2023/2024 — Season 68

Mass For Yugoslavia

Directed by: Oliver Frljić
(The Ristić Complex)
Co-production: CNT Ivan pl. Zajc Rijeka; Bitef, Belgrade; MOT Skopje
Première: 1. 10. 2015 (Mladinsko), 20. 9. 2015 (Bitef, Beograd)
  • Primož Bezjak/Vito Weis (vskok)
  • Uroš Kaurin
  • Jerko Marčić
  • Nika Mišković
  • Draga Potočnjak
  • Dramaturgy: Goran Injac, Tomaž Toporišič
  • Dramaturgical investigative team: Rok Vevar, Olga Dimitrijević, Ana Vilenica, Nina Gojić, Tomaž Toporišič, Goran Injac
  • Costume design: Sandra Dekanić, Slavica Janošević
  • Set design: Oliver Frljić, Dalibor Laginja
  • Music selection: Oliver Frljić
  • Sound design: Silvo Zupančič
  • Lighting design: David Cvelbar
  • Asistentka režije: Barbara Babačić
  • Stage manager: Urša Červ (SMG), Ana Vidučić (HNK)

The production is conceived as a collage of narrative tableaux vivants, which function as a poetic representation and commentary on the devastating socio-political changes that, in the 1990s, took the former Yugoslavia by storm. At times, these scenes shock the spectator, but they also evoke imagination and demand engagement. As the organically connected cast performs them, it turns into one fluid collective body and becomes a well-oiled acting machine. Their lips utter no words; the space is instead filled with music, which dictates the emotional tone and opens new interpretative readings of the happenings onstage. There, the sublime and the vulgar, disgust and enrapture, walk hand in hand, reminding us of a paradox of fraternal love verging on mortal hatred, a paradox that was the former Yugoslavia.

In the media

Oliver Frljić is a first-class director who understands theatre not as a space for simple representation, petting along the grain or entertainment, but rather a space for questioning the functioning of theatre, of the audience, of the wider social, ideological, political context. [...] For this reason, Frljić creates a postmodernist collage palimpsest stage image without words, supplemented with different types of music; he shocks the spectator, evoking repulsion or disgust, certain negative emotions and demanding thoughts, engagement. […] The Ristić Complex is a performance that translates all the meanings of the word complex in the connection with the Ristić phenomenon onto the stage. With this it disturbs and provokes anger, and at the same time creates exceptionally expressive stage images which, frozen, would function as a perfect visual artefact […].

(Tadeja Krečič, Radio Slovenija, Oct. 2, 2017)

One of those performances, which even on the international territory of the “ex-Yu” is mentioned as “devilish”, The Ristić Complex as Frljić has described it is in itself striking, like feeling a burning sensation of a slap on the skin along with soft caresses. Of course there is no sentimentality, this is simply to state the fact that violence and tenderness are the fruits of the same tree. If nothing else, the performance entered my dictionary as an entry of physical theatre: two women and five men on an almost empty stage, set slightly differently for each scene, carry out a series of complex actions which don’t let us catch our breath, not even for a minute: the elevated sublimeness and vulgarity, poetics and obscenity walk hand in hand on stage.

(Tamás Jászay, Revizor, Srbija, Nov. 30, 2015)

The performance is constructed as a fusion of artistic and political history; a narrative collage of scenes which feed on the in-depth research of Ristić’s work and life, yet remove themselves from all of this in pared down images into a general, almost poetic representation and commentary of the socio-political changes in the space of the former SFRY. Individual scenes are conceived as pure performing miniatures; in them, we can recognise a complex concept of the (invisible) background, which is, with stage props, thoughtfully condensed into expressively almost minimalist, yet meaningful, visually and physically symbolic units. Primož Bezjak, Uroš Kaurin, Jerko Marčić, Nika Mišković, Draga Potočnjak, Matej Recer and Blaž Šef perform as extremely functional and harmonious cornerstones of these images, with a distanced acting personality and an exposed sign of a body. And alongside that – this body is a practically mute, and definitely effective element of the performance commentary. Instead of text the stage action is filled with music, which with the content of the lyrics and the melody opens and intones the meaning, interpretative and emotional readings of this aesthetically harmonised whole.

The approach that comes from the very physical action of the actors and consequently partly escapes the stifling volume of the stage proves to be effective, because it manages to set up the kind of tension that is at the same time the result and the action of the clear, politically articulated expression and stance. But this articulation is not an intellectual one, but distinctly sensorial. [...] The cast comes across as precise, thoughtful and organically connected: Primož Bezjak, Uroš Kaurin, Jerko Marčić, Nika Mišković, Draga Potočnjak, Matej Recer and Blaž Šef together set up a non-hierarchically connected, fluid, autonomous acting body which – so it seems – instinctively runs away from the potentially restricting directorial procedures, although at the same time respects them very precisely. A full, physically demanding liberation of acting bodies within the pulsating collective body, both on the level of movement and the voice, enabled their intensive, multi-layered communication with the audience on the basis of which they build, reinforce and at the same time relativise – or more precisely, destroy – the images of the tragic, archived in their 'lymphatic systems'. The acting body convincingly vomits its condensed rebellious emotions, several times, at full volume; and the key thing here is that it isn’t representing the 'generational' anger, but rather expressing its own.

Oliver Frljić has simply managed one more time to reinvent, which is a rare artistic quality.

(Igor Burić, Dnevnik, Novi Sad, Serbia, Sept. 23, 2015)

Frljić likes to tackle the relationship between the future, the present and the past with an authentic theatre language (for which he must be commended), carrying out a vivisection of the human, artistic and social relationships as well as of the messages of Ristić’s then-prophetic performances.

I was a bit *hmm* for maybe fifteen minutes. Then a) basically the war starts in the narrative, and consequently b) the stage imagery got a lot more readily comprehensible and just more *moving*.  Then it progressed to all-out strangeness that I adored.

I am not familiar with all the references to Ljubiša Ristić’s work and yet I could enjoy the performance. It is exceptionally poetic and powerful. It uses very little devices and accomplishes, I’d say, a huge emotional impact on the audience and I think it’s wonderful. Particularly the fact that it renounces language, the explicitness, and remains in a very limited area, within the map and the tables we see on stage, and within the play with wedding dresses.

(Bojan Đorđev, Bilten Bitefa, Serbia, Sept. 20, 2015)
Guest performances

  • Maxim Gorki Theatre, Berlin, Germany, 16–18 Nov 2023
  • B&H Drama Festival, Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 14 May 2016
  • Marulić Days, Split, Croatia, 22 Apr 2016
  • Ludwigshafen, Germany, 9 Mar 2016
  • Desiré Central Station, Subotica, Serbia, 28 Nov 2015
  • CNT Ivan pl. Zajc, Rijeka, Croatia, October–March 2016
  • MOT, Skopje, Macedonia, 24 Sep 2015
  • Bitef, Belgrade, Serbia, 17–21 Sep 2015

  • Radovan Marušić award for best overall design at the B&H Drama Festival in Zenica, 2016, to Oliver Frljić and Dalibor Laginja for set design, Sandra Dekanić and Slavica Janošević for costume design and David Cvelbar for lighting design
  • award for best direction at the B&H Drama Festival in Zenica, 2016, to Oliver Frljić
  • Grand Prix at the B&H Drama Festival in Zenica, 2016, for best production
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