CULTURE

Serb adapts a modern Greek literary classic

Serbia?s Nikita Milivojevic was in Greece recently to direct a play based on one of the most popular and influential novels of contemporary Greek literature.

Pavlos Matesis?s ?The Daughter? (the original Greek title is ?The Mother of the Dog?) opened on April 7 at the National Theater?s New Stage.

Adapting novels for the stage is something of a speciality for the Serbian director, who prior to his Athens engagement staged another emblematic literary piece, ?The Bridge on the Drina? by Nobel Prize-winning Serbian novelist Ivo Andric, in Dusseldorf and has also reworked pieces by Thomas Mann and Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Milivojevic met Matesis in Athens a few years ago when the Serb was putting on a play at the Amore Theater. The writer had been impressed by the performance and gave the director a copy of his book, which, among many other languages, has also been translated into Serbian.

What did the book tell you about modern Balkan history?

When I read it again recently I was struck by the historical similarities between Serbia and Greece. We are, both nations, admirable survivors. History keeps repeating itself in both countries, and often the developments do not depend on us.

I remember how back in the 1970s, then-Yugoslavia was seen as a kind of paradise in Greece. Then, when I came to Greece for the first time in the 90s, Greece was a paradise for Serbs.

Do the common traits you saw in Matesis?s book continue to plague the Balkans today?

The whole world is complicated, with many contradictions much like Rarou, the heroine in the book and in the performance. Things change so fast in history and in our daily lives that they become confusing. People no longer know what?s good and what?s bad, what?s real and what isn?t. It all becomes a blur of contrasts and contradictions. The same is happening in Serbia.

Which elements of the book have you highlighted in the play?

The battle for survival. This is very topical today as many people are struggling to survive. You can see what is happening today by looking at the past, and by looking into the past you can also get a glimpse of the future.

Do you believe that we know less today about how to survive compared to the people who survived World War II and its aftermath?

Yes, and especially the younger generations. They are looking at a different reality at a time when they are accustomed to different things. I keep wondering what we could do in Serbia for our young people. We have a huge outflow of young people headed for other countries. What can we do for them? How can we affect their lives? They will end up paying for something that is not of their doing. I created a performance in Serbia on this theme, on the theme of a generation that slipped through our fingers. Who will help us rebuild the country now? That is the real issue.

Serbia has a tradition of creating art with an educational character. Is that still the case today?

A lot has changed, all around the world, and in the arts as well. I travel a lot and see a lot of theater. I watch a lot of different genres on many different themes and what I have come to realize is that we have become obsessed by form and appear not to care anymore about what is happening inside of us. Although some of the performances I have seen have been very interesting, I can?t help feeling that we?ve lost our goal, our direction. Every person is trying to find his own way. There are too many things throwing us off track, confusing us. It is extremely difficult for a young artist to construct his own way of thinking. Saying that, I do know young artists who have a very clear personality.

What attracts you to the dialogue between theater and literature?

I believe that in a very good literary piece, the writer gives you more than a playwright does. For example, the way that writers describe everything that goes on within a character gives you a lot to work with and excites the imagination. I like playing with imagination and transforming the words from literature into something else. You need to extract the stage language from the literary language and it is this alchemy that I find fascinating.

Can theater and literature influence our lives?

I?m an optimist because I work in theater. Theater, after all, is an illusion. You need to believe in something and I believe that art in general has a purpose. I am also happy to see that the theater is full every night. This feeling that people feel they can both gain and give something back is a very happy thought. Of course, there is a responsibility that goes with this, with staging something like ?The Daughter,? because many people in the audience will have experienced the exact situations you describe.

?The Daughter? stars Themis Bazaka, Theodora Tzimou, Yvonne Maltezou, Antonis Fragakis and Themistocles Panou. It is on at the National Theater?s New Stage (22-24 Aghiou Constantinou, tel 210.528.8170/71) Wednesdays to Saturdays at 9 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. until May 15.