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Project RastkoHistory of Serb culture
TIA Janus

Petar Marjanovic

The theatre

Chapter from the book
"The history of Serbian Culture"
The history of Serbian culture  


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Theatre among Serbs has a tradition which is more than eight centuries old, although theatre life did not unfold without interruptions. Serbian theatre performances in the Middle Ages had a basically secular and entertaining function (improvisations without written texts were staged in public places) and remained beyond the bounds and influence of the Orthodox church. Data from the religious literature of the thirteenth century reveal that church authorities forbade their congregation to attend gatherings where actors showed their performances. In the work Eulogy to Saint Simeon and Saint Sava, Teodosije (1264-1328), a monk at the Serbian monastery of Hilandar and a writer, pointed out, as opposed to the heavenly beauty of the church, "the actor's odious theatre" which had been organised on the streets, that people gathered, regardless of the weather, watched and listened insanely to harmful devilish songs and indecent, rude words all the way to the end. The traits of once staged scenes and old sport festivities lived on in the Serbian milieu during the fourteenth century as well. In the fresco painting The Mocking of Christ, created between 1317 and 1318 in the monastery of Staro Nagoricino, the endowment of King Milutin, three characters in long sleeves, together with several figures with unusual instruments, are seen in the foreground. Serbian rulers, who had a friendly and diplomatic relationship with Dubrovnik, sent their music and entertainment groups for the celebrations of Saint Blasius (the patron of Dubrovnik) and artists from Zeta and Dubrovnik visited Serbia (1412 and 1413). Programmes consisted of various musical, pantomime and jester's skills and exhibitions. At the end of the fifteenth century, a convert to Islam, Ali-beg Pavlovic, who was certainly of Serbian origin, sent his theatre group to Dubrovnik. It was led by Radoje Vukosalic, a Serb, and from the letter of introduction it can be concluded that Vukosalic is the first known Serbian actor - the manager of that traveling theatre group. Turkish rule (second half of the fifteenth century to the beginning of the nineteenth century) interrupted the cultural development of the Serbs, and during that period only performances of religious character were staged from time to time. The only exception was Vojvodina, where a segment of the Serbian people, especially after the end of the seventeenth century, had lived in the multiethnic culture of the Habsburg Monarchy. Thus, theatre activity was under central European influence.

Pera Dobrinovic as Kir-Janja in The Miser by Jovan Sterija Popovic.

The first modern Serbian play was the so-called school drama: Traedokomedija by Manuil Kozacinski (1699-1755), by which recent dramatic literature among Serbs had begun, was performed in Sremski Karlovci in 1734. The school drama period lasted until 1813, when amateur acting commenced. At the end of August, 1813, the first play was staged in Pest: The Nutcracker Bird by Joakim Vujic (1772-1847), created on the basis of a work by August Kotzebue. Actors-students from school drama plays were replaced by grown-up actors, three of whom were professionals. After arriving in Serbia, Vujic founded the Prince's Serbian Theatre in Kragujevac (1835-1836), in which he worked as the manager, literary consultant, producer, leading actor, translator and adapter of dramatic works. Due to his theatre activity, Joakim Vujic deserved the somewhat pathetic title "the father of Serbian theatre".

In 1838, the first professional theatre company among the Serbs was created in Novi Sad. It was the Travelling Amateur Theatre, which had performed in Novi Sad, Zemun and Pancevo up to 1840; then, from June, 1840 to the end of 1841, in Zagreb (under the name "The National Theatre Company"). In February of 1842 it merged with the Theatre at Djumruk (the custom's office in Belgrade, making a professional ensemble out of it. This theatre deserves credit for creating the first regular professional ensembles among South Slavs (Novi Sad, Zagreb, Belgrade) in the seventh decade of the nineteenth century.

A great playwright among Serbs was Jovan Sterija Popovic (1806-1856). After abandoning the schemes of pseudo-Classicism and national Romanticism, Popovic became the first Serbian author with the distinctive features of the Realist approach to the literary and theatre substance, as well as the basic mainstay of the repertoire of Serbian theatres from 1830 to 1870. Creating characters on the basis of living models and revealing the comic side of their nature and personality, he offered a lucid analysis of the mentality and temperament of his fellow citizens, thus making it possible for distinguished Serbian actors to give a series of convincing artistic creations, some of which became legendary. Even today Popovic's comedies preserve their dramatic vitality and satirical topicality. This has been proved by the following post-war performances: The Patriots, produced by Mata Milosevic (1949), The Upstart, The Marriages and The Patriots, produced by Dejan Mijac (1873, 1975, 1986), as well as Liar of All Liars and The Miser (Kir-Janja), produced by Egon Savin (1991, 1992). Popovic's works were not staged that often during the second half of the nineteenth century, which was characterised by adapting both Serbian theatre and Serbian playwrights to the needs and tastes of the audience. If one keeps in mind that the two regular Serbian ensembles, the Serbian National Theatre (founded in 1861 in Novi Sad, in the region governed by Austria, later Austro- Hungary) and the National Theatre (founded in 1868 in Belgrade, in the liberated Principality of Serbia), had a predominantly patriotic function, along with constant financial problems, their unconditional devotion to the spiritual horizon of the audience becomes more understandable. Thus, until the end of the nineteenth century, the repertoire of Serbian theatres was governed by two basic types of national dramatic work: the historical drama and tragedy of late Romanticism, in which the patriotic feelings and the awakened historical conscience of Serbs were stimulated; besides them, there were joyful country plays "with singing" from folk life.

The National Theatre in Belgrade, in which the first performance was given on October 30, 1869

In 1850s and 1860s Laza Kostic (1841-1910) and Djura Jaksic (1832- 1878) gave Serbian Romanticist drama and theatre new poetic expression and a new type of drama hero, characterised by psychological dualism. The stagings of Kostic's tragedies Maksim Crnojevic (1869), in which the worlds of Serbian national epics and Shakespeare's tragedy were interwoven, and Pera Segedinac (1882), in which a tragedy from the history of Serbian people was interconnected with the burning problems of Kostic's time, were theatre landmarks. The performances of Jaksic's dramas Jelisaveta, the Princess of Montenegro (1868) and Stanoje Glavas (1878) proved his talent and passionate, rebellious temperament, but also his poor dramaturgical skills.

At the end of the nineteenth century, the dominant influence of German models in Serbian theatre decreased. With the return, especially to Belgrade, of the individuals who were educated in France, the influence of French theatre strengthened. Before the World War I, this was the influence of Comedie-Francaise and Paris boulevard theatres, rather than new theatre trends in France. Recent styles of European dramaturgy and theatre (Naturalism, Symbolism, Expressionism) - and not only French - were sensed in Serbian dramaturgy and theatre. Borisav Stankovic introduced new sensitivity and new poetic tones in the Realist approach into the already worn-out genre of popular folk plays "with singing", with his work Kostana (first performed in 1900), which has a cult following among Serbian theatres and audiences.

Branislav Nusic (1864-1938) left his mark on the entire twentieth century, dominating the repertoire of Serbian theatre. Devoting his life to the theatre, not only through his writing but also through his activities in the theatre (as a manager, literary consultant, producer, and as an actor as well in his early years), he would listen carefully to see when the audience would laugh and then used this experience in writing his comedies, which are characterised by the widest possible gamut of procedures and approaches to provoke laughter. Still up-to-date and vital, Nusic's works were fertile ground for several extraordinary performances in modern Serbian theatre (The Bereaved Family, produced by Mata Milosevic, The People's Representative, produced by Dejan Mijac) and truly successful experiments with changes in genre (A Suspicious Person, produced by Sonja Jovanovic, Mister Dollar, produced by Miroslav Belovic, The Masses, produced by Dejan Mijac).

Dobrica Milutinovic in the title role of Shakespeare's tragedy King Lear, the National Theatre, Belgrade, 1924

Between the two world wars, the theatre-going public was enchanted by the performances of the visiting Moscow Art Theatre (1920-1921 and 1924), which became the ideal. However, different stylistic orientations appeared in practice: from Expressionism and Symbolist stylisation to Naturalism and psychological Realism. It should be noted that, parallel to the elements of Romanticist diction in acting (as a reflection of the nineteenth century), which continued to thrive in the first post-war decade, natural urban speech and modern sensitivity in theatrical expression also appeared. At that time, Belgrade had an ensemble at a high, central European level of performance.

After World War II, the theatre in Serbia started developing rapidly. In spite of the many negative effects of administrative management in the theatre, a more self-conscious and serious relation toward creative work was shaped and artistic ambitions increased. However, the early post-war years were characterised by the Soviet influence and Stanislavsky's dogmatically understood Method. Serbian imitators combined the aesthetics of the Moscow Art Theatre - which belonged to a particular, specific period, and was thus condemned to be ephemeral - with the essence of Method, which is based on the questioning, confirmation and further development of the eternal laws of the very nature of performance on stage. The only exception was the Yugoslav Drama Theatre, founded in Belgrade in 1947, which gathered the best actors from all over Yugoslavia. Thanks to its artistic director Bojan Stupica (1910-1970) and the theatre's orientation toward the improvement of artistic skills and professionalism, this theatre turned out to be an outstanding European theatre in the first decade of its activity. This was proved by its success at the Theatre of Nations in Paris, with performances of Uncle Maroje by Marin Drzic, in 1954, Egor Bulichov by Maksim Gorky, in 1955, The Bereaved Family by Branislav Nusic and The Discovery by Dobrica Cosic, in 1964. This can be illustrated with the review in the newspaper "Le Figaro", written by Jean-Jacques Gautier: "The way in which the Yugoslav Drama Theatre from Belgrade performed Egor Bulichov is most praiseworthy... We have a homogenous ensemble in front of us... full of the spirit of unity, which acts with a high level of consciousness and emanates dignity." At that time, the Yugoslav Drama Theatre staged a national and international repertoire, including modern dramas whose value has been acknowledged. Realism was the credo of Serbian art at that time, but the primary determination in the performances of this ensemble was to master the genre and style of the play and to broaden the Realist approach. They aimed to achieve authenticity of interpretation and stood up against stereotypes, banality and vulgarisation, which thus led to the high professionalism of the ensemble. An idolatrous attitude toward the tasks of theatre was invoked: "The actor was an artist, the set designer - a master, the producer - an artiste remarquable; rehearsal was a celebration, and the opening night - a historical event.

Milivoje Zivanovic in the title role of Maksim Gorky's drama Egor Bulichov

After 1951, when Yugoslavia began to open up toward the West, a more tolerant and artistically more productive atmosphere was created. The Belgrade Drama Theatre, with its new repertory profile, distinguished itself among the theatres in Serbia. Between 1951 and 1958 it staged the plays of Arthur Miller (The Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, View from the Bridge), Tennessee Williams (The Glass Menagerie, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), John Osborne (Look Back in Anger), and other western authors. Based on this kind of drama, a new type of acting appeared, which was characterised by anti-academism and by privatisation in the utilisation of the means of expression. After the performance of Beckett's Waiting for Godot (the Belgrade Drama Theatre, 1955) was banned, a new era of Serbian theatre began. Due to their youthful stubbornness and a combination of fortunate circumstances, the producers and actors of this performance managed to show the performance on the stage of the newly established theatre Atelier 212 in 1956. The aesthetic barrier was overcome and the authorities were forced to reconcile themselves to a certain degree of artistic freedom, under the condition that political boundaries were not overstepped (it was the first performance of Beckett's play on an Eastern European stage). From 1956 to 1960 Atelier 212 performed the plays of Jean-Paul Sartre (Huis Clos), Eugene Ionesco (The Chairs), Albert Camus (Le Malentendu), Harold Pinter (The Caretaker), Slawomir Mrozek (The Policemen), along with other works of modern international drama, both from the West and the East. The stage of Atelier 212 disentangled itself from aspirations toward verism and became real theatre - not hiding that fact from the audience, but rather presenting itself as such. The epitome of this acting style was the popular actor Zoran Radmilovic (1933-1985). After the establishment of the Belgrade International Theatre Festival (BITEF) in 1967 - whose spiritus movens was Mira Trailovic (1924-1989), the manager, together with Jovan Cirilov (1931), the literary consultant of Atelier 212 - this theatre has turned to the national repertoire (discovering new playwrights or dramatising the prose of celebrated national writers), a trend which has been a noticeable peculiarity of its repertory policy to this day. The National Theatre, the oldest one in Belgrade, continued to play the role of the theatre of national culture. Having a traditionally good acting ensemble, it staged nationally and internationally standard authors, and occasionally plays which belong to the modern repertoire (The Forest by A. N. Ostrovsky in 1947, The Caine Mutiny by H. Wouke in 1956, both produced by Hugo Klajn, and Krleza's drama In Agony in 1959, produced by B. Stupica, were representative performances in the first post-war decades). The Serbian National Theatre from Novi Sad had a distinctive role in the theatre life of Serbia. Its "golden age" - from 1953, when it gathered a group of young producers, led by Dimitrije Djurkovic (1925), to 1974, when the "team of producers" finally disintegrated - is remembered for its search for new ways of dramatic expression in Serbian theatre. They were: the ironic lyrical theatre, insistence on the physical aspect of acting expression, the repertoire's orientation toward the sensitivities of the young, educated audience, the motto that the actor and space of acting are the elementary signs of theatre language, theatre which aims at social intervention and the presentation of the dark sides of our epoch and of socialist society. The activity of the National Theatre from Subotica in the last decade should be mentioned as well. It has a multi-ethnic ensemble which, according to Ljubisa Ristic (1947), its artistic director, decisively shapes the character of theatre production itself - precisely because of the mixture of various cultural influences and traditions.

Mija Aleksic and Mira Stupica in Uncle Maroje by Marin Drzic, the Yugoslav Drama Theatre, 1949

In the first half century of Serbian professional theatres, the job of producing was done by one of two persons: theatre managers (most often writers by vocation) selected plays for the repertoire, did the critical elaboration of the text and the character analysis, made decisions about assigning parts (respecting the conventions of European theatres about the division of the ensemble into acting specialities) and were responsible for the purity of language and orthoepy on the stage. On the other hand, prominent and experienced actors took care of the technical-scenic aspects of the performance. Production as an autochthonous artistic act began in Serbia in 1914, with the engagement of the first professional producers: Aleksander Ivanovich Andreyev (1875-1940), who came to Belgrade with the reputation of being Stanislavsky's student and a member of the MAT, and Milutin Cekic (1882-1964), who was a disciple of German directors Carl Hagemann and Max Reinhardt.

Theatre direction on Serbian stages between the two world wars was marked by three producers of entirely different poetics: Mihajlo Isajlovic (1870-1938), Jurij L'vovich Rakitin (1882-1952) and Branko Gavela (1885-1962), during his four-year guest engagement in Belgrade. Isajlovic studied in Germany and was a follower of the Meiningen Players and Max Reinhardt; his theatrical poetics was based on doing scrupulous service to the dramatic work. Rakitin, on the other hand, as a follower of the Russian avant-garde director V. E. Meyerhold, showed an inclination toward theatricalism, luxuriant acting expression, "physical acting", clownery and, whenever it was possible, he chose the genre of the grotesque, using abundant and inventive quick-witted directing. Gavela was the first producer among the South Slavs to create his own poetics, which united theatre classics with innovation, the cult of classical beauty and harmony with modern vivacity of imagination and spirit. The four years which he spent in Belgrade (1926-1929), in the prime of his creative elan, brought a new spirit into Serbian theatre direction. Gavela turned rehearsals into true "liturgies" of art, creating a fascinating university of theatre, at which many Serbian actors were educated in the best possible way.

Mata Milosevic (1901), Miroslav Belovic (1927) and Dejan Mijac (1934) distinguished themselves after World War II, and the work of Bojan Stupica, a Slovene, in Belgrade's theatres should be especially emphasised. Milosevic's stagings were characterised by a studious approach to the play, which is intended to explore the truth about life and man, by a balanced manner, by rationality and rich and refined scenic imagination - lucid and innovative. Patient and experienced in working with actors, he is one of the creators of natural and authentic acting, together with his aspiration to realise a collective performance of high artistic level (some of his best performances are characterised by an approach which could be called "stylised Realism"). His best stagings are: Egor Bulichov by M. Gorky, King Lear by W. Shakespeare, The Bereaved Family by B. Nusic and At Wit's End by M. Krleza.

A scene from Branislav Nusic's comedy The Bereaved Family, a performance of the Yugoslav Drama Theatre

Miroslav Belovic built his distinct directing profile on a comprehensive education in prestigious directing schools (Leningrad, Stratford-upon-Avon, Belgrade). A gifted and versatile author (playwright, poet, essayist, actor, professor), he interpreted plays by trying to put the actor in the foreground of his performances. The most striking quality of his productions is their poetic Realism (The Plough and the Stars by S. O'Casey, The Hostage by B. Behan, You Never Can Tell by G. B. Shaw, Uncle Maroje by M. Drzic and The Noble Glembays by M. Krleza in the Vahtangov Theatre in Moscow). Belovic is credited for saving a series of neglected works of South Slavonic dramaturgy from falling into oblivion. A new approach to the national dramatic heritage (especially in interpreting works of Jovan Sterija Popovic and Branislav Nusic) have characterized Dejan Mijac, who is today the leading Serbian director. His use of a variety of sources in preparing the performance and his meticulousness in utilizing them ensure his authority in the acting ensemble, which is carefully chosen and put together by him. (And even more: in spite of the differing abilities of individuals, he is capable of making actors aware of the performance as a whole, thus achieving brilliant individual creations and the highest of artistic levels by the entire ensemble.) He has a pronounced sense for the rhythm of the performance and for the dynamics and the cadence of actor's speech in grading conflicts on the stage - often in the dynamics of mis-en-scene. In deciphering his production style in general, one must proceed from a comprehension of theatre according to which the starting point is the author, and the final one - the actor in front of the audience. His best performances are created on the basis of the national drama corpus (The Upstart by J. S. Popovic, The Masses by B. Nusic, The Spawning of Carp by A. Popovic, The Sopalovic Travelling Theatre by Lj. Simovic). Of the performances staged from the international repertoire the following should be mentioned: Vasa Zeleznova by M. Gorky, Uncle Vanya by A. P. Chekhov, The House of Bernarda Alba by G. Lorca, Even a Wise Man Stumbles by A. N. Ostrovsky.

Bojan Stupica was not only the producer of significant and thrilling performances, but also an artist who aimed to create his own theatre. He accomplished this in the Yugoslav Drama Theatre in Belgrade, where he produced outstanding performances from 1947 to 1955 - Le Baruffe Chiozzotti by K. Goldoni, Wolves and Sheep by A. N. Ostrovsky, Fuente Ovejuna by L. de Vega, Leda by M. Krleza, and the crowning achievement of Serbian theatre in the first post-war decade - the Renaissance comedy Uncle Maroje by Marin Drzic (1508-1567), which was presented to audiences in Paris, Moscow, Leningrad, Vienna, Budapest, Warsaw, Venice, and other European cities. Stupica was a producer of exuberant imagination on stage, temperamental and fanciful, so that every staging had the artistic stamp of his personality: the acting, setting, lighting, music. It has been said that, for him, the art of theatre was a manifestation of life principles, rather than an abstract artistic law.

Branko Plesa and Marija Crnobori in An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde, the Yugoslav Drama Theatre, 1961

In 1860s and 1870s (with the necessary support of the press and the elite of Serbian intelligentsia, which gathered around the Serbian National Theatre in Novi Sad) actors imposed themselves upon society as significant exponents of national ideas and as an important cultural factor. The Romanticist epoch of Serbian acting was marked by: Tosa Jovanovic (1845-1883), an actor of marvellous, virile stature and resonant voice, who was the interpreter of the classical repertoire; Milka Grgurova (1840-1924), the best Serbian actress of the tragic style, and, as the last vestige of Romanticist acting, Dobrica Milutinovic (1880-1956). He was the most beloved actor in the history of Serbian theatre, an artist who possessed a distinctive individuality, a handsome and beautiful stature, an enchanting voice and a temperament which was matchless in its strength and in its lyrical emotional quality. He accomplished the highest artistic achievements in his characterisations of W. Shakespeare (Romeo, Mark Anthony, Othello, Shylock, King Lear), P. Corneille (Le Cid), J. F. Schiller (Don Carlos), F. Dostoevsky (Raskolnikov), L. Tolstoj (Fedja Protasov), and, in the national repertoire, B. Stankovic (Mitke) and I. Vojnovic (Orsat the Great).

A Realist phase in Serbian acting began with Aleksa Bacvanski (1832- 1881), and it was continued in a striking manner by a pleiad of great actors of the National Theatre in Belgrade: Milorad Gavrilovic (1861- 1931), Sava Todorovic (1862-1935), Ilija Stanojevic Cica (1859-1930), and Dimitrije Ginic (1873-1934). The most significant actor of the epoch and the performer of the ultimate artistic level in the history of Serbian acting was Pera Dobrinovic (1853-1923). Dobrinovic was an actor of luxuriant talent, although he did not possess natural predispositions for the roles of heroes: he was short, fat, with a physiognomy in which almost nothing of his talent was discernible, except in his vivacious eyes, and his voice possessed neither great volume nor a seductive timbre. Yet, due to his innate intelligence, intuition, inexhaustible imagination and outstanding diligence, during his long-lasting, brilliant theatre career he created several hundred various characters in the field of comic, characterological and dramatic expression, which were interpreted in an excellent way. Even in insignificant and mediocre plays he was able to create memorable roles, which elevated the value of the play and the performance in general. Through all of his roles he offered - as was correctly noticed by Milan Grol - that which is most worthy in the art of acting - a deep, human content. He performed roles in the plays of W. Shakespeare (Richard III, Iago, the Fool in King Lear), J. B. P. Moliere (Orgon, Geronte), P. Calderon, J. W. Goethe, J. F. Schiller, V. Hugo, N. V. Gogol (the mayor in The Inspector General), A. P. Chekhov, O. Mirbeau (Isodore Lechat in Business Is Business), R. Bracco (title role - Don Pietro Caruso), in the plays of national authors, J. S. Popovic, K. Trifkovic, L. Kostic, B. Nusic, as well as in many performances of "popular plays with singing" and operettas. Dobrinovic was the first Serbian actor to get a public monument (in Novi Sad, 1982).

A scene from the performance L'Illusion Comique by Pierre Corneille, set design by Miodrag Tabacki

The period between the two world wars brought the final domination of Realist expression in Serbian acting. Besides a pleiad of the old generation of actors, which was still active in the first decade of this period, two actors should be singled out: Zanka Stokic (1887- 1947), the most serene Serbian actress, and Rasa Plaovic (1899-1977), a great actor of modern sensitivity. Zanka Stokic introduced an abundance of authentic life details into her performances. Her heroines were complete human beings, always possessing an expression of her artistic individuality (her greatest theatre successes were the roles in comedies of B. Nusic, above all the unforgettable Zivka from The Cabinet Minister's Wife). The first step in modernising Serbian acting, on its way to contemporary European expression, was done by R. Plaovic, who created the two greatest roles of that period in Serbian acting (Hamlet in Shakespeare's tragedy and Leone Glembaj in Krleza's drama The Noble Glembajs). Intelligent, educated, intuitive and emotional, he was constantly striving to bring more creative spirit and verve into performances, without renouncing matters pertaining to life.

The magisterial line of Serbian acting, represented by Tosa Jovanovic - Dobrica Milutinovic - Pera Dobrinovic - Milorad Gavrilovic - Zanka Stokic - Rasa Plaovic, was continued after World War II by Milivoje Zivanovic - Mira Stupica - Branko Plesa. Milivoje Zivanovic (1900- 1976) was one of the last representatives of the pleiad of actors who were bards, heroes and missionaries. He was characterized by an outstanding and powerful acting temperament, supplemented by a distinctive stature and expressive voice. In interpreting characters from all kinds of genres, he sculpted them from one block, like a huge rock, with great inspiration and elementary strength in his momentum (title role in Egor Bulichov by M. Gorky and King Lear by W. Shakespeare, Father in Prisoners of Altona by J. P. Sartre, Agaton in The Bereaved Family by B. Nusic). The landmark in the post-war Serbian theatre was Branko Plesa (1926), who introduced Serbian acting into the modern trends of European theatre expression. His handsome stature, impeccable diction - which stimulated his faster and more modern speech rhythm, unseen beforehand on Serbian stages, together with broad education - which enabled him to move masterfully through the works of classics and the most modern writers of our time, made him a unique actor in the contemporary Serbian theatre (Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov by F. M. Dostoevsky, Marquis de Posa in Don Carlos by J. F. Schiller, Shakespeare's characters Edgar and McDuff, the anthological role of the villain in At the End of the Road by Marijan Matkovic, as well as a series of comical and lion characters in the works from the international repertoire). Right next to Zivanovic and Plesa stand Ljubisa Jovanovic (1908-1971) and Ljuba Tadic (1929), with remarkable performance qualities and valuable artistic achievements. Jovanovic was characterised by great power of transformation, a handsome virile stature and a specific sensitivity which made it possible for him to adjust spontaneously to the modern international repertoire and new theatre trends better than any other actor of the generation between the wars (Falstaff in Henry VIII by W. Shakespeare, Neschastlivtsev in The Forest by A. N. Ostrovsky, Danton in Danton's Death by G. Buechner, Jack Boyle in Juno and the Peacock by S. O'Casey). Tadic's acting is distinguished by a vigorous temperament, suggestiveness and concentration, in his great protagonistic roles: his creation of Hoederer in Les Mains Sales by J. P. Sartre (magnificently produced by Bora Draskovic) is at the very peak of the best creations of Serbian acting. The most distinctive actress in the first two post-war generations was Marija Crnobori (1919), a tragedienne of the classical repertoire (Sophocles' Antigone, Racine's Phaedra, Goethe's Iphigenia). The entire period after World War II has been marked by Mira Stupica (1923), an actress of great talent with a broad creative gamut. Possessing an abundance of natural gifts, she has imbued all her theatre creations with genuine emotionality (Petrunjela in Uncle Maroje by M. Drzic, Sasa Negina in Wolves and Sheep by A. N. Ostrovsky, Danica in The Love of Your Life by Milan Djokovic, Grusche Vahnadze in The Caucasian Chalk Circle by B. Brecht).

Zoran Radmilovic and Maja Cuckovic in the performance Ubu-Roi by Alfred Jarry

In the period between the two world wars a circle of theatre set designers and costume designers, who discarded the restraints of European illusionistic scenography, began its activity in Belgrade. Two of them should be singled out: the painter Jovan Bijelic (1884- 1964), who accomplished the transition between fine arts and the art of set design in Serbian set designing, and Vladimir Ivanovic Zedrinski (1899-1974), who successfully brought together the Realism of the Russian set design school and modern tendencies toward stylisation. After World War II, set design and costume design were incident to all changes which the theatre in Serbia went through. The most distinguished designers in the first decade were Milenko Serban (1907-1979), a set designer of Realist orientation and Milica Babic- Jovanovic (1909-1968), a costume designer whose works were characterised by a refined perception of style and temperance in utilizing colouristic effects, folklore elements and ornamentation. New tendencies have appeared in the set designs of Vladimir Marenic (1921), distinguished by monumental but functional solutions which suggestively revived the ambient set. The same was characteristic for the works of costume designer Mira Glisic (1918-1965), which were marked by rich colourism and lucid inventiveness. The most significant set designer today is Miodrag Tabacki (1947), who departs from the directors' conceptions, giving them his own connotations and his fundamental ideas. The first lady of Serbian costume design, Bozana Jovanovic (1932), is less preoccupied with precision of costume cuts and details, but her values live and vibrate together with the script, creating a piercing atmosphere on stage.

A scene from the performance - The Village of Sakule in Banat by Zoran Petrovic and Dimitrije Djurkovic

The most important theatre institution in Serbia is Sterijino pozorje (established in 1956 in Novi Sad), in the framework of which the Yugoslav Theatre Festival - a festival of performances created on the basis of the national drama heritage - is held every year. For almost four decades, the performances shown at this festival have made a valuable contribution to the affirmation of Serbian and south Slavonic writers. The performance Heaven's Detachment (1956), by two débutants, Aleksandar Obrenovic (1928) and Djordje Lebovic (1928), was the turning-point in the Serbian post-war dramaturgy. It is a soul- stirring story about seven prisoners in the Nazi camp Oswiecim (Auschwitz), who agree to murder their co-sufferers in order to prolong their own lives for three months. The play negated Socialist Realism, revived Realism and courageously opened up discussion about morality and human nature. In the next decade, theatres began staging the works of the national drama corpus more and more, and the characters and situations in them became psychologically more complex, closer to the problems of modern society. Historical analogies and Aesopian language were used, in order to explain the contemporary social situation and the current historical process. Important moments of that decade were the performances of dramas written by Borislav Mihajlovic (Banovic Strahinja), Velimir Lukic (The Long Life of King Oswald) and Zoran Hristic (Savonarola and His Friends). A new turning- point was a series of performances of the plays by Aleksandar Popovic (1929). He has radically reexamined the basic normative presuppositions of Aristotle's dramaturgy. He has placed the language values at the forefront, which then intrusively take control over almost all dramatic expression. In the most successful early stagings of Popovic's works (Ljubinko and Desanka, The Hundred Loop Stocking, The Pig's Trot), the producers followed the lead of the writer. Even more successful theatre productions were accomplished by Branko Plesa and Dejan Mijac, in those of Popovic's plays which offered criticism of social reality (The Development of Boris Tailor, The Spawning of Carp, Rooster without a Tail, Coffee with Cream). Besides Popovic, the most respectable modern Serbian writers are Ljubomir Simovic (1935) and Dusan Kovacevic (1947). The stagings of the best Simovic's works (Hasanaginica, The Miracle in Sargan, The Sopalovic Travelling Theatre) revealed his moral sensitivity, the melody and rich quality of his language, and his extraordinary gift for humorous imagination. In his popularity among audiences, Dusan Kovacevic succeeded Branislav Nusic, although he is a playwright who, taking for granted all the virtues of his own people, unsparingly ridicules all their shortcomings, fallacies, baseness and foolishness (The Marathoners' Victory Lap, The Collection Centre, The Balkan Spy and Saint George Slaying the Dragon). The activities of Sterijino pozorje have contributed to the international recognition of Serbian playwrights. A great number of Nusic's plays was performed in the theatres of the Soviet Union (the biggest success was The Cabinet Minister's Wife, staged in the theatres of 27 cities), the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and other countries. Simovic's drama The Sopalovic Travelling Theatre was shown in France (Paris), Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The comedies of Dusan Kovacevic were staged in theatres in Germany (Berlin, Nuernberg, Potsdam), Poland (Warsaw, Cracow), Hungary (Budapest), Great Britain (London), the USA (San Francisco), Ukraine (Kiev), the Czech Republic (Prague) and Slovakia (Bratislava).

Ljubisa Jovanovic, Ljuba Tadic and Misa Janketic in the performance When the Pumpkins Blossomed by Dragoslav Mihajlovic

A special emphasis should be placed upon the International Theatre Festival BITEF, thanks to which, as it has been already mentioned, Belgrade was incorporated into the theatre map of Europe and the whole world. It also made it possible for Serbian theatre to be directly informed of significant international theatre achievements. It should not be forgotten that some performances in the early years of BITEF shocked the public with their nudity, the lavishness of erotic scenes and the aggressive behaviour of the actors. However, it was a privilege to see, on Belgrade's stages, the authors who have made their mark on the recent history of international theatre (Peter Brook, Ingmar Bergman, Jerzy Grotowski, Anatolij Efros, Tadeusz Kantor, Peter Stein, Luca Ronconi, Julian Beck, Judith Malina, Robert Wilson, Eugenio Barba, Pina Bausch and others). In the following years BITEF became an important stimulus in the creation of an international intellectual theatre climate in Serbia, and the experiences of BITEF were incorporated by distinguished authors in Serbian theatre. Serbian productions appeared more frequently in the programme of this festival and some of them proved to be up to European and international standards (the performance of the Yugoslav Drama Theatre Happy Days or Tarelkin's Death by Suhovo-Kobilin, produced by Branko Plesa, shared the first prize of BITEF with performances of Bergman and Efros in 1974, and in 1990 the performance of the same L'Illusion Comique by Corneille, produced by Slobodan Unkovski, shared the first award with the performance of the theatre Ultima Vez from Brussels).

Thirty-five professional theatres are active in Serbia today, as are three institutions of higher education (the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade, the Academy of Arts in Novi Sad and the Faculty of Arts in Pristina), and two theatre museums (the Museum of Theatre Arts of Serbia in Belgrade and the Theatre Museum of Vojvodina in Novi Sad). Five publications specialising in theatre are also being published (the periodical "Scena", renowned throughout Europe, "Pozoriste" ("Theatre") and Zbornik Matice srpske za scenske umetnosti (Matica Srpska Proceedings for Theatre Arts) in Novi Sad, and "Teatron" and "Ludus" in Belgrade.

Space will not allow a discussion of the activity of children's theatres, puppet theatres, music and dance theatres, or an analysis of the work of composers of stage music, or of theatre critics and theatre experts. They have all contributed, in their own way, to the diversity and high merit of theatre life in Serbia.

// Projekat Rastko / The history of Serbian culture //
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