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   12 September 2016


FITS 2016 - An outstanding edition

Deemed so by Constantin Chiriac, president and founder of the festival, the 23rd edition of the Sibiu International Theatre Festival organized under the slogan "Building trust" has demonstrated the high value of its management and the excellency attributed to a cultural-artistic project of impressive stature: 70 countries represented in the festival, 452 events, 2850 artists and guests, 67 conventional and unconventional spaces.

Presently regarded as one of the most complex and successful theatre festivals in the world alongside the Edinburgh Festival and Avignon Festival, Sibiu International Theatre Festival has managed not only to place its trust in the creative powers of art, but also to present an opportunity to assert its beneficial effects in a world in which dialogue, solidarity, tolerance, goodwill and harmony are questioned with increasing force. Organized by "Radu Stanca" National Theatre, Sibiu City Hall, Local Council of Sibiu Municipality, supported by the Government, the Ministry of Culture, Romanian Cultural Institute, Sibiu County Council, "Lucian Blaga" University of Sibiu and UNITER, in partnership with over 100 national and foreign associations and institutions, with the main forums of the European Union or with a large number of embassies out of the 70 countries represented in its program, the Festival has affirmed its cultural capital virtues as an international cultural-artistic platform built on the joint efforts and on the merits of its entire organizational team, led by the Festival Staff, its many Romanian and foreign collaborators and the hundreds of volunteers from Romania, Japan, Korea, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, etc. Unable to go through all the artistic performances and the cultural, scientific and university happenings, but being very familiar with the complex "architecture" of the festival - since it was my 21st time attending the festival out of a total of 23 editions - I will only insist on the most significant activities and aspects that are meant to sketch the particularities of this year's edition.

The disquieting mirror of the world
As in the previous editions, the main section reserved for the theatre has brought together many valuable thespians and companies of impressive skill, such as Lithuanian directors Eimuntas Nekrosius and Oskaras Korsunovas, theatre directors Thomas Ostermeier, Eugenio Barba, Alvis Hermanis, Luk Perceval, Tim Robbins, Christoph Marthaler and many others. However, if we had been used to some of these outstanding promoters of novelty in performance art presenting modern adaptations of universal and classical drama masterpieces, now their manifested interest has shifted towards texts that reflect the great and dramatic questions of the contemporary world related to extremism and nationalism, xenophobia, fundamentalism, ethnic and religious intolerance, the resurgence of violence or the indifference towards the debasement of fundamental values, etc. I have stumbled upon the words of author Salman Rushdie in the festival catalogue, which are representative for this kind of orientation and for the in-depth involvement of artists in current events. Speaking at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, he said: "Classically, we have defined ourselves by the things we love. [...] But in this age we're asked to define ourselves by hate. That what defines you is what irritates you. And if nothing irritates you, then who are you?"
This Shakespearian mirror, which grows more and more disquiet, is nowadays directed towards the issues that humanity faces and its appearances were memorable on the Sibiu Festival stage. For example, I am referring to plays such as A Hunger Artist directed by Eimuntas Nekrosius with the Meno Fortas company, an adaptation of Kafka's devastating book, or to Martyr by Marius von Mayenburg, directed by Oskaras Korsunovas at the Lithuanian National Drama Theatre that, under the guise of a religious conflict, reveals the crises caused by intolerance, nationalism and fundamentalism, which are presently threatening Europe and the entire world. I am also thinking of Armine, Sister created by Zar Theatre and directed by Jaroslav Fret, a tragic approach constructed on an original musical score that generates intense feelings, a show inspired by "Europe's silence" concerning the Armenian Genocide that took place at the beginning of the 20th century, and the Columbian theatre play, Antigone, Genealogy of a Sacrifice, directed by Bernardo Ray, which includes a very dramatic performance by Nube Sandoval. Serious and harrowing artistic discourses also came from Denmark: the play entitled Memoria, directed by Eugenio Barba, is dedicated to several writers who have survived the Auschwitz deportation and The Chronic Life is inspired by the mysterious killing of a Russian female writer and human rights activist. However, we will not be able to forget The Marriage of Maria Braun inspired by Fasbinder's film, which was a genuine theatre lesson from director Thomas Ostermeier, with subtle references to contemporary German history and, in a broader sense, to the grave errors of interpersonal aesthetics.

The palette of event meetings presenting the image of excellency in guest performances was enriched by Love. Trilogy of my Family, a play by Belgian director Luk Perceval based on an extensive project dedicated to the prose of Emile Zola, and by The Demon of Adachi, a play which highlights the virtues of Noh Theatre that has been performing in Japan for over six centuries, bringing actor and director Yamamoto Akihiro, who has been on stage since he was 3 years old, to Sibiu. Other notable performances were Shukshin's Stories, a genuine and charming demonstration of directorial and acting mastery directed by Alvis Hermanis and with an excellent cast led by Evgheni Mironov who is spoiled by Providence having worked with famous directors in such plays as Caligula (by Eimuntas Nekrosius) or Hamlet (by Peter Stein), but also the magical performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream by the American company "Actors' Gang" and directed by Tim Robbins, two-time Oscar winning actor, best known in Romania for his role in "The Shawshank Redemption", a special guest quick to gather new friends and followers in Sibiu.
It's safe to say that the Romanian counterpart was equally impressive. Alongside those "heritage performances" of "Radu Stanca" National Theatre directed by Silviu Purcărete, such as Goethe's Faust, Ovid's Metamorphoses and Wedekind's Lulu, theatre plays which have already been applauded on the stages of important theatres and festivals around the world, we were also able to offer some well-deserved applause for Marbles, a Bulandra Theatre performance directed by Yuri Kordonski, with actors Victor Rebengiuc and Marian Râlea in a captivating philosophical dialogue written by Iosif Brodski, for The Lonesome West by Martin McDonagh, directed by Cristi Juncu at Nottara Theatre, for The History Boys by Alan Bennett, staged at Excelsior Theatre by director Vlad Cristache, for Common People, a very current documentary theatre play by Gianina Cărbunariu, for Mineblindness by Csaba Szekely and for #minor, a premiere of a show which is part of the "observational" project of Bogdan Georgescu who has already directed Antisocial and The Vagina Monologues (after Eve Anser), all four productions staged at "Radu Stanca" National Theatre. Applause were also due to The Green Cat by Elise Wilk, directed by Bobi Pricop at "Luceafărul" Theatre in Iaşi, but also to Alice, a youthful performance about true and false values or the different faces of success staged at Gong Theatre in Sibiu by director Eugen Jebeleanu, and to many other performances, with a lot of pleasant surprises in the festival section dedicated to national and foreign Theatre Schools coordinated by university lecturer Luminiţa Puiuleţ. Alongside these theatre events taking place on established or unconventional stages, seven play readings of texts from the "Anthology" published by Paideia were organized at Humanitas Bookshop with the participation of actors from Sibiu, directors Bogdan Sărătean and Bogdan Georgescu and moderator Cătălin Ştefănescu. This section of the festival carries the name of actor Virgil Flonda and is coordinated by university lecturer Claudia Domnicar, editor of this selection of texts by writers from Spain, Australia, Russia, India, USA and Romania.

The feast of the arts in dialogue...
has also been a success and a particularity of this year's edition of the Sibiu Festival. First, I am referring to the substantial and colourful syncretism of certain indoor or outdoor performances where theatre partners up with dance, music and circus as in Door between two worlds and Dream Maker brought by the French company, CIE FAI, Within - an emotional choreographic meditation on time by Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company from India, AlreadyNotYet - envisioned by Korean dancers, Mademoiselle Cantatrice - a French marriage between music and visual art, The Scent of Sawdust with spectacular acrobatic elements created by five artists from France and Belgium, or Bianco su Bianco by Finzi-Pasca Company from Switzerland, Erica's Dream - a French musical, theatre and dance production based on the movie "The Red Shoes" by M.Powell and E.Pressburger, Whose hair dares, Osadia Company's show from Barcelona that drew a large crowd in the Small Square. The carnivalesque atmosphere in the centre of Sibiu created by Torreviega Carnival Group and Batucada Timbaloe from Spain was met with enthusiasm and garnered stormy applause. The same effect was produced by Circus Fantasia Parade performed by Circus Brasil, the Italian musical-choreographic performance, Vagaband Show, to which I would add the elegant, solar feminine and exuberant tone revealed by the Majorettes parade from the Czech Republic in their journey on N. Bălcescu pedestrian central street and, in particular, the parade of the charming Youth Marine Brass Orchestra from Poland. There were performances of utmost virtuosity outdoors at great heights blending theatre with music and acrobatics in the two shows, Voalá Station and Muaré Experience, by extraordinary actors, musicians and acrobats from Spain and Argentina, who have become the grand stars of Sibiu Festival's outdoor theatre section. Nevertheless, it has to be mentioned that interferences between dance and theatre were subtly felt and very refined through the concept of "choreographic theatre" that was memorably illustrated by the Japanese performance of Re:Division and by Gigi Căciuleanu's One Minute of Dance... oof!!!, the latter reminding us of the infusion of fantasy, humour and virtuosity with which he has garnished his shows in Bucharest, Sibiu, Târgu Mureş, Constanţa, etc.
The generous presence of choreography in the festival, alongside theatre, was pleasantly surprising in Flamenco Suite from Spain, while the culminating moment was represented by the performances of companies from Israel and UK, led by Inbal Pinto&Avshalom Pollak Dance Company (Israel) with a series of laconic and charming choreographic "stories" entitled Wrapped that guided us through the great heights of mastering this art for which they have received standing ovations in Hall 9, one of the most youthful and elegant locations for event performances within the artistic marathon of Sibiu.
Music, a reliable partner of theatre on the festival stage, has gathered favourable and just appreciations for the concerts of British band "Duchamp Pilot" and for the series of wonderful fado performances by Claudia Duarte in Fado - From the Heart of Lisbon and by Liana, in Embalo - Fado World Tour. Moreover, particular to the 23rd edition were the exceptional gospel choral concerts held by The London African Gospel Choir and by the A.C.M. Gospel Choir from the Guildford Academy of Contemporary Music, hosted by the Roman-Catholic and Evangelical cathedrals or by the Sibiu Synagogue, concerts which, much to the surprise and delight of the audience, were preceded by "poetic moments" that included readings of Shakespearian sonnets. This was due to the remarkable effort of paying tribute to the Shakespearian creation, four centuries since great Will's death, efforts marked mainly by a series of short films based on Shakespeare's plays, produced by Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in partnership with the British Council, and the series of Tales after Shakespeare’s plays performed by the young actors and students of "Lucian Blaga" University of Sibiu.
In the rich section of visual art events - another "partner" of the theatre - I would have to highlight "The Horizontal Newspaper, Volume 4", a sprightly and ruthless assault on the anomalies of contemporary society illustrated by artist Dan Perjovschi on the wall of the hosting theatre, the painting exhibition dedicated to the already famous play from Sibiu, Faust, by artist Alexandru Cînean, the Tadeusz Kantor drawing exhibition from the personal collection of Andrzej and Teresa Welminski and the photography exhibition dedicated to the first version of the play The Dead Class directed by Kantor, Lucian Samaha's artistic photography exhibition, The Actor's Shadow, but also the exhibition with memorable photographs from last year's edition, captured by Mihaela Marin and Sebastian Marcovici, or Albani's exhibition, Human Body Ritual.
Always present in the festival, the art of the written word has found, once again, a clear and distinguished position in the close proximity of events of this sort. Among the books that were launched and received with great interest by festival goers, I would have to mention Theatre and Fear by Thomas Ostermeier (Nemira Publishing House), The Oxford Illustrated History of Theatre by John Russell Brown (Nemira Publishing House), Contemporary European Theatre Directors by Maria M. Delgado and Dan Rebellato (Tracus Arte Publishing House), Cultural conversations. The Sibiu International Theatre Festival by George Banu (Nemira Publishing House) and Building trust. An Anthology of texts by Ion M. Tomuş ("Lucian Blaga" University Press), The Anthology of Plays Presented in The Play-Reading Section edited by Claudia Domnicar (Paideia Publishing House) and others.
Due to the exemplary informational and managerial "engineering" of Constantin Chiriac, president of the festival, of executive director Cristian Radu, tireless PR coordinator Cristina Ghinea, event curators Dan Bartha and Vicenţiu Rahău, or performances coordinator Daria Ciobanu and the numerous collaborators involved in creating a successful endeavour and due to our crazy race from one performance to another, most of us succeeded to take part in most events evoked here. But what the festival had to offer exceeded our imagination’s capacity.

Celebrity Infusion
During times when we lament the crisis of values and benchmarks worthy of perfecting the eternal human propensity, this year's edition of the Sibiu Festival offered us the comfortable and attractive opportunity of meeting famous figures of art and culture through conferences, seminars and talks mediated with passion and integrity by university professor George Banu, Honorary President of the International Association of Theatre Critics, by British university professor, Noel Witts, himself author of a series of conferences, by theatre critic and university professor Octavian Saiu, by TV and radio show hosts Irina Margareta Nistor and Cătălin Ştefănescu, meetings which often included brief but emotional utterances dedicated to Shakespeare's poetry and performed by actor Constantin Chiriac, president of the festival. One by one, we had the opportunity, if not the privilege, of finding out facts from the life and work of eminent guests, about the providential moments in the career of theatre and cultural personalities such as Thomas Ostermeier, Oskaras Korsunovas, Eugenio Barba, Tim Robbins, Vincent Baudriller, Jaroslav Fret, Belgian editor Emile Lansman, dr. Nigel Townson, British Council Director in Romania, Carole M. Cusack, professor at Sidney University and professor Sorin Alexandrescu, actors Evgheni Mironov and Victor Rebengiuc, workshop instructors Elena Kuzina from Russia and Michal Zahora from Czech Republic, Georgian playwright Data Tavadze and others. We were witnesses to many of the memorable parables of life lived on the altar of theatre and sacrifice meant to lead to the moment of grace in performance, to their constant and irrepressible need for perceiving and embodying the miracle of this art form and, through it, to reveal their personal answers to questions regarding the mystery of existence and self-knowledge with unintended modesty and by simply creating a charming dialogue with their audience. Ostermeier discussed the permanent concern of the director to investigate not only the internal universe of the character, but also that of the actor he is working with, Korsunovas revealed the details of empathy and the nearly ineffable relationship between the author, the text and the one meant to stage it and Perceval's sincerity captivated us as he held an emotional speech in which topics of unconcealed gravity that have marked his entire life, such as "trust", blended unexpectedly with his youthful aspiration to embrace his passion for football and to be a player for Real Madrid. These special, even providential, meetings will remain for those that were present precious lessons of professionalism and of authentic celebrity surrounded by noble modesty and inflexible honesty. As a natural recognition of their humanistic and professional worth, the following names were added on the Sibiu Walk of Fame: Tim Robbins, Alvis Hermanis, Evgheni Mironov, Luk Perceval, Christoph Marthaler, Thomas Ostermeier, Victor Rebengiuc. Moreover, alongside the signs of appreciation for these "sacred monsters" of contemporary art, the Festival granted Excellency Awards to two young and talented Romanian ambassadors of the performing arts: Ana Maria Marinca, theatre and film actress, and director Bogdan Georgescu. In both cases, the "list" remains open!

article from Revista Scrisul Românesc

      © Adrian Bulboacă