Letter from Thessaloniki

«This is not a peep show!» is the subtitle of what, according to local sources, is proudly described as a modern ballet with the title «Radiator,» choreographed by Arthur Kuggeleyn. The actually quite decent show premiered two days ago on the Small Stage of the «Macedonian Opera and Ballet» in Skopje. (I am confused. As the holder of a valid Greek passport, I wonder whether it is proper for me to use the term «Macedonian» when I refer to the other side.) All the same, this ballet «is a provocation to us, (that is, to them) as a national ballet house as well as for audiences because we are taking a step forward. I think it’s high time that we expanded our views, made provocative works.» So stressed the director of the ballet, Kire Pavlov. And those were his – somewhat incomprehensible – exact words as carried by the website Culture.in.mk. Now, I have not seen the ballet, hence I can hardly personally judge the possible hardcore elements of a «wildly tawdry hourlong hallucination» as my informers described it to me. Parenthetically, life is always more ironic than art. And now is the turn of our neighboring country to discover modernism’s oppressive dicta. It is remarkable how the State Theater in Skopje is belatedly doing its best to promote itself as the hip, the modern peep show base and how it struggles to demonstrate that it «belongs to Europe.» To «the West.» Worthy of NATO membership – if not of a place in the EU. Well, something similar happened in Greece too, when we felt shamefully behind Europe’s modernity. Happily, that was three or four decades ago. Of Dutch origin, actor and choreographer Kuggeleyn, who created the ballet, figured for a long time as director of RA.M.M. Theater in Berlin. Since 1997 he has worked in Berlin as well as in Lausanne, where his company works in close collaboration with the local Theatre de l’Arsenic. In an interview in Skopje, Kuggeleyn said that he was awaiting the response of the local audience. The eager interviewer felt the need to ask his site reader «whether we in Macedonia are open-minded enough to accept the play as it was accepted with the ovation in Switzerland six years ago.» Now, if that is not a sign of unashamed blackmail fishing for audience applause, then I don’t know what is… On Saturday there was another very cerebral premiere at the Albanian «Bit-Pazar» theater in Skopje. «Caligula,» written by Albert Camus, is a complex philosophical-existential text hardly suitable for any unsophisticated audience. A rather old-fashioned play, that in most Central European capitals would be considered as intolerably high-brow, was presented with the intention «to create something new that will depict Caligula in a modern language through a mixture of all theatre genres translated into a unique language,» as its Bulgarian director Dimitar Elenov stated at a press conference. I am curious to go to see this production, hoping that the show will – at least – ridicule the decadence and quasi-racial corruption of current modernism and other «cultural bolshevisms» in ex-socialist countries. But I have my doubts… Also, I am interested to find out whether what Camus rightly calls «a tragedy of the intelligence» is clear in these days when intelligence is at a premium. In the present time of «substantive rifts» (between Greece and FYROM, according to Matthew Nimetz, the UN secretary general’s envoy) the message in the Caligula play becomes more apparent: One cannot be free at the expense of others. And that goes for both sides. Generally misinformed, often influenced by personal interest, and private prejudice, as well as by well-meaning – but misplaced – sentiments, angst-ridden modern Greeks would find it barely credible that Albanians are in a position to value and interpret such playwrights as Camus. As a matter of fact, I happen to have met certain of my compatriots who still believe that Albanians and Slav-Macedonians are of the same ilk as old-time Gypsies. And Gypsies, according to old wives’ tales, had a tendency to seize young children and spirit them away in their caravans (although why this highly fertile community needed more children was never clear). Consequently, how could Albanians («Skopje»-Macedonians and Gypsies) ever be capable of creating such high art? A purely rhetorical question. Contrary to what many believe, there are projects that enhance cultural cooperation in our region. The CEE Musiktheater supports such projects financially. Based on the idea that through closer networking of theaters of the region, synergies can be better used and maximum potentials realized, multilateral productions can help even in difficult cases. For instance in «name dispute cases.» The State Theater of Northern Greece recently took a quite courageous step: It announced that its summer ancient Greek tragedy would be directed by Slobodan Unkovski, an esteemed stage director in Skopje and an ex-culture minister under former president Kiro Gligorov. As matters now stand, the present «substantive rift» could eventually be bridged by some kind of art. Who knows, perhaps in the form of some peep show.

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