- Passing The Flame: Dah Theatre’s 20th Anniversary Festival
DAH Theatre has produced politically driven, movement-oriented works for twenty years. Founded by Jadranka Anđelić and Dijana Milošević, the original group of young people performed on the streets of Belgrade to protest their government’s acts of aggression. Today, it has grown into one of the world’s most revered performance groups. Armed with the belief that the world can be changed through its performances, DAH’s commitment to social justice, healing the wounds of war, and fighting the nationalist agenda in Serbia has energized it throughout its history. Under the leadership of Milošević, DAH has performed on every continent and trained hundreds of performers from around the world in its International School for Actors and Directors, recently renamed The DAH Theatre Institute.
To celebrate this history, DAH held a weeklong festival it called Passing the Flame. On the program [End Page 264]were twenty-three performances by nineteen companies and solo performers from nine countries. The festival was ostensibly to celebrate DAH’s twentieth anniversary, but, as the name implied, it was as much about DAH’s place in the culture of performance, its lineage and legacy, as it was about the group itself. Three generations of teachers and students were present, all of whom advocate for social justice through performance and are guided by somatic principles, similar to those of DAH. The programming included workshops, round-table discussions, and daily interviews with a collection of “masters”—teachers and practitioners who had contributed to the development of DAH or whose accomplishments DAH wished to recognize. They included Rena Mirecka, an original member of the Polish Lab Theatre; Gennady Bogdanov, who studied with Nikolai Kustov, one of Meyerhold’s actors; Jill Greenhalgh, founder of the Magdalena Project; Peter Schumann, founder and director of Bread and Puppet Theatre; and Serbian activist/actor/teacher Mirjana Karanović. The most significant master, however, was Eugenio Barba. His presence, along with that of his company Odin Teatret, where Milošević once worked and where many of her ideas took form, further highlighted the festival’s theme. One of her mentors, in fact, was Torgeir Wethal, a member of Odin who passed away in 2010 and to whom the festival was dedicated.
Barba is credited with creating the field of Theatre Anthropology, which puts the diversity of world performance under one rubric by identifying common principles and techniques that Barba defines as a culture unto itself. It is a conceit that frames the identification of culture by physical boundaries as an arbitrary act of taxonomy. As recent events in Africa and the Middle East (or in the former Yugoslavia over the last two decades) have shown, nationalism and xenophobia threaten our common humanity at every turn. The reimagining of culture that Barba promotes, the reorientation required to call oneself a “performer” instead of an American or a Serb, potentially diminishes the power of a nationalist agenda, thus framing the culture of the performer as one within which the most divisive of conflicts can be healed. It may be an idealistic “charge of the Light Brigade” at best, but within this context, DAH’s festival seemed like a journey into the homeland; and occurring in Belgrade where there is a long history of internecine conflict and nationalist ideologies, the outlines of this alternative homeland created a stark contrast.
Although most of the performances occurred in the evening, one morning was reserved for DAH’s newly revised In/Visible City. Originally performed in 2005 in Belgrade, In/Visible Cityis essentially a street performance staged on a working city bus. The earlier version of it involved three musicians (violin, accordion, percussion) and six other performers. The difference in the 2010 revision was minimal and consisted mostly of incorporating performers from Macedonia, the UK, and Denmark, countries DAH was preparing to tour. This swelled the troupe by three: a parkour artist, a trombonist, and a kanun player. To witness In/Visible Cityis to watch citizens of Belgrade, literally squeezed into their daily commute, surprised and...