Could you describe your own “epic trip” in the course of making the selection? What was the most exciting part?
Ivan: I love this question, no one has ever asked that before! The most tripping, the most epic and the most exciting trip was the one to Antwerp, a year ago, to see Jan Fabre’s Mount Olympus. We didn’t know in advance that there is an opportunity to sleep in the theatre - which will now also be organized in Sava Centre - which is why I had a room in the nearest hotel, and the only thing which made me actually use it two times per three hours was the responsibility for Bitef money, but I was so jealous to the ones who slept in the theatre. During that night, I took a stroll along the corridors of that Baroque edifice, just to feel the atmosphere: people really were sleeping everywhere, some youngsters were hugging and kissing, it was very peaceful and quiet. Everything resembled a shelter during an air raid… It was more vivid there than at the performance, and I found it surprizing given the Dionysian character of the play and the nocturnal atmosphere. But, I believe that Belgrade will score a convincing victory in that respect (laughs).
Were you led by a precise idea or did you make your decision after seeing performances?
Ivan: This is also a good question. That is the biggest challenge when you want to make a selection with clear concept in terms of theme and aesthetics. This year’s aesthetic stream revolves around the so-called durational performances, while the thematic one presents great ancient stories of the western civilization: the entire Greek mythology, the Bible, Serbian medieval epics. When we add the fact that most of them are narrative and not dramatic in structure, then the word “epic” in the slogan is clear. As for the “trip”, everyone can understand it as they will: as a trip towards the origins of our civilization, in order to see where it was that we failed, or as a hallucination, catharsis. This second understanding of the word “trip” is based on the frantic stage poetics typical of several performances this year (primarily the Fabre’s but the both Mondtag’s as well), but also on the psychophysical effect of the duration, which I find healing... And now, to get back to your question. Both the aesthetic and the thematic stream of the main selection, which converge in this slogan “Epic Trip”, have been derived from the performance Mount Olympus. It was the first one selected, although it took us quite some time to actually officially invite it. The reason for the delay was its size and what I mean by that are the costs. We were aware that, if we invite that performance, the programme cannot consist of many more, and we wanted to have a solid, clear curator story, a concept. That is why the selection took longer than it usually does - Filip and I had to be really careful and here I publicly apologize to our production but also express my gratitude to them, since their patience for our belatedness bore fruit: we have a conceptually rock-solid selection which, naturally, does not mean that every single performance will be celebrated. And, to finally give a concrete answer to your question: one should always start with performances. Deciding on a concept in advance would be theoretical violence over art. Once you have at least three performances which tell a similar story, you can continue creating the selection though a conscious search for the performances which fit the concept set by the first three chosen.
Do you think that performances which, in form and content, not necessarily in duration, are similar to Mount Olympus could bring theatre closer to the young but also to everyone who might have developed aversion towards conventional theatre?
Ivan: I’m absolutely confident, yes! We have emphasized many times that its poetics but also its duration which allows for other, interesting contents, make this performance resemble a rave party… And by the interest of young audience, students, which is already noticeable, we can say that we have initiated a very important strategic move for Bitef: breaking down the prejudice about elitism, hermetic nature of the festival, and creating new audience.
How do you explain the fact that this year two directors come with two performances each? Will you stay true to that approach in the future?
Ivan: Now that is one question I cannot understand and I get that a lot. The way I explain it is as a clear artistic choice and decision. Ersan Mondtag’s stage poetics is linked to some aspects of the “Epic Trip” concept, while Lorenci’s is linked to all of them. Besides, both of them are relevant directors - one has already successfully participated at Bitef many times (Lorenci), while the other one is, quite conversely, Bitef debutant. He could be our discovery this year in a wider, international context, since his work is already well-known in German speaking region but not out of it. Many foreign guests come to Belgrade this year in order to see his performances. Discovering and promoting new important theatre names is one of the original Bitef missions.
What would you say are the most important ideas and tendencies Bitef will try to implement in the years to come?
Ivan: While I am the artistic director, Bitef will keep the two streams: aesthetic and thematic one. We will try every year to single out and map some phenomena which, artistically speaking, could be understood as radical, rebellious, different, even new in contemporary theatre practices. That has been Bitef mission since its inception except that, in time of modernism, those phenomena were more easily noticeable then than they are today when there are so many tendencies, poetics and performing forms.
When it comes to ideas and dramaturgy, what is it that makes Bitef stand out in comparison to similar festivals this year and in general? Would you say that ethic and aesthetic approaches are as relevant as the form, or should they be analysed separately within the selection?
Filip: The novelty is Medenica’s festival art concept which requires all or most performances in the main programme to satisfy at least one of two basic criteria: aesthetic and thematic. The first one is based on durational performances while the thematic stream is based on the decision to select the performances not based on plays but on great narratives (the Bible, ancient tragedy, Serbian epic poetry…)
The preparation of the festival production Kingdom of Heaven is underway. Could you tell us something about the idea or about the concept? Should we expect a performance similar to Lorenci’s productions we have seen so far?
Filip: This year, Jernej Lorenci will be present with two performances: The Bible, the First Attempt, produced by Slovenian National Theatre (Ljubljana), and Kingdom of Heaven, produced by the National Theatre in Belgrade and Bitef Theatre. They will be seen one after the other on purpose. First, the audience is thus given the chance to recognize the development and continuity of Lorenci’s poetics, but also to let the audience see a typical Lorenci-performance with the best actors we have here, and compare his work in different social contexts.
What would you, as a dramaturge, consider interesting in terms of form to be presented to the audience in the future?
Filip: Contemporary theatre is rich in genres and forms. Last year, the main focus of Bitef was to present as many different theatres as possible: from lecture-performance, dance and documentary theatre, to drama, in order to prove that “all of that is theatre”! From this year on, we are planning to focus on separate phenomena. What it will be in the future, we cannot tell for now.
Are you contemplating the idea of presenting new texts by our playwrights in the future?
Filip: That mission belongs to “Sterijino Pozorje”, the festival of national plays, so I do not think there is a reason to develop a strategy in that direction. On the other hand, we are planning to focus the future festival productions on linking artists from various social contexts, I cannot see why one of the aspects could not be the text by Serbian playwrights.
How many hours are you planning top spend on Mount Olympus?
Filip: 24. How many will I truly endure, we’ll see…
Interviewed by Đorđe Živadinović Grgur