a half, hosted the actors and the few spectators, on its picturesque route Sibiu – Răşinari – Sibiu. Having Cristi Popescu’s poems as a script, Gavriil Pinte managed to put on «stage” one of the most difficult forms of theatre – poetic theatre. The bitter sweet journey into the lives of Cristi Popescu (played by Florin Coşuleţ) and his family – his grandparents, parents, sister and aunt – leaves the impression of a journey which defies the laws of time and space and enters into the realm of poetry. The characters are all dressed up in wedding costumes and, with the exception of Cristi Popescu, have their faces painted white, to suggest the fact that they all exist only in the poet’s imagination. Accompanied by violin chords, the characters always seem happy, with their permanent smiles. In fact, they inspire sadness, and at the end of the play, many of those who attended the performance cried: stuck forever on tram route 26 (the poet had always dreamt of having his own tram, specifically tram 26, just for him, so that he could take his family on long, relaxing journeys round the town, and people would look at them feeling jealous at his happiness), the characters are doomed to repeat, again and again, the same phrases, the same gestures, in the manner they were immortalized by the poet. Cristian Popescu died 15 years ago, but his wish seems to have been fulfilled: he owns his own tram and his family is given a long, relaxing ride, once in a while, with people looking at them curiously and maybe feeling a little bit jealous. And this is possible only because of Gavriil Pinte’s truly ingenious initiative, to revive, every year, Cristi Popescu’s invitation: «I am waiting for you on every tram no. 26.»

The festival ended with the play of another famous and extravagant Romanian director: Radu Afrim, who staged an adaptation of Tankred Dorst’s Herr Paul, with actors from The Youth Theatre in Piatra-Neamţ. The scenography, signed by Iuliana Vîlsan, fitted very well with Afrim’s intention to convey the sensation of suffocation and a confined space: Paul (played by Cezar Antal) and his sister, Luise (played by Lucreţia Mandric), live in what used to be a soap factory, and everything around them seems dismantled and crowded. But it is exactly in this kind of place that the characters can find themselves and, even if everything looks incompatible with a normal way of living, Radu Afrim is not afraid to break, once again, the boundaries of conventionality.

What is extraordinary about Afrim is his never ending power of imagination and of originality. Even though he is a prolific director, he has managed to avoid self-imitation. He is constantly trying something new and he never sticks, more than once, to the same formula. Working with actors from all around the country, Radu Afrim is best known for his talent to freshen up old themes and motives, covering them up with modern twist. Brushing the dust off some great, but slightly outdated plays (such as Playing Holiday, an adaptation of inter-war writer Mihail Sebastian), Radu Afrim never fails to amaze. The terrible child amidst this new wave of directors in the late years in Romania, Radu Afrim is one of the most unique voices in Romanian contemporary theatre. Mihai Măniuţiu and Silviu Purcărete also enjoy the revival of the old through modern means, but Afrim differs as he is neither as flamboyant as Purcărete in Faust, nor as visually violent as Mănuţiu. The only constants in his work are extravagance and innovation, and between these lines, each time he comes up with something even more astonishing. It takes the work of a genius mind to avoid the mischievous trap of the kitsch, when he mixes old conventions with elements from modern day pop culture, not being afraid to openly tackle taboo subjects. By doing so, the director forces the public to overcome their own preconceptions about artistic representation. Radu Afrim plays a great role in the rapid modernization of Romanian theatre and its disengagement from provincialism.

One of the most important and internationally acclaimed Romanian playwrights, Matei Vişniec, who now lives in France, staged two plays at this edition of ITFS: The Woman as a Battlefield in the Bosnian War, under the direction of Anca Bradu, from the Art of Theatre Department at «Lucian Blaga» University in Sibiu, and The City of One Inhabitant, staged by Compagnie de la Gare, France. Vişniec’s absurd theatre has the quality of a very realistic depiction of certain realities. The loneliness of the human being and the impossibility of real communication are common themes in his writing. But he is also interested in more concrete realities, such as the horrific consequences of war: his focus is on the Bosnian War (which took place at the beginning of the ‘90s), more precisely on collateral victims – women and children. Stating that he wanted to write from women’s perspective, as men’s perspective is the one which is usually expressed, Vişniec draws attention to the dangers of war, even nowadays. Wars still represent a cruel reality, a danger that, because of the mass-media, appears to be quite distant. If television has made us less sensitive to the horrors of war, Vişniec feels it is time we woke up and see what is really happening in the world. Vişniec thus makes a step forward on the road of Romanian theatre to surpassing provincialism.

In Romania, theatre has become more and more, in these last 20 years, of a phenomenon, an axis in people’s need for culture and real art, one of the few genuine mediums where people can find more than politics and the never ending talks about transition.
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Пятница, 15 Февраля 2019
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