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Will you ever be happy again

Dean Damjanovski

While the audience enters the hall it listens to audio recording in Serbian of the legendary football match on the Belgrade stadium “Marakana” between home team Red Star and Bayern from Munich in the semi-finals of the Championship League in 1991 when the “red-whites” (Red Star), in the 90th minute evened the score to 2:2 and reserved their place in the finale. After the audience is seated the young performer and author explains in Serbian language (with subtitles) about the game she used to play when she was a little girl. The game is called “partisans and Germans” (a Balkan variant of “cowboys and Indians”) in which the Germans were always represented as negatives. She then invites her playmate – German performer Jochen Stechmann – to come to the stage.

This is the introduction to the theatre performance “Will you ever be happy again” by the Serbian theatre author, director and performer Sanja Mitrovic who lives and works in the Netherlands. This powerful “tale for one Serbian and one German performer” is a documentary and personal piece performed in Serbian and German language of two young people, members of different nations, which in different historical periods take on the same path – that of nationalism, violence and war. Intertwining details from personal documents and national iconography the author creates a complex structure of signs, which in some moments are complementary and in others oppose each other, in order to present us the process of transformation of personal identities. The scene at the end where both of the performers simultaneously sing nationalistic songs, each of them in his/hers own language, rhythm, melody and energy is a very precisely found opposition to the beginning of the performance pointing that every evil starts as innocent as a game. The performance is filled with local and national references, which, when it comes to Serbian (that are dominant) are not always readable for wider audience. That’s why there are moments where one gets the impression that the author is using nationalistic German iconography to “universalize” elements of her local context. Accusing the whole world for their faith and pointing out the irony of it has been the trade-mark of the Balkan post-war theatre and this performance is no exception of that model (like the scene where she asks the German soldier to bomb the bridge while she is standing on it and in the other second the situation turns into a typical Balkan “bacchanalia” under the sounds of Serbian pop-folk music). But the author makes a very wise use of those clichés and stereotypes and goes beyond them. For she doesn’t stop at the questions like who is right or wrong or who fired the first bullet because it is no longer relevant. The question that she emphasizes so strongly and not without a sense of doubt is the question whether we can be happy again – the villains, the victims, the bystanders… ?

By Dean Damjanovski

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