Sanja Mitrovic, Will You Ever Be Happy Again?
Serbian choreographer Sanja Mitrovic describes duet Will You Ever Be Happy Again? as “a docu-tale for one Serbian, one German performer and two cartoon boxes”. This playful description, indicating both the idea of (problematic) national identity and the materials of theatrical construction neatly sums up Mitrovic’s concept – the exploration of what it means to be Serbian, or German, through the medium of the cardboard box.
The absorbing and provocative performance has performers Mitrovic and Jochen Stechmann narrating – in Serbian and German – their national stories through childhood games and reminiscences. The layered presentation has the two pretending to be children pretending to be “Partisans and Germans”, in a game of cultural stereotypes that reveals early political conditioning: the Serbian word “cockroach”, we are told, translates as “German bug”. Stechmann scuttles bug-like around the floor in illustration; the game, he tells us, does not make him happy.
The layering of playful-unplayfulness continues in the game of “Equal Exchange”, in which Mitrovic and Stechmann comment flatly on the unequalness of exchange after the fall of communism. “I give you something bitter,” says Mitrovic, “and you give me something sweet”. “I’ll give you visas,” counters Stechmann, “and you give me war criminals.” Mitrovic doesn’t want to play any more.
Both performers use artefacts from their upbringing (contained in the cardboard boxes) to narrate both their personal and national stories. Mitrovic shows us the illustrations of war in her Grade 1 schoolbook, describing the scenes matter-of-factly as “the first fire”, “the first bombs”. Stechmann brings out his grandfather’s Ahnenpass, the document which confirms his all-Aryan, non-Jewish identity. Stechmann explains he keeps the document still, because “you never know”.
With simple images, narrated memories and readings from letters, Mitrovic sketches out a complex mesh of hopes, dreams and frustrations. The simplicity is key to the work’s sensitivity – small, personal details allow the audience to grasp the horror of the past and fears for the future far more effectively than a dry exposition of history would. At the heart of this work is a self-determined gesture towards the truth – always inadequate, but always vital.