Emiliia Dementsova is critic who is currently living in Israel, shared her experiences of her time in Hungary for the Theatre Olympics, as well as her essential thoughts on the role of theatre today. The critic said she was impressed by her time in Budapest and promised herself that she would return to Hungary to see attend performances in the future.
– How was your time in Hungary? What were the first impressions of the 10th Theatre Olympics?
– Hungary welcomed me with torrential rain, which is a good sign. But the next day the elements of bad weather were replaced by the elements of theatre. The Theatre Olympics started as a real celebration, mixing many things that seemed incompatible: historical reconstruction and “new forms”, theatre and circus, official speeches and informal atmosphere, street theatre, equestrian procession, huge puppets, and the “figure of a man walking on a rope”. For me, this image performed by László Simet Jr. became the main symbol of the Theatre Olympics. I know that the message of this performance was to symbolically transmit the baton of cultural values and traditions to the “other shore,” to the other generation, but, as is often the case in art, the artist’s work embraced meanings that he did not try to put into it. I took this crossing of the Danube as a river of life as a metaphor for what the world is experiencing today, balancing over an abyss. It is the same balance, which can be achieved largely through art, that prevents one from falling into the abyss. That is why theatres continue to operate today even in places where shells are exploding and houses are collapsing. In spite of and in defiance of. The Theatre Olympics are a statement of victory of life over death, peace over war, hope over despair. It is also important that the first impressions, the very expectation of a happy event, which is usually better than the event itself, coincided with the final impressions. And it does not happen very often.
– In general, what do you think about that jubilee of the Theatre Olympics? Have the main aspects, the focus been changed since the beginning in Delphoi in 1995? Why should be organized this kind of event in 2023?
– The number 10 in relation to the Theatre Olympics is not just a beautiful number. Behind it are many beautiful deeds, performances, aspirations, ideas brought to life, energy, sweat, strength, emotions, sleepless nights and millions of happy spectator’s eyes, and an infinite number of applause. The Theatre Olympics has asserted its resilience. This year is a particularly difficult one, and one can only bow before the organizers of the Hungarian edition of the Theatre Olympics for their endurance, creativity, and sensitivity in dealing with the many issues involved in this event. But it cannot be said that there were years when the Theatre Olympics was conducted easily, cheerfully, and joyfully, because the context of time always makes any joy bitter. And the value of the Theatre Olympics is that it was never hidden behind a curtain, shutting out problems and agendas. On the contrary, it has shined bright spotlights on the things that worry, disturb and deprive people on both sides of the stage of peace. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those organizers whom the audience usually does not see, because they are in the shadows of this festival, preparing it. All the Theatre Olympics representatives with whom I had the opportunity to speak were so sincere, so caring and so eager to do everything possible to make the guests feel interesting, comfortable, and unforgettable, that it is priceless.
From Delphoi 1995 to Budapest 2023 stretches tradition, artistic truth, and hope. “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire,” as Gustav Mahler wrote, and the Theatre Olympics vividly confirms this, carrying its unquenchable flame of the theatrical Olympic flame and warming the hearts of the audience with it, inspiring and keeping it from getting bogged down in the gloom of news. This is what is especially important today, this is the super task of the Olympics – not to extinguish the flame of life and art in man.
– You could attend three performances. Which one was your favorite? Which was the most innovative?
– In addition to the performances themselves, the Theatre Olympics is a kind of forum and discussion platform. Informal, but extremely useful. It’s a mistake to think that it’s just a festival. Each subsequent performance seemed to me better than the previous one in terms of relevance and artistic integrity. However, today, after a while, when I look back at the Theatre Olympics, I catch myself thinking back to the play Nora by Theodoros Terzopoulos more often. This Ibsen play is world famous. It seems that everything has been said and written about it, but the Master approached it with the mold of the ancient Greek tragedy, cleared it of everyday life, vanity, textuality, and exposed the drama of a woman, the drama of the universe as a woman and at the same time showed the macabre dance of the whirlwind of life. This performance, dominated by the color black, contained the entire palette of emotional colors and tension. Infernum continuum sounded from the stage. It means in Latin. Continuous hell. I would like to add, Present Continuous hell. It is a very sharp, concise, and pungent performance, which reveals itself and sprouts in the soul even after watching it. I can’t help but notice the performance of Young Barbarians by Attila Vidnyánszky Jr. It’s a long time since I’ve seen such theatre drive, acting ensemble, and synergy of the audience and actors, who really enjoy what’s going on, laughing, mocking each other, fooling around. Of course, this “lightness” is imaginary, and behind its facade, the painstaking work of the director and the performance team is concealed. And their efforts were not in vain. After the performance, I wanted to learn more about Hungarian theater and music, and I will definitely repeat my theatrical journey in Hungary. It is impossible to grasp the immensity in one visit.
– To the audience, what else do you recommend from the remaining programs?
– The advantage and disadvantage of the current Theatre Olympics is that it is impossible to see everything you want. The scale of the Olympics is impressive. Its productions are just as impressive. I am particularly interested in the Hungarian productions, because for me the Hungarian theatre was a kind of “sleeper hit”. The choice of the literary basis, the tone of the actors’ existence on the stage, and the audience’s reaction to what is going on are both interesting to me. I would advise foreign guests of the Olympics to focus on the Hungarian productions (the selection, I know, was serious), but the Hungarian audience should by no means miss, in my opinion, Everything that Happened and Would Happen by Heiner Goebbels, which revolutionizes the image of theater. And of course, I personally would have been interested to see a performance of The Suicide, soviet vaudeville based on Nikolai Erdman, whose work in his homeland seems either forgotten or again uncomfortable…
– What can be the essential mission of theater nowadays? What is the responsibility of the theater creators?
– I would say that the mission of the theatre is not to hide behind talks about the mission of theatre, about “pure art”, about theatre as an island of calm in the scarlet ocean of life… Today, in my opinion, we are living through a moment when we should put off talking about what theatre should be for a while. Today, when the whole world is shaken by the images of the bombed-out theatre in Mariupol, under the rubble of which people and children were killed, there is no time for theories, theatre studies, and beautifully spiritual conversations. Here is a symbol of the theatre of our days, from the ruins of which theatre must be reborn daily and everywhere. Theatre’s mission is to realize itself and its role in society. Far from being entertaining or humorous. Theatre today has a humanitarian function. It helps us to live through the trauma of our day. Theatre today is post-traumatic. And it will be that way for a long time to come. As for the responsibility of its founders, it cannot be collective. And it shouldn’t be criminal when performances become the basis for criminal cases… Responsibility must be personal and not connected to punishment. And every person of the theatre, including the audience, (and therefore the whole world) must go to the stage of life every day and have something to say from that stage. To say without falsifying. Without lying. Theatre draws from life, let life draw from theater this truth, albeit artistic, but truth nonetheless. Yesterday is undoable, but tomorrow is salvageable. Theatre saves souls.
Emiliia Dementsova is a creative writer, theatre critic, editor and lecturer. She holds a PHD in theatre from the Lomonosov State University Faculty of Arts, having written her dissertation on the contemporary auteur and neo-auteur theatre. Poet, playwright, participant of anti-war projects Nowarpoetry, ROAR and others. Author of the international anti-war project/action Alphabet of salvation, dedicated to Ukrainian victims of military aggression. She is a member of the International Association of Theatre Critics. Emiliia has acted as a cultural columnist for Critical Stages, European Stages, The Hollywood Reporter, Arti dello Spettacolo/Performing Arts, Teatro, Novaya Gazeta, Discours.io, Theatre World, etc. Participant in The Conflict Zones (theatre project by The Union of the European Theatres). Author of more than 500 publications about theatre and cinema.