by Dr. Darko Lukić,
Professor at the Academy of Dramatic Arts,
University of Zagreb, Croatia
Why Do I Write About Tomaž Pandur? I have been following the directorial work of Tomaž Pandur for thirty years, since his (and my) student days, and I have seen literally all his productions, including the student ones. Regardless of the fact that during that time our collaboration varied in type, intensity and content and it went through creative and dynamic changes, three decades of insight into Pandur’s creative world provide a possibility of solid comparisons and verified judgements.
The context of Pandur’s work is essentially marked by social changes that have also essentially influenced my own life, career changes and evolutionary development. At the same time, I have implemented directly a great deal of my theoretical-theatrological research on the practice of Pandur’s live creation. Those facts give me competence to speak about his theatre opus in a thorough and all-encompassing manner, formulating several ensuing reflections.
Thirty years – three phases
For the purpose of this short overview, I have divided Pandur’s opus in three fundamental phases :
a) Ljubljana phase 1980-1989 (The period of his life and work in Ljubljana; first professional theatre projects; emergence and shaping of poetics and creative handwriting through experimental projects and exploratory theatre expression)
b) Maribor phase 1989-1996 (The period of Pandur as General Manager and Artistic Director of Slovenian National Drama Theatre in Maribor, when he overtook a marginal and provincial theatre on the far Western edge of the-then Yugoslavia and in a very short time transformed it into an established venue both on European and world theatre map, continuing with the development of themes and ideas from the first phase in the form of mega-spectacle and lavish projects of top production professionalism)
c) European phase 1996-nowadays (the period in which, after leaving Maribor, Pandur is engaged as free-lance artist on projects in various European theatres and continues with his fundamental artistic preoccupations by establishing a new and different style, language and expression manner)
Within each of the three phases I will try to detect above all the essential themes that Pandur tackled and is still tackling in his theatre; then the manners in which those themes are being treated; the ideas that are continuously in his focus and towards which he directs his interests and deliberations; the elements by which Pandur’s theatre is different from other directors’ poetics with whom he shares the same time-space; finally, the phenomenon of different audiences that follow his work and its reception.
Conversations With Great Men
Over twenty-five years of active professional theatre directing in theatres in Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Germany, Italy, Spain and Greece is a long enough period to extract several essential features of the large and rich theatre opus of Tomaž Pandur: themes that continuously dwell in the fundament of his work, re-emerging in each new work and being developed and deliberated upon in several different ways and through several different procedures. First of all, the interest for capital works of world spiritual heritage is a trait present from Pandur’s very beginnings; these are the works of some of the greatest authors of world literature and cult titles of world theatre literature. From the earliest works in Pandur’s opus (Ljubljana phase), we run upon Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1982) and Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler (1986), while the basic traits of his latter individual author’s approach to great literary figures, myths, narratives, personalities or authors will certainly be outlined by the project Kafka- Curriculum Vitae(1985). A production that became a landmark in his career is a subject in its own right: the project Scheherazade (1989) that turned “overnight” a young promising and talented director into first a Yugoslav, then an international star. Later on, in his Maribor phase, as Artistic Director of Slovenian National Drama Theatre in Maribor, the mega-spectacles will bring to full-blown reflection Pandur’s authentic and utterly creative approach to directorial re-telling or re-writing of Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1990), Goethe’s Faust (1990), Dante’s Divine Comedy (1993), great inspirational themes such as Carmen (1992) and Babylon (1996), as well as deliberating Dostoyevsky’s opus and questions tracing his footsteps in Russian Mission (1994).
Following Maribor, in his European phase (Germany, Greece, Spain, Croatia, Serbia, Italy) as free-lance and travelling director, Pandur will re-think in an entirely new way the motives, questions, themes and impetuses deriving out of author’s deliberations on works of Dante (2001, 2002, 2005), Dostoyevsky (2003), Laclos and Mueller (2007), Camus (2008), Shakespeare (2009), Euripides (2009) and some contemporary authors, going back to the essentially identical fundamental themes and preoccupations in an entirely different way.
In each of the mentioned cases, from the first productions to these days, one may notice that Pandur is cultivating a seemingly carefree and daring relation towards literary originals and great artistic names. From the perspective of classical dramatic theatre, the interventions that he is undertaking on works representing almost theological values of world literary heritage may seem both radical and heretic. On the other hand, if one implements a deeper probing and insight on this approach, one may notice the opposite method at work. Pandur remains almost religiously devoted to the author’s original, its essence, fundamental idea and basic thought by first laying them bare and cleansing them of all external rhetorical embellishments, then using stage language and theatre live image to re-tell the literary content and comment all associations, inspirations and possible readings that the original offers. One might say that Pandur is simply making a directorial translation of great literary names from the medium of literature to that of theatre, respecting in translation all their words but translating at once the white parts of paper on which literature is being printed, translating margins and spaces between words and rows.
From the perspective of post-dramatic theatre, it is precisely in this relation towards the literary original that Pandur’s theatre offers a possible paradigmatic reading of interrelations text/stage, word/movement, speech/action and sound/image.
In some cases, Pandur simply directs the bare and purified literature prepared for staging; in other cases, the text is put into a lively dialogue with essayistic comments and hermeneutical interpretations; in the third case, he opts for writing an entirely new version that the directorial idea of staging is looking for (and requiring). Nevertheless, in all three cases Pandur remains faithful both to the work that inspired him and the author with whom he establishes a creative conversation and fruitful collaboration. Through such working method, Pandur re-writes the text (be it Goethe’s or Shakespeare’s) in the code of theatre language re-reading it in-depth in the language and medium of literature while the author of the text (evoked and rendered alive by such collaboration) at once outlines the map of the performance, which enables the director, actors and later on spectators to orient themselves safely and move through it with assured confidence. In such a complex interrelation established with the authors and their texts, Pandur naturally gives his own personal views and readings of great literary works; yet those creative, individual and intimate views are essentially determined, primarily inspired and fundamentally permeated with the very challenges of those works and their authors.
What connects all mentioned authors and their works in Pandur’s opus is the continuity and familiarity of certain themes that this opus is systematically and thoroughly tackling. These are Pandur’s “great themes” that represent an important link between all his directions, representing at once the criterion of choice of titles and projects he is undertaking.
One of those great themes that he has masterfully elaborated in all his works is certainly loneliness. Be it prince Hamlet, the poets Virgil and Dante, the writer Kafka, prince Mishkin, emperor Caligula, or the genius 20th-century inventor Nikola Tesla - Pandur’s attention focuses on loners, persons who, for some reason, always dwell in their own spaces of solitude. Still, Pandur makes a highly precise distinction between, on the one hand, solitude out of necessity, the unwanted solitude, excruciating, imposed and destructive solitude, Persecuting Solitude; on the other hand, there stands solitude by choice, desired, chosen and creative, Friendly Solitude.
Depending on the type of solitude the characters are developing after their communication with their surrounding proves to be insufficient for understanding, these are the in-between spaces and differences that mirror their specific traits. And it is in those spaces of creative solitude to which they were headed that Pandur’s characters meet the thousand faces of solitude: from the perfect solitude of eternal angels to the terrifying solitude of a drowning man.
Another great theme arises straightforward out of this theme: that of misapprehension, which brings about mostly tragic consewuences in the conflict between the lonely individual and other individuals, between person and society. All central characters (as well as central themes) of Pandur’s opus are fundamentally oriented towards the (im)possibilities of communication in human interrelations and the noise in the communication channel between a man and his personal history. In principle, the focus is always on exploring communication levels between persons, between a person and the world, within the person as well as between different worlds that are (not) to be found in time and space. (I will dedicate myself to the notion of time and space in Pandur’s theatre further on in the text).
Logically this problem brings about another common and constant theme, that of particularity and uniqueness of the individual compared to masses, community, society, social norms or the commonly accepted premises and systems of values, much the same as the particularity of a person in relation to any other person as well as in relation to him/herself in different moments of life.
The unrepeatable nature of the individual and of the moment, the uniqueness of each single experience in relation to other experiences – those are the issues that Pandur explores through the choice of highly extraordinary and special characters (from Faust to Hamlet to Medea) whom he then places in utterly ordinary, simple and familiar human situations. His directorial proceeding does not aim towards staging a light and seducing false thesis like “We are all Caligulas” because we definitely are not; nor does he try to say “Hamlet is just like us” because he definitely is not. What his very special and extraordinary characters do in everyday situations, simple and humanly recognisable, is that they remain absolutely special and consequent to their particularity as well as to their fate, mission, curse or their great dream. They are fundamentally different and special even in utterly ordinary circumstances and situations and it is precisely because of that that they manage to incite in the spectator a reflection on why they are important to us here and now; those characters with whom we bear no resemblance whatsoever and that differ from us so fundamentally and in everything – what is it that makes them familiar, interesting, understanding and fascinating to us? What is the experience that their stories convey to us and in which the contemporary spectator may recognise today his/her own questions and dilemmas, articulate his/her own problems and through them establish a lively and active communication with great literature instead of passively inhaling archive dust from the pages of books bound long ago.
Intellectual perfume distilling
The method in which Pandur tackles the aforementioned themes also points out to several phases in his creative development. This work is systematically and consequently marked from its very beginnings by the construction of own stage language, which conforms in its entirety to textual originals and their meta-textual meanings and represents an exploratory search for the vocabulary but also for the syntax of that language. The elements, means and ways of this expression develop from the very beginning of Pandur’s work in three simultaneous and parallel directions that are exceeding limitations. Pandur goes beyond the limitation of mono-cultural experience, considering Western theatre tradition as one of several equal possibilities, by no means the only one, “major” or “true” possibility. Furthermore, he exceeds the limitations of medium – he hybridises stage language with other different media tools. Last but not least, he exceeds the limitation of usual “tasks” and “job distribution” of human senses.
To this extent, Pandur’s stage vocabulary is by definition syncretic both on artistic and cultural level. On artistic level, syncretism means combining elements of literary, musical, visual, dance and movement elements. Besides dramatic theatre (in the broadest sense of the word), Pandur has directed entirely pure forms genre-wise, e.g. ballet (Alas) or opera (From the House of Dead, Silence of the Balkans) but also projects that were extremely hybrid in the spirit of post-dramatic theatre and Lehmann’s notion of this term (Hundred Minutes, Carmen), up to highly minimalist verbal theatre (Tesla Electric Company), lavishly playful dialogue (Barocco) and stage essay (Caligula). In this sense, we may speak with great confidence about exceeding the usual genre and style divisions and limitations as a logical consequence of all earlier mentioned abolishment of borders.
On cultural level, this syncretism connotes combining elements of Western and Eastern theatre: Balinese dance, Kabuki, psycho-drama, Kathakali, Dervish dances, Noh drama, Biomechanics, Beijing Opera, Commedia dell Arte, Butoh and all other open possibilities of theatre. In this method, the places where theoretically and practically Artaud meets Zeami or where Bharata meets Diderot or, in contemporary theory, where Lehmann meets Bharucha or where Carlson meets Aziza, are always fluid and diffuse. In this case, the multicultural theatre is always more intracultural than intercultural as one might expect on the basis of previously described approaches and procedures. Those are the methods of expressing essential inspirations of great traditions and understanding their deep natural laws. We might say that what is at work here are both Cultural archaeology and Cultural Genetics.
In the field of free access to the limitations of the medium, one might notice in all the mentioned phases and all performances an intermedia approach in which the language of text, printed letters, film, photography, sound and signs make a separate and equally valuable instrumentarium for making theatre. This trans-mediality is neither imposed nor proclaimed: It is simply self-understood inasmuch as remediation is Pandur’s natural and fundamental method. Through this re-shaping in the spirit of interactivity in which a particular kind of interface communication is established via theatre, Pandur achieves that his theatre includes the spectator in a very active and intensive participation in following the performance and stimulates him to proceedings in which memory storage of information obeys to cybernetic rather than mechanical rules. Pandur’s approach to theatre springs first and foremost out of contemporary notions on the functions and role of our senses. It is the brain that hears, not the ears. It is the brain that sees, not the eyes. The five neurological levels on which the brain processes external sensations (via senses) is a fascinating cybernetic machine capable of performing an infinite number of combinations since the very existence of the machine is based on a game in an infinite number of combinations. Therefore the relations between the sound and the image in Pandur’s theatre aim towards investigating new possible combination between the meaning of spoken text, the voice of the actor who utters it and the sound that this speech is producing but also the sounds that accompany it and follow it; the same goes for the abolishment of colour and its subsequent re-introduction in the visual aspect of scenes; the frozen and the moving picture and then, finally, in the proportion of playful combinations, between all those elements. The eye does not know either the colour red or blue; it is our brain that assigns names to the types of light in the way we have taught it to do. But the most recent studies show that brain does not make any difference between what it sees in the surrounding and what it imagines (in memories or imagination). It is the difference that is the figment of our imagination and we have built that border and we store it in a tiny part of the brain. That is why this difference is equally imaginary as any most incredible mental and spiritual imagination. In brief, the difference between the so-called “reality” and the so-called “imagination” is merely one among many of our imaginations. Neurologists warn that, as a matter of fact, we never see any kind of “real reality” but only our own image (imagination) of that reality based on the data provided by our senses but only after the cybernetic processing of this data, which in turn depends on our knowledge, memories, capacities, learned and lived experiences, associations that we can connect to this data… simply, our “reality” is our own personal image of reality that depends above all on ourselves. Out of the countless data that our “reality” pours onto us from our surrounding, our emotions choose what we are going to notice – only that, which has a certain emotional value for us. What reaches the brain is merely a fragment of unwanted information (those towards which we don’t have an emotional relation); it literally “smuggles” through senses and quickly sinks into oblivion (the auto-delete system and the firewall in our brain impeccably remove the spam of the emotionally unwanted information poured onto us by our surrounding). A radical conclusion (this time stemming out of scientific studies) actually is: We create the world, which is our reality.
If this is indeed so, then why burden the theatre with constant spasmodic conflict of chimera of “illusion of reality” and imagination? The illusion of reality is merely the illusion of the illusion and as such is an entirely futile trial. Theatre illusion begins and ends in the very theatrical act as a cybernetic game between our brain and the stage. Theatre finally becomes reality in the same measure as reality is everything we see before entering the theatre hall, only of a different kind: Cleansed of all information excess, of sensorial and mental spam, adapted to the need of our emotions for extracted information. Pure Emotional Reality. Emotional Extract of Reality. Much the same as in the process of producing perfume, where tons of flower petals have to be processed in order to bring about just a few drops of fragrant extract, thousand years of historical experiences and all spaces of the Universe may be extracted into one teardrop on the actor’s face, into one drop of limelight. That is why Pandur in his new phase creates no more a theatre of a new, different, phantasmagorical and dreamlike reality. Pandur, as a matter of fact, creates reality that is theatre.
A Universe of Imagined Realities
In all the aforementioned phases, methods and processes, Pandur communicates a clear conviction that theatre is a more real reality than reality, advocating a philosophical attitude (almost religiously ardent) that our personal worlds, personal times and personal truths are always possible as an equal form of reality and that such artistic, creative and resourceful construction of one’s own reality neither annuls nor substitutes reality but rather enriches it and makes it more complex, adding to it a quantum playfulness of the open infinity of possibilities.
Here we speak in the first place of the interrelation Space/Time, which in Pandur’s theatre becomes entirely non-linear, unlike the four known (linear) models of Chronotop (space-time relations). Therefore Pandur’s Chronotops have derailed out of the realm of possibility of outlining relation and criteria with the absolutist tools of Newton physics and mechanics.
The time and space of Pandur’s theatre suggest the tools of Post-Newtonian notion of time and space; hence several terms come immediately to mind, either directly or through associations: Quantum Chronotop, Non-Linear Chronotop, Relativist Chronotop, Dynamic Chronotop, Four-Dimensional Chronotop, and if we want to be somewhat more literary, even Angelic Chronotop. In any case, what we need is first and foremost an entirely new paradigm in order to try to reach some theory.
Whatever syntagm we finally opt for, we warn of the essential change of the linear notion of Time and Space: the phase of linearity and successive movement is being replaced by the phase of non-linearity – a simultaneous presence of several parallel spheres.
In any case, what we have at work is a radical and total break-up with linearity and the dual models of Western thought that stems out of the Old-Testament Israel and antique Greece and presents itself as the absolute peak of cognition and the key to understanding all the way to the second half of the 20th century. This thought has brought to the Western civilisation (and only to it) the duality and juxtaposition of mind and spirit, knowledge and faith, science and mystique.
What the new discoveries on the Universe, our brain, genetics, time, space, movement, atom, matter and energy have brought about in the last century, and what has warned Western thought that other civilisation have been leaving for thousands of years open roads for the kind of thinking that the West have usually forcefully shut down, had obviously echoed in theatrical thought. And that simply provokes and requires similar methods in reflecting upon theatre as well as the theatrological mapping of the phenomenon within the necessary interaction of theatre theory and practice.
Thirty years –
Too Little For Final Conclusions
Although it is common practice to wrap up such type of overview text with some sort of conclusion, the unusualness of subject and object of this treatise releases me from such formalistic and courteous obligations. It is still too early for conclusions on or definitions of an open process. Instead, I will mention the differentia specifica of Tomaž Pandur in reference to the closer and more distant theatre directors and authors of stage poetics with whom he shares the time and space of work.
The difference that Pandur persists upon from the very beginning lies in that he demonstrates in a radical and relentless way his unwillingness to be affiliated to any school, trend, style or author’s handwriting. His poetics at once does not follow any of the aforementioned, although it knows them, respects them and occasionally enters with them into a creative dialogue or polemics. At the same time, in the spirit of his deep conviction of the uniqueness, extraordinariness, outstanding and unrepeatable nature of each end every individual creative act and each individual in Space, Pandur is far from making some kind of “school” of his own since he does not believe in the possibility of imitation, following or repetition of a unique creative act. Besides that, any kind of gathering of a movement of followers or one’s own epigones would betray the very essence of the idea of authenticity of personal universes on which Pandur has built his entire theatrical world. Hence we may speak of his work within the frame of Pandur Project or, as he put it simply in the title of his theatre, Pandurtheatre. In the spirit of New Theatrology (in the sense in which De Marini defines it), we might also speak in this moment with greatest certainty about Pandur Process since we are dealing with a lasting change and constant author’s quest and (re)shaping of his poetics.
The Experiences of Reception of Pandur’s Productions
The reception of productions on tours and festivals in Argentina, Austria, Germany, Columbia, Venezuela, Mexico, Russia, Italy, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia, Japan, South Corea, Australia, France, Spain, Israel, Brazil, Czech Republic, Serbia and Hungary, provides a possibility of a very ample insight in the response to Pandur’s theatre within different groups of spectators as well as the response to his theatre within very different cultural models.
The spectators of Pandur’s theatre are, by rule and without exceptions, always delighted. There are anecdotal event such as, for instance, the one about spectators who could not enter the performance in Ciudad Mexico and therefore broke through the closed door of the full theatre house; or when there were half-an-hour standing ovations in Bogota; or when due to the relentless applause in Sarajevo the whole performance was literally repeated on “bis”: or at the festival in Caracas when, due to a several times larger interest than the capacity of the hall allowed, a large video wall was installed on the square in front of the theatre and was broadcasting live the performance and the audience was applauding in front of it after the performance finished; or when, pressed by audience requests, the Board of Bogota Festival has extended Pandur’s tour for three more performances. In Madrid, the production of “Barocco” was put back on the repertoire in the following season, which was a total precedent in the practice of Madrid theatres; it was with that production that the Centre for Culture de la Villa became Fernan Gomez Professional Theatre. An absolute precedent in Slovenian theatre practice is also the fact that the already mentioned production of “Scheherazade” remained on repertoire for over ten seasons.
Yet besides those unusual situations there are regular situations of completely sold-out halls and “premiere” ovations on each re-run.
The audience is simply devoted and faithful to Pandur. Not only is there a fairly representative group of colleagues and friends, artists and intellectuals from ex-Yugoslavia and other parts of Europe that by rule gathers on all Pandur’s premieres, wherever they might be, but there is an ever-growing group of so-called “ordinary audience” that travels following his projects as the majority of ex-Yugoslavia has travelled regularly to Maribor to his premieres. This “regular” and “constant” audience is over and again surprised for Pandur always brings them entirely unexpected news.
But besides this group there are other numerous Pandur’s audiences, mutually very different and remote generationally, spatially, linguistically, culturally, historically, socially; equally numerous, faithful and delighted.
The reason for it lies certainly in Pandur’s relation towards spectators and audiences. For him, the work of directing always implicates an agreement with the cognitive processes of his spectators. Pandur pre-supposes a widest circle of diffuse audience, a circle of a large number of individual persons who enter the theatre hall from the highly theatrical urban streets, coming from different “event realities”; persons who live their worlds of reality as a mega reality show. Precisely because of that, he offers them theatre as a conducted and controlled process of evoking subjective realities, spaces of intimate universes and the palpable real life of their dreams and memories. It is in the onyric scenes of his theatre that Pandur always points to the very delicate complexity and fluidity of memory as event, as opposed to memory as process.
It was only recently that contemporary theatrology, confronted with the challenge of new media, has focused its attention to this important problem of understanding the mechanism of memory storage and the mutual relation with new technologies. In this light, it began to deliberate on the notion of mimesis in the theory of memory as one of the fundamental problems in understanding theatre reception and the perception practices of theatre spectators in contemporary world, but also a very important question in performance theory. Pandur’s relation towards communication with spectator and his method of evoking and reminding of emotional “triggers” provides outstanding analysis material for such a debate.
That, which is theoretically analysed in theatrology as memory on cognitive, (self)reflexive, historical and theatrical level, emerges in Pandur’s live theatre practice as a long ago tested and functional way of communicating with audiences. In my opinion, this is one of the main reasons why he has such delighted, devoted and numerous audiences in culturally very different parts of the world: he never addresses the audiences as pre-conceived consumers of certain aesthetics, poetics or spiritual content where one would seek common taste, a popular trend or collective conviction. Quite the contrary: he treats them by rule as large groups of mutually completely different individuals, addressing their cognitive and emotional storages, their memories and recognitions.
1. One hundred minutes
Tomaž Pandur's One hundred minutes inspired by «The Karamazov Brothers» are one hundred minutes of exaltation, one hundred minutes of Dostoyevsky's work distilled and his thought finally disclosed as agonizingly exciting – what a relief for the Great Russian's enthusiasts exhausted by the conscientious circling around the subject being passed for the ultimate reading. Those who do not think themselves close to Dostoyevsky's sentiment will nonetheless and without mistake understand the archetypal scenes shown and will be torn by the dilemma whether to deny or to accept them – the same predicament plaguing the stage where in the orgasmic spasm of pleasure and pain God and the absence of God coexist, both as strivings of that monstrous human strength, the same one that would cast the axe through time and forgive the tormentor with the yurodiva love of a victim. Leaving any immediate context out, Pandur stages only the Karamazovs: the three brothers – Dmitri, Ivan and Alexei – and the fourth, unrecognized, Pavel Fyodorovich Smerdyakov, then Karamazov the Father and the «wives», Karamazov by «marriage», and allows them to express their organic «karamazovness». The group of four is dominated by alpha male Dmitri who can barely contain his might. This force seeking outlet is counterbalanced only by Alyosha who sees beyond. In between these two poles Ivan, the theoretician who can not act, and his self-proclaimed disciple Smerdyakov pair off. As threesome, brothers, evoking death, circle round their parent with Smerdyakov feeding off his body, the servant in the possession of his master. In all of the formations the Father is strikingly alone, the lecher grasping pleasure with his dieing breath.
Women are told apart by the degree of rejection: Lisa Khokhlakova is seized by the paralyzing convulsions of unrequited desire, and her cries for Alyosha, her voice of one drowning can not but provoke pity, the ghastly emotion this men of God gives in return. His ecstasies which can not be shared, the bliss of light form the heart of darkness, is an apparition directly opposite to the one that makes Ivan, the son of the same yurodiva mother, tremble in fear. Katerina Ivanovna, like Lisa Khokhlakova, offers herself to the one she wants to submit to, but Dmitri, no longer desiring this willing prey, procures her to his brother and his impotence. Only Grushenka, the licentious, the besieged, the elusive beast will know how to receive Dmitri's savage love.
The script of One hundred minutes is composed of masterly selected passages from the novel, those fragments, utterances, motives that expose the characters to the core, reveal their innermost impulses. This does not impoverish the personae but elevates them to the realm of the poetic. For Example, «An Ardent Heart's Confession» from the Book Three «The Lechers», Dmitri's program and his plea to his sinless brother to absolve him from the sin he has not yet committed, becomes a highly emotionally charged spectacle, the revelation of human vulnerability, a thrilling exchange between the two equivalent extremes, the complicity of the two sides of the whole, the good and the evil. «I go on forward and I don't know whether I'm heading for shame and squalor or for joy and light, I don't know, I don't know... because I am a Karamazov, I don't know. If I throw myself into the abyss, I fall head on... for I am a Karamazov, brother. We Karamazov's are all like that. Beauty is such a horrible, awesome thing. That which is beautiful to the heart shames the mind. It is where the Devil and God are locked in struggle, with man's heart as the battlefield...» Significantly, Dmitri's monologue is followed by the fragment from the Book Seven «Alyosha» entitled «The Onion», portraying Alyosha, the boy, falling to the ground only to get up as a fighter ready to accept his mission on earth, which is to seek God where it is most conspicuously absent, in the revolting, corrupted face of the ferocious human beast. In between the minutely choreographed scenes from the novel Pandur gently installs his own texts, commentaries of a sort directed in a spectacle-like manner, putting, thus, the authors own persona on display. These show like elements are not felt as a deviation from the main course, but as an investigation into the options left to the individual inevitably caught into the course of events he wishes to resist.
Sebastjan Cavazza as Dmitri is that most romantic of fantasies, a noble savage. In perfect control of his masculine physique, his penetrating eyes burning, his voice seducing into consent, he is able to grab the handle of the axe and, if for a second, hold it still. It is impossible not to trust such passion and its claim to everything that comes its way. Alyosha played by Livio Badurina is the victory of spirit over flesh, a Karamazov in control of his passion, a Karamazov who has surrendered to a higher purpose, a Karamazov who levitates even if he isn't levitating, the one that walks in the light. And it isn't a small achievement to emanate a halo while mounting men on their knees or gang banging women together with one's brothers, the primal scene saturated in vodka fumes. Demon ridden Goran Šušljik as Ivan is the elegant commentator of the things obvious, the brother who holds back, the one who wants to quit, to renounce, to wash his hands, feeding fires as he goes, an arrogant philosopher in black leather boots spellbound by his own revolt. Felix Stroebel's embodies the unspeakable Smerdyakov – a son to «a demon and a saint», one degraded and excluded, the follower and the revolutionary, the killer with an ideological justification. Stroebl is innocently direct, focused and intense like a child, at the same time watching his torturers with naively adoring eye and alertly seeking the venue through which to approach them to receive the blows or to tear them to pieces and feed on their flesh.
Sonja Vukičević as Karamazov the Father, the human face in agony, the earth, the Death of a Swan, defies description. Old as time, alive in mortal coil, food to her offspring intoxicated by her poison she surpasses all circumstances of place and time.
True to the original, if politically incorrect, the heroines are there to serve their male counterparts' purposes, they follow after them caught in their revolutions without the luxury of choosing sides. The actresses Olga Pakalović as Lisa, Hristina Popović as Katerina Ivanovna and Vesna Milek as Grushenka play their respective roles with their bodies as their voices. Dark and opaque Vesna Milek, voluptuous and hoarse, creates an extraordinary, gipsy-like Grushenka, while Hristina Popović, her naked body pure and white, her blond hair loose, is Katerina Ivanovna incarnated as a sacrificial offering. Olga Pakalović spectacular acrobatics in the air, the twist and turns of her levitating body in the tumultuous love scene with Alyosha are so heart breaking that one can hardly breath.
Tomaž Pandur's One hundred minutes, unlike his earlier work which measured only fictitious time, the time of fiction, repeatedly refers to the present, to the so called reality. The claustrophobic game played outside time is ignited with blazing moving images by Mileusnić+Serdarević which, projected on the wall the protagonists climb in a Sisyphus-like effort, open before our eyes the space of history where this agony is endlessly reflected, multiplied. The sound recordings of actual events, eerie voices of people dead and alive, further consolidate this time/space dimension of which the present moment is an integral part. The sudden outbursts of Richard Horowitz' music make the adrenalin levels rise, effectively embedding the audience in here and now where the choreographed sequences keep them hypnotized. Those who know the visual splendor of Pandur's Scheherazade and other plays might be surprised by the austerity, even visual asceticism of One hundred minutes, but it is exactly this reduction to the essential that intensifies the experience. His aesthetics which do not shun taboo, but incorporate it within that which can, without controversy, be called beautiful, equally disturb those who love Pandur’s theatre and those who claim they hate it.
Pandur has that rare Orpheic gift that even the most indifferent soul would find hard to resist.
2. A gift of jouissance
In a world where the best one dares to expect is plaisir, the unexpected gift of jouissance one experiences when exposed to Pandur’s art, makes it a highly addictive substance. Since the definition of jouissance would be: the disruptive rapture experienced when transgressing limits, one must wonder what are the limits Pandur had to transgress to make us feel what we feel under his direction.
The limits that Pandur so smoothly crosses onstage are the boundaries between the separate elements that theater is made of. Everything on that stage is done to perfection and fitted impossibly close with everything else so that the outcome seems seamless − a newborn life that transcends its components. Costume melts with the human form, which immaculately articulates emotion in harmony of gesture and speech. The set, the light, the sound; all conspire to best service that focal point of our attention: human being stripped naked, barred to his core. There is no surplus on that stage, only the elegance of necessity.
The other boundaries that he gently dissolves are the boundaries within. He masterfully takes control of our senses and rearranges our perception so that we can receive his vision and surrender to it. The audiences are enslaved by the riches of the stimuli on their senses, and, thus, liberated from the terror of the reign of rational thinking. One is, at last, allowed to think from that place in the body where the soul is supposed to be, a thing one would never dare to attempt in the outside world.
Shockingly beautiful Madrid’s Infierno opens with an angel balancing a sphere hanged from the ceiling. Angel’s naked body is covered with white powder, presumably baby talc. As he moves, or, more accurately, as he engages in acrobatics which keep our eyes fixed on his beautiful male form, the scented dust from his body is dispersed throughout the air and the odor molecules find their way to our nostrils. Impulse from the nostrils to the brain… and we are disarmed, we are back to the innocent state of infancy from where we can be led into the world. And the world opens before our very eyes and our very ears. It is such world to which Angel would gladly fall.
The world on stage overflows us with its dark glow. The mirrored cubicle that is the set is peopled with glorious mortal flesh clad in costumes that dazzle our eyes − breathtakingly glamorous replicas of the 50-ies Dior gowns paired with strapped leather and chains. Each and every figure is sculptured so perfect that the eye can not decide to ever stop inspecting it, and is, in fact, captured within the boundaries of its sharp apollonian form. It is only the slow movement within the frame that reflects and multiplies, which directs our attention from one figure to another. That slow movement is not so much a gesture as it is an emotion finding expression in the body. A woman, holding the nipple of her naked breast, so cold and pale as to shame the jewels pressing her neck, is withholding desperation. The mask of her perfectly made up features is crowned with impeccable hair. The black silk of her gown is inseparable from her skin; it is as if her naked breast grows out of her dress as much as it grows out of her body and that breast is a fragile border between the harmony and order of the outside and the chaos of the inside. The costume is holding her up, while whatever is inside of her is tearing her down. She is very still, yet very intense. Her intensity is magnetic; we are drawn into her invisible frame. And in that frame, and right behind her, is a dark man with a dark purpose whose demonic presence is counterbalanced by the spark of ecstasy in a blond boy’s eye. A room full of men and women and all of them alone with their desires. There is intense beauty, and intense sorrow and they are inseparable. “Every time we say goodbye, I die a little”, the sad tune permeates the picture while the figures come to life and social interaction commences. It is now the life as we know it, but we are not; for we are hypnotized by the perfect harmony of sight and sound, relaxed, accepting and open to see it from a place within.
3. The substance of Pandur’s theater
In Caligula Pandur tells a story of a man who believed that the impossible was possible. Only, the others did not share his vision. Not only did they not share his vision, but they didn’t even understand the possibility of a vision. Yet we, the audiences, who are, statistically, more likely to be the “others”, then the ones having vision(s), do never, from moment one, doubt that what the onstage Caligula experiences are indeed visions. For we are freed from the rationality of the doubt as the play opens with Caligula ever so slowly appearing onstage, like a being materialized before our very eyes.
First there are only the Roman walls, so grand and bland, and fine a postament, and then, as the walls begin to move and a crack between them opens, a leg begins to appear. We are made watch Caligula being willed into existence inch by inch, until the whole of him is born out of the cold stone. Watching a hero being born naked into the world doesn’t leave much space to analysis of the meaning intended. A primal scene, and yet tuned to please the senses in every way, can not be transcended. It does not mean, it does not stand for something else. It is what it is, as painful and ecstatic as life itself.
Being forced to experience his birth in slow motion that relaxes the mind and the muscles, we react to it from our subconscious mind where our own primal experiences are stored. And it is not the kind of memory that can be told in words, but only in images and sensations. Images and sensations intense and pure, as are all of Caligula’s manifestations onstage. We must succumb to them, as they resonate within our soul. Livio Badurina as Caligula gives his body and his soul to the world, and it is impossible not to respond. A scene from Inferno in which Beatrice (Veronica Echegui) longs for her mortal body elicits the same kind of body and soul response. Clad in white dress made of real swan feathers (on object of beauty beyond words) she aches so much that the dress can not contain her anymore. When she penetrates herself with the heel of her shoe, it is not a violent scene that we observe, but liberation from the pain within. The carnality of the flesh and blood becomes poetic as we do not judge it, but we empathize. We feel what Beatrice feels, we feel what Caligula feels. There is no distance of the mind. But if we feel his visions, than we must also believe that the impossible is possible. And that’s what Pandur does for us: makes it possible to believe that the impossible is possible! To believe it, not because he has explained it to us, but because he has shown it to every cell in our body.
To be hypnotized doesn’t mean to be under someone else’s control or to give up control. It simply means that one’s conscious mind, the functions of which are to analyze information, make decisions and choices and exercise willpower, is relaxed, and one is, consequently, in a state of heightened suggestibility, that is, one is more capable of receiving thoughts, sensations and actions. One is responsive because once we manage to bypass the conscious mind we can speak directly to the subconscious mind. The subconscious mind is, of course, much more powerful than the conscious mind as it stores all experiences, all thoughts, all emotions, all memories. It also regulates the heart rate, respiration rate, sexual arousal and virtually every function of the body.
Pandur most certainly does not want his audiences to analyze, to make decisions or to exercise willpower. That is what one is forced to do when dealing with everyday life − when one is in the time present and in a determined place. Pandur wants us in the times past, present and future all at once, and he wants us in all of the places we have been or might be in. He doesn’t want us to discriminate and reject, but he wants us to let all of our emotions, our memories, our thoughts melt into one sensation, into joy and pain that are one. What he wants to show is not meant to be understood rationally, but to be experienced with all of our senses.
PANDUR’S BOOK OF DREAMS
by Darko Lukic, 1997
In 1989, when Tomaz Pandur’s author’s opus of great performances opened with Scheherezade, staged in Theatre Mladinsko in Ljubljana, critics coined a new term: Pandurtheater became a generally acceptable distinguishing label for his work. Regardless of whether this model of theatrical spectacle, the syncretic, erudite theatre with luxurious visual structure and intricate, complex construction has been praised and glorified (as has most often been the case), or exposed to negative criticism coming from the ranks of conservative theoreticians with preference for psychological realism or blind reverence of theatrical interpretations of dramatic texts, it remains an indisputable fact that Tomaz Pandur threw the glove to both theoreticians and critics when he was only twenty years of age, and that a theatrical style was named after him on the whole territory of the former Yugoslav state.
Scheherezade came like a film story about success. Tomaz Pandur had already staged other productions by that time, and some, like Kafka — Curriculum Vitae, received considerable attention in the media, but Scheherezade was his first really significant professional project which he took to the most prestigious theatrical festival in former Yugoslavia, the MES in Sarajevo, where it was presented in competition with the most distinguished and the most established theatre artists in the country; it won all the first prizes, laurel wreaths, it received the best reviews and was greeted with euphoric affection of the audience. The production then toured other festivals and evoked the same response everywhere it went. Its director, however, immediately set to work on his next project. Goethe’s Faust was an even greater success, followed by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Dante’s La Divina Commedia, Carmen, Russian Mission (based on the motifs by Dostoevsky), and Babylon as the final work — all of them as impressive and spectacular as their titles suggest. Pandur's perseverance in consistent realization of his directorial script, development of his method, and growing international acclaim (visiting performances in Mexico City, Caracas, Salzburg, Milan, St. Petersburg, Vienna, Brussels, Dresden, Graz, foreign co-productions, and an increasingly international group of artistic associates) were additional proof that Pandurtheater was a specific theatrical category in its own right.
In his role as director, Tomaz Pandur systematically built his productions as if they were the ivory tower of his private theatrical dream. As artistic director he created a major theatrical destination on the map of Europe from an anonymous and irrelevant bourgeois repertory theatre, skillfully bringing together directors, writers, scenographers, choreographers, costume designers, and actors from totally different environments, different generations, with different aesthetic concepts and styles. In addition to a very successful management and development of this new impressive theatre, he continued working on his own projects which were gradually with certainty developing into one great polyptych, a fresco of the encyclopedia of the dreams from which the phenomenon of Pandurtheater is made up. For seven years he was the head and the creative force of the theatre company. The seven-year span is a natural, a priori determined life cycle. There are seven days in a week; the sevenfold numerological structure of time periods has its foundation in the very act of Divine creation and reflects the mathematical perfection of the World in all other micro spheres of existence. The constants of his style and language hold a specific place in this peculiar, systematically conceived unity; it is precisely for this reason that the encyclopedia seems to be the only proper frame of reference within which this impressive cycle can be discussed.
Speaking about the directorial opus of Tomaz Pandur one invariably has to refer to the seven-fold polyptych of his performances: Scheherezade, Faust, Hamlet, Carmen, La Divina Commedia (Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso) Russian Mission and Babylon. All seven performances may be discussed as a unity, but we have to look separately at some of the fundamental elements of Pandur’s directorial code in order to understand the significance of the unity of his entire work, and of each individual performance. Hoping to answer all the questions, or to cover a whole range of motives here would be an impossible task to achieve: my exposition will therefore be limited to the most typical and the most essential — everything that defines Tomaz Pandur’s as a director with a highly authentic, unique personal script.
Dreams is the principal key word. All seven performances give the impression that they should be read as a book of dreams. The next key word is numerological structure, for I am not aware of any other directors anywhere in the world, with the exception of Tomaz Pandur and Gabrielle Vacis, to have based their construction of a dramaturgical libretto in a theatre performance on numerological structure and on numerological encoding. Thirdly, the symbolism and references in Tomaz Pandur’s stage productions, as well as his use of the ritualistic and magical on the stage, can only be grasped as a shrewdly planned and consistent, systematic structure in the context of culture and civilization.
We should know that the Dream is a path whose knowledge is liberating, even though it may appear to be only a chimera leading us on. from “The Wind of Dreams”, a Tibetan book of dreams
Chimera and dream images constitute a frequent and regular element of Pandur’s moving pictures, in which symbolism functions as dramaturgy.
THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF DREAMS
ANGELS — Pandur’s, melancholic
Notwithstanding its unmistakable symbolism or personal presence in the fine arts or poetry, where it appears as a reflection of beatitude and beauty of the promised garden of paradise, the Angel in the books of dreams of ancient civilizations signifies a messenger of a misfortune. Angels in Pandur’s productions take on the most different forms, depending on the background of culture and civilization and on the extent of interdependence of conditional reality and phantasmagory. Both terms are only provisional, of course — not merely on account of the frequently transposed notion of reality in the theatre, but also because Pandur himself resolutely refuses to accept a clear-cut division between what is fictional and what is real. His systematic production of fiction distinguishes between formal and actual differences of the real and imaginary world, doubting both worlds so to speak — both of which are so clearly different in rational and rationalistic treatments.
Dante provided a suitable frame of reference for staging La Divina Commedia as a theatrical triptych that speaks of the eschatological world in which apparitions and entities from the hereafter form “the real”. In this realm, angels are not sudden, symbolism laden with otherworldly apparitions come to the reality of the “here-and-now”. They are a reality in their own right, a sphere enclosed in another one, where only Dante himself as the sole living mortal takes on the form of an apparition, a chimera, a ghost, and — if you will — of an angel. The situation is typical of Pandur’s work: once we have crossed over into the other world, leaving behind us the quotidian reality of the “real” world of material phenomena, the whole system of relations is altered. Angels in paradise are a naked daily occurrence, while a living mortal seems to be an odd apparition from another world. Still, how does Pandur really perceive paradise and its angels? His vision is a theatrical one, no doubt about that; it is a reflection of the metaphor of earthly reality of his own theatricality. The baroque gardens of Louis XIV with choreographed strolls and theatrically pompous music reminiscent of Lully, the slowly progressing current of time in Eden’s infinity, the floating “slow motion” of theatrical non-action (for the highest beatitude and bliss allow no place for action) where the scene is all set for the metamorphosis of the greatest love that was ever transcended into a metaphysical category — that of Dante and Beatrice. From maddening passion on Earth and the desperate search through Inferno it unfolds to the anticipation of hope in Purgatorio, to be finally transformed into a crystal-clear Victorian conversation of a blissed-out (and therefore senseless) human couple in Paradiso, in one of the most melancholy theatrical scenes I have ever witnessed on stage, in the melancholy perfection of the cold purity of Love that has been cleansed of everything human, of Love which has thus left the recesses of the human heart and become a perfect symbol, poetry itself. The power of human sadness is enhanced a hundred-fold with the presence of angels, the futility of their endless minuet, their subtle floating; angels of gold and azure, baroque and senseless angels in the scene with Dante and Beatrice.
The vision of melancholy angels freed of human passion, pain, misfortune, but also bereft of joy, resumes at the close of Russian Mission, when it is transported into heaven. In Russian Mission, the Paradise — quite unlike the crystal and baroque paradise of The Divine Comedy, the apotheosis that leads to the reconciliation of all quarrelling parties, forgiveness to all trespassers, and — consequently — the state of absolute childlike innocence that befalls prince Myshkin as the outcome of purification when he becomes the “Idiot” — that paradise is frozen in ice! A white icy expanse, where time itself has frozen in slow motion literally stops, in the form of scenic intervention, the current of time to indicate the subjective state of bliss in which time has no duration, only existence. In Russian Mission we see angels mingling with mortals whose earthly life would never, regardless of all Christian austerities, qualify them for Paradise, for the ultimate farewell of prince Myshkin, an almost theological glorification of the idea of mercy, has freed the sinners from the bonds of human weakness through the infinite grace possessed solely by Christ, and Myshkin himself is the centerpiece of Eden on whose surface the once sinful angels drift like perfect white idealizations of their own melancholy selves.
The space where he feels as safe as if in his only reality is the world of storytelling. His opus opens with the Scheherezade, the legendary storyteller from the Arabian tales of a Thousand and One Arabian Nights, whose life and existence is likewise a tale. Faust was inspired by many medieval folk tales and legends told about “the Devil’s apprentice”. Shakespeare found his Hamlet in the world of tales. Carmen originates in the storytelling world of Gypsies, and Babylon is, like the Scheherezade, a web of tales from the ancient East. Towards the end of Russian Mission, Dostoevsky is surrounded with the iconography and symbolism of old Russian folk tales, and La Divina Commedia literally inhabits the reality of storytelling. Escape, and choice of a fairytale-like structure with canon-like schematism and at the same time an absolutely open realization of images on the other end — this is the structure of dramaturgy models in which he moves safely. In his productions, Pandur basically sees the world of real life and real relationships through a fairytale structure with fundamentally filtered relationships (… once upon a time there lived a prince with a good father and a wicked mother…), through archetypes and prototypes; having created the dramaturgic structure on such models, he develops it from a frame that is firm enough to facilitate an absolute ease and freedom in spinning a dream in all directions and in every possible way. Owing to what seems to be a deep discontent with the real world, he handles it as a distant recollection, and deconstructs it into its (real) integral parts, only to restore it again according to his own will and purpose, within the framework of his absolutely new (unreal) relations.
The ancient Babylonian book of dreams lists the image of a Ghost as one of the key and most dangerous predictions of great change in the life of a dreamer; its presence may be connected to a bloody murder, or one’s own death. Wasn’t it the ghost in the tower, among other things, that changed Hamlet’s leisurely and melancholy intellectual life into a hellish mental state, and caused the misfortune and death? Ghosts are quite common and frequent in Pandur’s productions, just like Angels, for in the world of “new reality” it is the director who decides on what would become real when he creates his own reality. Spirits are legitimate, real creatures and phenomena. With the exception of Hamlet, where the dramaturgic (and literary) function of the Ghost has been predetermined by the text, and of Faust, where Mefisto himself triggers a flood of hallucinations from his world as active participants in the story, or in La Divina Commedia where Dante meets an entire encyclopedia of souls and ghosts on his journey through the eschatological history of the western civilisation — Pandur introduces ghosts into texts in which there were originally none. In Carmen, Salvador Dalí appears as a most transparent ghost of an age and its spirituality, on a bicycle that looks as if it had been designed by Picasso; all through the Scheherezade and Babylon, it is the act of crossing over into the world whose space, civilization, and spiritual dimension are distant and unknown, which materializes the ghosts of time, as well as the ghosts of culture and religions from the East, as an almost exclusive “reality” of characters.
A HORSE — you cannot get away on Pandur’s Hamlet opens with a grand scene of motionless, hesitant, inactive Hamlet by the side of a real white horse, a necessary requisite for every fairytale prince. As the scene’s inaction lingers on, somebody else, the active hero of the story, is about to mount the horse, while Hamlet is bound to remain a character who has left the option of departing slip by, out of his reach. In Babylon, six golden riders climb on oversized, albeit not real horses, and dance on their backs like possessed without moving on at all, for the horses turn out to be only models of real animals. (The same significance applies to the train which, like “horse power”, takes off into the circle at the end of Russian Mission — like a model of a real train, and Mishkin does not move anywhere, not even for an inch.) If we look at the color symbolism of horses, given in the apocalyptic “Book of Revelations” of St. John which concisely summarizes the meanings from all ancient civilizations, and take into account the comprehensive psychoanalytical explanation of the fundamentally erotic symbolism of the horse (which refers to male eroticism even in the oldest legends and myths), we find the key to proper reading and understanding of Pandur’s opus which is, above all, a deep introspection and an intimate psychoanalytic self-observation. To Pandur, theatre is first the means of psychoanalysis and therapy for both the director and the actors, and only then a web of carefully conceived and selected symbolism, closely linked with mythology. What brings us back to Pandur’s deep sadness, tinged in the mood of his most intimate confessions on stage (all intricately hidden in the labyrinths of symbolism, encoding, metaphors, and stylisations), is the fact that nobody ever departs anywhere on those horses. The ancient Arabic proverb that says “there is no horse so swift one could run away from oneself” is here embodied in theatre poetics.
The cross, which is much older than Christianity itself, is one of the fundamental symbols of human civilization at large. We find the two lines crossing one another at a right angle among the earliest tracks of the hand of Homo Sapiens on the cave walls. Sumerian cuneiform writing, hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt, Phoenician script, symbols of the old Incas, Mayas, and Azteks, animist African tribes; China, Japan, the civilization of the Semitic basin, Eskimos, etc. — this, so easily drawn symbol of the metaphysics which is key to the understanding of the world, is known everywhere. The vertical and the horizontal, the four corners of the earth, the connection between life and death, the Latin numeral for ten, the multiplication mark, and another hundred or thousand explanations that all made fertile ground to have imprinted this sign since the 5th century A.D., connected with Christ’s passion, into spiritual, mystical, cultural, and occult symbolism of the whole western civilization. Through the course of history of mankind, the simplest and clearest of visual symbols has become the focal point of the most complex and the most profound symbolism, metaphysics, esoteric knowledge, mysticism and magic. How could Pandur not have used it so often, and as a rule in the most various and polysemous forms! In Pandur’s theatrical images the cross always has a precise symbolical structure and connotation that conditions the framework and the concept of the scene, although it is always absolutely different, be it in Faust, Russian Mission, La Divina Commedia, or in Carmen.
In all his performances the theme of death and death scenes on the stage are the source of Pandur’s fascination and deep mystical inspiration. In his directorial script, the motifs of the metaphysically mystical and the poetic are profoundly linked together by the symbol of death and the ever present, but changing theatrical representations of death connected with water, fire, a kiss, violence and blood, or with a slow and silent departure into eternity, from the fall into abyss to the resurrection in heaven. Pandur perceives death as something entirely different from a mere cessation of functions of the vital organs in the human body, and has inscribed this personal belief in all of his productions as one of the most characteristic constants. If he has shown, in so many places and so many times, his refusal to accept the differences and divisions between “this” and “the other” world, why should the moment of dying, as one of the most visible and most direct borderlines, be taken as an irrevocable reality? “To die, to sleep, perchance to dream… ” Shakespeare’s poetisation of death in Hamlet’s contemplation, as well as its philosophical examination, is a constant, continual obsession in each of Pandur’s solutions of death on the stage, as if the notion of death — what it is and how it appears, what remains after it, what begins with it and why — had to be submitted each time to theatrical scrutiny. Each scene of death and dying has been assigned a special place in every one of Pandur’s productions, and set up in such a way as if he himself took part in the process of dying. Yet death is also the point of rebirth at which Pandur’s theatre actually begins.
WATER — elementary substance 02
The Purgatory in La Divina Commedia is, literally, the pool of purification in which the actors swim and dive in water. In Babylon, we find the water-, milk-, or blood-filled pool occupy the focal point of the scenographic solution of acting space; a strong torrent of rain washes out and purifies the red-hot stage, changing it into mud after a biblical deluge. In Faust, actors and spectators are separated by a curtain of falling water. In Russian Mission, books have been sunk into the pool on the proscenium… With the exception of Carmen, where the scorching dryness of the Spanish zenith screaming for moisture that doesn’t come marks the absence of water as its presence, most of Pandur’s performances float on water, one of the most powerful symbols of life and death, and one of the elementary substances of which the Earth, and the life on it, is composed.
In Pandur’s theatrical expression, the image of earth as one of the most ancient symbols of life and fertility, and consequently of the fundamental symbol of femininity in all mythologies, is as omnipresent as water and fire. In Carmen, the sublimed, condensed feminine eroticism, everything takes place on earth upon whose surface signs and furrows are drawn — in the beginning of the civilisation, a furrow signified female sexual organs. In Pandur’s creations we find a single powerful symbol take on the key meaning and the function of a motif that fundamentally defines the mise-en-scene and dramaturgical encoding. In Russian Mission, the earth symbolizes the ground and the home — the ground under one’s feet in the sense of the resting place of the beloved dead, who were in fact alive in the first part of the performance, the ground out of which the grass springs. In Babylon, everything is covered with red soil out of which the civilization grew between the two great rivers, and later on the one along the Nile, the soil that brings forth green stems and fruit, the soil of the red-burnt bricks used to build palaces and towers, the soil made fertile by floods where you find the tracks of horses and winds, the soil which is literally the mother of a whole civilisation — and is also represented like one, with an exquisite directorial approach.
From the oldest myths to modern psychoanalysis, the snake is an exclusive symbol of male, phallic sexuality. Ridden with biblical connotations of Satan’s challenge, the original sin, danger, and menace, poetically represented in the legend about Cleopatra’s suicide, and connected with many magical rituals, the symbol of the snake is equally connected with life as it is with death, and is singularly charged with a wide range of different connotations and associations. In Pandur’s stage poetics it reveals a fascination with the experience of the Female as an exciting danger, seductive eroticism, a magical and ritualistic beast, a polysemous symbol and a stage signifier applied by the director in a discreet, but sagacious and precise manner, in the appropriate place.
THE NUMBER — CONTAINED IN THE FOUNDATION OF THE STRUCTURE
The numbers hold the key to all mysteries, known only to him who knows what’s in a dream and what in wakefulness, and there is no dream without its number, as there is no light in a dream, nor in a wakeful state, and no truth in anything that could not be found in the Book of Numbers. The Book of Numbers, the ancient Egyptian papirus on numerology
A superficial, fleeting look at Pandur’s opus suffices to find that numerological relations and the numerological principles applied cannot be accidental; they represent a well-studied and judiciously selected system originating from the esoteric knowledge of mystical symbolism of numbers which forms the basis of his directorial approach.
In all civilizations, 7 was considered a holy number — in ancient Egypt, India, Mesopotamia — and it carried an especially occult and magical meaning in Islam. In the context of the western Judeo-Christian civilization which has absorbed hellenic influences (and through them the entire East), this number has become an integral element of the art and culture — the seven days of creation, the seven phases of the Moon, the seven cycles in a human life, the seven gods on the Olympus, the seven deadly sins, the seven Christian virtues, the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven holy sacraments, the seven liberal arts in the classic system of the antique and medieval science, the seven sorrows of Virgin Mary, and the seven seas and seven mountains as a metaphor for a symbolic journey in all the stories and legends of the West. The most recent anthropological, medical, psychological and sociological research confirms that the seven-day or the seven-year cycle in the life of human kind really is the natural sequence of periods in a man’s life and endeavour. Moreover, it represents the most optimal period of focused activity in a specific area which has to be followed by a new cycle, as the previous one inevitably declines.
Bearing in mind that Scheherezade and Babylon, the first and the last production, are both based on the text by the same author, writer and poet Ivo Svetina, and that both deal with oriental myths and legends, the cycle symbolically closes very much like the image of a snake biting its tail. There is no place for coincidence within this numerological structure.
The circle forms the Occult Apex, the place of creation and disappearance, the point of the beginning and the end offering the possibility of a new beginning and an absolute finality, completion of the seven-fold cycle.
3 is the key number for Pandur, and will be given additional consideration as part of the cultural and civilisational context of his opus.
The topics may be classified as follows:
Carmen with its Gypsy metaphors and its content joins both cultures, the East and West, and does not exclusively belong to either one or the other because it contains the distinctive qualities of both.
Time-wise, the productions make up a triad:
For an understanding of the system of Triads in Pandur's concept of work, his philosophy and belief in theatrical mysticism, one has to be familiar with the so-called "linking elements". As a rule, Pandur connects the two opposing dualities by introducing a linking device which connects them to the third element — and the static function of the 2 thus progresses to the dynamic nature of 3. The cultural and territorial duality of the East (Scheherezade, Babylon, and the oriental Carmen) and the West (Faust, Hamlet, La Divina Commedia) is linked to Russian mission which acts as a spatial connection between Europe and Asia, and the spiritual, cultural and civilisational communication of the Asian East and the European West. From the aspect of the content, the irreconcilable duality of God and Devil is overcome by adding the third view, that of Man. Good and the Evil are transcended by Art, Rationalism and Phantasma meet in the third angle of Magic, the civilisation gap of the New World caught between Religion and Atheism is bridged by Agnosticism and Esoteric science. No wonder, if Pandur is fascinated by the power of the perfect number 3. In India, it signifies the triplicity of supreme gods ruling the world, in the Christian world it symbolizes the Holy Trinity, in Greece we have three brothers of the Olympian ruler of the heaven, the sea, and the underworld, who carry attributes of triple meaning in their hands; apparently, this number is associated with God and the symbol of the Divine Perfection and the Perfection of the World — it contains the origin, the middle portion, and the end. It represents the perfect balance of a triangle — from dramaturgical, mathematical, occult and mystical point of view, and marks the entire Pandur's work, singling him out as one of the rare European directors with the sense for the esoteric. And now, let us take a closer look at the context of civilization and culture and the place it occupies in Tomaæ Pandur’s directorial opus.
Thus we reach the thematic circle of questions posed by the director. How is reality related to fiction? What does the interrelationship between the artist, the world, and the art consist in? Where does the dividing line connecting the subconscious, dreams, and artistic creation run? What situation does contemporary man find himself in when relating to his own spiritual heritage and the correspondence of civilizational strata?
Such a cycle of questions logically points to the choice of the greatest authors of all. The greatness and the significance of these geniuses makes one engage in a battle with an invincible opponent; however, the director does not act like a barbarian wishing to fight and slay his enemy. (Besides, they are not his enemies but spiritual allies.). This aristocratic approach to the duel values more the reputation of a skillful fighter, who should prove himself as the one who performs “un bel colpo di fioretto”, than the victory or the blood of the opponent, since a duel, in the noblest sense of the word, involves the question of personal honour and respect, the opponent being just the end justifying the means. If Goethe is a true “teacher of all modern souls” (Taine), if he is the last universal genius of Europe, Privy Councillor, and a member of the Masonic Lodge Anna Amalia based on the principles of Euro-liberalism — inspired by Shakespeare and the Bible — is it not logical then that finding himself at a crossroads considering what possible ways to take, the director turns to Hamlet and La Divina Commedia? Although Faust may be a dream about the world, a cosmic drama, a cosmogon of the contemporary European conception of the world, the director needs Hamlet to answer the questions relating to the issues which leave such inheritance to the contemporary heritage, to the fundamentally disoriented generation. Peter Brook is undoubtedly right in claiming that as far as Shakespeare is concerned the easiest way to discover something new is to read his plays without prejudice. Therefore, Pandur takes just a few motifs from the story of Hamlet: the intellectual and spiritual superiority of the prince, his conceited disgust for what is actually happening, and for the banality of the event itself, so brutal when compared to his sophisticated reasoning; his erotic duet is sung within the emotional triangle of Hamlet, Ophelia and Horatio to which the director adds a weariness of his own generation having waited for the answer to the question “To be or not to be?” for two millennia. And what a challenge for the director can then Dante's fascinating world beyond death be, the world we all (including the director and both great poets, Virgil and Dante) are taken through by Scipio Jr. Here too, the director will free himself from the brilliant Dante — as he has done with Goethe and Shakespeare — using him just as an inspiration to guide him along the ways of his own stage investigations.
An agent for the CBS company had long been asking Fellini to make a film of “The Divine Comedy”, claiming that since Fellini was one of the greatest Italians, he “is obliged to explain Dante to the Americans”. One of the greatest connoisseurs of Dante, professor Jacqueline Risset, said to Fellini, “Only you can do it!” The master, however, never decided to do it, excusing himself with “not being capable of doing it”, since he felt intimidated by the “terrible forms which surround us, the meaning, sense, and intention of which we cannot recollect any longer. This is both the hell as well as the eternal bliss of a complete unawareness at the same time, since we ourselves are turning into various things — into a blossom, the sea, the eyes of a woman, a bird in the sky — we are everything created, the secret rose, the center of paradise...” The very thing that stopped Fellini instigated Pandur. So Hell, a loco selvaggio, Paradise, the center of bliss — bridged by the enchantment of the stage — Beatrice Portinari, “Beato, anima bella, chi ti vede” in Dante’s own elevated verses, and Scipio Jr., all tell the story, taking us through the eschatological labyrinth of pictures. Theater is the key with which Pandur tries to break the sign code of the world and open the door to the labyrinth of questions. This is the basic code in which the universe is reflected — including the script of Scheherezade as well as the choreography of Walpurgis Night and Scipio’s comments — and which, like the Mousetrap, releases Hamlet by explaining him through the language of theater.
Although it is difficult to attach a formula to Pandur's directorial approach, the most accurate definition of it seems to be that it is the creation of unreality evoked by a reconstruction of the elements of reality. Not distortion of the elements of reality, just their re-arrangement — the elimination of real links and the establishment of unreal relationships among them, creating a new, re-shaped reality, that functions in an unreal way, as a new (sur)reality. The method has a great deal in common with Dalí. Is there anything in the pictures of Salvador Dalí which does not exist in iself in the reality of the real world? No! The clock, the elephant, the house - such as they exist in reality - are painted in an almost hyper-realistic manner. But do such relationships contain any of these elements? The flying and climbing elephants have unusually long legs, casting optically impossible shadows; the clock dripping like a melting ice-cream, or hanging on a tree as a pancake, or else curving over the edges of a table; houses hanging among the clouds? This method is translated into the real world, the system of relationships being completely phantasmagoric. If (in his own time) Picasso made a bull out of a bicycle, today Pandur responds back by making a bull out of his bicycle again, putting bulls horns where Picasso saw the reversed handlebar.
The most fascinating feature of this directorial procedure is the aforementioned symbolic strength of the triangle and the tripartition of the primal elements, water, fire and air (above the earth and in it). No Pandur’s performance lacks fire, water (in whatever form), and air, which is visualized by way of evaporation. All his figures are exposed to fire, or water or are hovering in the air, the consistency of the symbolic puzzle revealing the fundamental features of his directorial procedure. Beauty and Death, yet another of the darknesses constantly alarming Pandur and leading him from Scheherezade to Babylon, from Faust to Hamlet and Carmen until, like in the case of Ana Karenina’s suicide, everything collapses under the wheels of a train. All his crucial figures function within triangles: Hamlet/Ophelia/Horatio; Faust/Margareta/Mephisto; Faust/Christ/Prometheus; Dante/Beatrice/Virgil; Dante/Virgil/Scipio Jr.; Carmen/Don José/Escamillo; Rogozhin/Nastasya Filippovna/Myshkin; Nin/Shamurammata/Adad... They work as a triad brought into action by a duality which complements it to Perfection — the Holy Trinity, a double triad of David's star, the triad of the perfect equillibrium.
The statically defined dualities of God and Man, Man and Woman — move out of the eternal datum only with the help of a symbolic triad, a total all-embracing contextualization of Hermaphrodite, due to which the latter is naturally sterile. This does not matter though, since perfection does not need reproduction, or else it would lose its perfection. Duality is the ideal condition for watching and understanding, so the triangle is translated from clearness and namelessness into symbolic mysticism, since duality does not admit pausing or overpowering. The Aristotelian inexorability of the principle tertium non datur suffices for logic as well as science. In art, however, it is this third factor which alters every creation and every expression.
The next characteristic in Pandur's procedure is his obsession with myth and symbol. Great myths and crucial symbols represent ciphers, containing and involving the mystic experience of the Universe — the signs which Pandur constantly tries to decipher on stage, convinced that by doing so he will be able to decipher the hidden magical formulae which are beyond the reach of mortals.
RECOGNIZABLE INFLUENCES — THE BROTHERHOOD OF IMAGES
There is no artist in the world worth a thorough consideration in a book who would not include in his poetics the heritage of experiences and achievements of his best contemporaries and predecessors; as there is no serious doctor, who would for the sake of his love for autochtonism, intentionally overlook or even re-invent penicillin, the x-ray apparatus, or the laser scalpel — only because somebody else has invented them before him. The only advantage the arts have derived from the so-called post-modernism (supposing we have conditionally accepted its existence) is that it has, with a wooden stake, fatally wounded modernism, that vampiric romanticism cherishing the cult of absolute originality and independence, and barbarically suffocating all heritage and tradition.
Pandur's theatrical language clearly suggests the use of the devices of the Totaltheater, which he does with a detached openness towards all other known devices of stage representation. In Scheherezade he tests the scenic inventions of the Beijing opera, kathakali, at times even kabuki, as well as cothurns and masques, the heritage of the ancient Greek theater on which European theatrical experience is based. In Hamlet a Mousetrap is staged in the tradition of the Spanish Golden Epoch. In Paradiso a luxurious Lully's minuet adapted for the theater animates the performance, and an almost authentic reproduction of the ballet from the time of Louis XIV is introduced; in Inferno the experience of the European theater of the Middle Ages, ranging from the masonic concept of the stage space and the movement of groups around the stage to the technical solution of the late Middle Ages used for personnages, as well as spectacular receptions of important persons at the markets and in front of the palaces, are introduced. There are also the ballet (baroque and white ballet), ritual dance, tango and flamenco, as well as Nijinski, Martha Graham, and the language of music, which while used in individual performances, are all an essential aspect of Carmen. Pantomime and acrobatics, such para-theatrical forms as the antique arena and circus, the video-clip technology summarizing the experience of theater and film, design and installation, happenings and fashion shows, even bullfights — all appear in a play, being the constants in the director's handwriting. The director, feeling claustrophobic within the given theatrical medium, applies all the above-mentioned devices of other media, in order to describe his experience of the theater, as a tendency towards the totality of the world, which he tries to understand or at least experience through stage representation itself as a kind of mystic experience.
Let us now consider the issue of Pandur's personal understanding of theater. If the aforementioned symbols represent the basis of the Universe, they also reflect the basic features of man being a part of this universe; its very special part, no doubt. Pandur therefore tries to find the mystic experience of the universe deep inside himself, while trying to free himself from all the layers of his civilizational travel ration with the help of artistic endeavor. If the World is the cumulation of all worlds, man being burdened with the weight of the experience of the human history being part of them, then it is only natural that he tries to understand the universe by himself, from himself, and through himself. For Pandur, theater is the key to that understanding, as for other authors it may be the key to something else. Nevertheless, following his mystic-religious understanding of the theater, Pandur experiences it as a house of God containing the transcendence itself, as well as the place where he can dream freely. Given the conviction that all the mystic experience of the world is gathered and buried somewhere deep in the self, and that dreams throw light on the unconscious too, artistic narcissism is only a natural, and the only possible way of dealing with the world through the self. The demystification of all great myths and the account of a myth according to one's own concept, experience, and needs, demands a bold indifference towards prejudice and dogma, and even towards the notorious facts of reality. An indifference to everything but one's own dreams, which prove to be a good servant and a rude master at the same time. Pandur's theater, then, is a guide through the images of dreams, the encyclopedia of dreams in which individual dream images are merely particles of the one whole.