Grgo Zečić on the premiere of Tomaž Pandur’s Michelangelo




Livio Badurina is not a human being. This is the first conclusion one draws upon leaving the Croatian National Theatre and stepping onto Zagreb’s night breeze. Badurina can not be a human being for that would mean he is explainable and definable. The stunning performance Livio enacts in the newest theatre piece of Slovene born director Tomaž Pandur belongs to some other dimension, which we so rarely experience that we actually boundlessly fear it. Yes, Badurina is an actor. But he is also a conceptual artist, a ritual priest, a dark shaman, a gracious beast who produces fear, admiration and disbelief. How else should we describe his interpretation of Michelangelo under Pandur’s baton? In a certain moment Badurina becomes so surreal that you feel excited and uneasy for you are witnessing something completely unfamiliar to your conventional, besieged eye.


It would be false to say that Pandur “adapted” the play by Miroslav Krleža from 1919, for we witness, from the first minute to the last, an exclusive vision of a director who always raises the room-temperature. Pandur seized Krleža’s Michelangelo and, using Badurina as a medium, transformed it into a creation of light and darkness, mania and depression, the infantile and the lascivious. In the first minutes Badurina seduces us with a boyish uncertainty, which in a sudden shock demystifies everything we thought we knew about the great artist. Michelangelo is a maniac torn between his own genius and the insanity of another, which, amongst others is witnessed by his possessive and equally insane lover, played by Romano Nikolić.

This young man from Dubrovnik is Pandur’s discovery, whose extraordinary talent continues to shine from season to season and whose passion is on the stage in a state of explosion. With Adrian Pezdirc and Jure Radnić, Nikolić is one of the talents of the new generation whom Pandur pushes to the utmost limits of their own youth. What’s more, Pandur throws them in his arena, which doesn’t know mercy, only the constant lessons of the neo-liberal theatre education. Pandur’s Michelangelo represents the hybrid of postmodern heresy and a visual orgy which doesn’t cease to stop provoking and pushing the buttons of your moral system. All of the mighty religious institutions will find their only satisfaction in burning Pandur at the stake in front of the same Croatian National Theatre which he “desecrated”. Yesterday we witnessed one of the heaviest and most intimate of Pandur’s pieces. There is no use in debating “where is Krleža and where Pandur”, no use to dwell on the magnificent scenography, the masterful light or perfect music… It is necessary to strip all of that and concentrate on the naked truth of Pandur’s Michelangelo.

Before we felt the sulphurous vapor of this erotically charged piece, it was obvious that Pandur will christen us with a water of his own. And it is water, that dark water, which is Pandur’s favourite motif. Water as a blessing and as a curse, a christening and death. This small pool in which Michelangelo is drowning and surfacing is mystical. With Pandur water is the symbol of the end and of the beginning, the magical element emitting fear when it is unified with darkness.


This intense relationship with the motif of water (and also with fire) was also shared by Andrei Tarkowsky in his work, with which Tomaž Pandur’s is as if intertwined. In “The Mirror”, Maria is drowning with her hair let loose in a dramatic deluge flowing through the whole room. No doubt this is one of the most mysterious and intriguing scenes in film history. The plot of “Nostalgia” is set in the middle of an ancient bathhouse whose steam and waters obsess the worn out writer Andrei Gorchakov. And finally, who can forget the last sequence of that mystical pool in the legendary “Stalker”?

At first glance Pandur in his watery world questions the complex relationship of Michelangelo toward the Catholic church. A relationship in which opposing sides are allegedly united due to a higher cause. In this context Pandur offers us a whole sequence of open provocations. But all of this is only “at first glance”. One quickly realizes how behind the sometimes trivial provocation subtler, more dangerous and dogmatic provocations emerge, which are not aimed solely against the Catholic faith, but at the relationship between the divine and the human. Michelangelo is therefore a heretic, a bipolar madman and homosexual who fulfills the wishes of those who represent divine power. What’s more, in order to cleanse all of his sins, the believers and their shepherds will claim that he was guided by a divine hand. Well, what if this hand never was? What if that which we call divine came from his mania, heresy and orgy? Does the divine exist then? By asking these questions we are closing in on the edge under which we sense the vapours of Hades.


Pandur’s attack is not a heresy we are used to, but a heresy, which we fear. The orgy mentioned is not physical but visual and spiritual, Pandur attacks with all his might, when we see Badurina bending and torturing his body as if the Opus Dei would be overseeing him. Here lies the complex part of this conceptual performance, which strikes at our weakest points.

That more personal part of Pandur is hidden in the second most important element of his work: the male body. In Michelangelo an array of actors with perfect bodies parade before us, whom Pandur always used as his flexible sculpture of secrets. His (un)conscious obsession with a young, perfect body is not as trivial as the director wishes to present to us. Pandur in reality doesn’t want to be known and he hides in his own labyrinth of elaborate ideas. His obsession with youth is a pistol aimed at all of us, for is there something purer and more natural that the wish to stay young forever? The looks of desire from the audience unto the stage are the gaze of raw human instinct, that animal-like in us, which is tattooed into our genetic code. Between Pandur’s heaven and earth, the human and the divine – the body positions itself. The male, erotic, young, tense and above all prohibited body.


While Pandur provokes our consciousness with visual bombs, he challenges our subconscious with hidden messages. Youth is man’s greatest weakness from which vanity, passion, ambition and ego emerge… Pandur sets this perfect young body against what we won’t define as divine. Why can’t Michelangelo’s Christ have a good body? What are we ashamed and afraid of? Will we demystify our whole concept of faith if we behold Christ as a man with an athletic body? The moment where three young priests divest their robes and shine with their athletic bodies, buckle and pose on the scaffolds above Badurina, reminded me of the controversial Leni Riefenstahl and her controversial “Olympia”. Riefenstahl like Pandur has hailed all the beauties of the male body in a context which was morally and ethically questionable. In fact Leni died with the title of the most famous directress of Hitler’s Germany.


Here lies the key which opens the heavy metal doors behind which you can behold the connection of this piece and why it is so personal when we speak of the director. Suddenly everything makes sense. Leni Riefenstahl is accused of glorifying Nazism using the perfect Arian body. Michelangelo is accused of glorifying heretic lust using the male naked body. And as the last piece of the puzzle: Tomaž Pandur was accused of sensationalism many times in his carrier, because of young athletic bodies on his stage. Fascism, heresy and sensationalism. These are the daughters of the same mother, whom Pandur demonically called on stage last night, in order to force us out of our comfort zone and ask questions regarding the divine, the human and the dogmas, which are not as holy, final and untouchable as they were proposed to be.

Grgo Zečić, buro 24/7, 2. 9. 2013