Slovenian National Theatre, Maribor
Opened 16 February, 2011

Director Hariš Pasović has always been a passionate advocate of political engagement, even at the height of Yugoslavia’s disintegration; it was he who invited Susan Sontag to stage Waiting For Godot in war-torn Sarajevo. More recently, however, he has come to feel that that engagement must not be on just any terms; in particular, a disillusionment has set in with the institutional responses of Europe and especially the EU. Europe Today is a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk featuring live music, video projection, theatre, literature and dance, which interrogates senses of Europeanness, even as the venture itself constitutes recently unprecedented international co-operation within the region. Pasović is a Slovenian-born Bosnian; actor Miki Manojlović Serbian; dramaturg Dubravka Vrgoč is Croatian; dancer and choreographer Edward Clug is Romanian-born and Maribor-based, and the band Laibach are probably Slovenia’s most widely-known contemporary cultural export.
Manojlović’s spoken text is taken from a 1935 poetical/polemical essay by Zagreb-born modernist author Miroslav Krleža depicting Europe as a continent of radical disparities, decadence and social and political hypocrisies. If it was both observational and prophetic at the time, then (as abridged by Pasović) it seems scarcely less accurate now. Not least by dint of its performance in a recently-reborn state now a member of the EU, the piece questions what it means to be individually or collectively European, whether “in” Europe or of it. Meanwhile, Clug’s dance sequences seem sometimes to make him a personification of Europe, sometimes an Everyman marginalised by it, sometimes the forces acting upon it. Much of Laibach’s contribution is drawn from their recent Volk project, which remakes various national anthems (including the British). The results may become brooding industrial throbs, strident and threatening or awash with neo-classical grandeur, almost national power ballads; in the latter mode they may be no less stirring than the originals but, because of the new musical context, we grow aware even as we experience such sentiments how glib they often are. The various components comment upon and contrast with one another; while Laibach declaim “Let freedom rise”, Clug swings helpless in a flying harness. Even our applause at the end is deconstructed by a final extract from Krleža.
The 75-minute piece also contains one transcendental moment. At one point Clug, after executing a sequence of non-specific but nationalist-salute-looking movements, stands stage front, house lights on. He seems to be expecting a response. Just as I was considering standing up and giving one, a couple of others n the audience did precisely that… then more… until plants throughout the house were making salute sequences in unison. It was quite disconcerting, a little chilling, and showed that sometimes a non-naturalistic presentation can be the most real of all.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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