Zoltán Balázs' Sarajevo production won the Golden Mask Award!

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, at the 63rd MESS International Theater Festival, representatives of the press and critics awarded Zoltán Balázs' Sarajevo production with the Golden Mask Award. An important role in the justification of the recognition was played by the timeless power of Susan Sontag's post-dramatic text, Zoltán Balázs's unique and special directorial vision and his theatrical handwriting reminiscent of Ionesco's engravings, as well as the high-level artistic performance of the SARTR Theater ensemble's new approach to stage reality.

The 63rd MESS International Theater Festival held in Sarajevo between October 1st and 8th under the motto "Flash of empathy in times of uncertainty, conflicts and disasters" was opened by Zoltán Balázs' jubilee production Alice in bed. The joint performance of the MESS International Theater Festival, the SARTR - Sarajevo War Theatre, the Maladype Theater and the Budapest Spring Festival is a tribute to the anniversary of the American writer's birth and death, her humanitarian work in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the South Slavic war, the legendary Beckett presented in Sarajevo thirty years ago direction, as well as before the premiere of the play Alice in bed, which was also seen by the audience for the first time three decades ago as a production of the New York Theater Workshop at the LaMaMa Theater in New York.

In addition to the Bosnian-Hungarian co-production, the prestigious theater troupe also included English, Belgian, Burkina Faso, Kosovo, Lithuanian, Montenegrin, Serbian and Ukrainian performances. Internationally renowned directors and choreographers such as Oskaras Koršunovas, Akram Khan, Sue Buckmaster, Blerta Neziraj, Irena Popovič, Boris Lješević, Serge Aimé Coulibaly and Ivan Uryvskyi have recorded all-arts productions. Bosnian theater art was represented this year by the performances of Paolo Magelli, Ivica Buljan and András Urbán. Nihad Kreševljaković, director of the MESS Festival, emphasized in his opening speech that art should always represent the voice of reason in the world we live in. The 63rd season of the international theater meeting focused on current social events, spoke critically about the negative consequences on various communities and made it clear that artistic works must remain pure in spirit under all circumstances. The festival guests coming from many directions could see works that captured the world of anger, jealousy, trust and betrayal, the fragility of life - the sustaining power of imagination in the fight against alienation.

The organizers of the MESS International Theater Festival also reminded that 57 theater premieres, more than 2,000 different theater performances and thousands of other artistic programs took place in Sarajevo under siege. The activities and experiences of Bosnian artists and the fact that the SARTR - Sarajevo War Theater was created under such circumstances, cultural resistance is considered a defining part of European culture.

Over the past few years, the MESS Festival has provided an opportunity to introduce artists with unconventional thinking, whose specific ideas about contemporary art have had a fruitful effect on the representatives of other arts, as well as on the multi-ethnic and multi-religious society as a whole. Nihad Kreševljaković's festival concept also wants to perpetuate and nurture this spirit. In the spirit of this effort to renew art, he asked the internationally renowned Hungarian director, Zoltán Balázs, to give space to his usual exceptional ideas and stage the cult play of Susan Sontag, who is jubilating several times this year, imbued with deep humanity, with Bosnian artists. Kreševljaković, one of the producers of the co-production show, also pointed out that Susan Sontag, with her stay in besieged Sarajevo, drew attention to the importance of art and the responsibility of artists and intellectuals in a truly dramatic time. The reviews published after the presentation in Sarajevo all agree that the director of the Maladype Theater in Sarajevo did not lack dynamism and playfulness this time, the multifaceted synchronicity running on several levels and threads, the storytelling combining specific content-form solutions, and the verbal and non- the emotional and intellectual heightening of acting manifested through verbal signs.

The performance, which was created through the cooperation of multinational partner institutions, will soon go on an international tour. It will be shown in Hungary in May 2024 at the Budapest Spring Festival.

Critical reception:

"The story of Alice is compiled by Susan Sontag from the pictures of Alice in Wonderland. The direction of Zoltán Balázs builds on this fantastic invention. Balázs works as both a director and choreographer, and his productions are usually visually striking. Bogićević, who portrays Alice, presents the choreography dreamed up by the director above the stage, which is simply stunning. While Bogićević's emphatic presence conveys Alice's tireless mind and searching intellect well, it sometimes works against the experience of confinement and physical limitation. Balázs's direction places him on a throne, portraying him as someone who lives separately from the world, floating above it, and yet connected to it." Natasha Tripney

"Balázs is guided by the principle of distorting matter in order to construct spirituality. In the play's preface, S. Sontag talks about "the victories of the imagination, which are not enough." Imagination is not an end in itself, otherwise it would be self-sufficient. Balázs formulated this idea precisely when he intervened in the original drama text and inserted some riddles into the lines of Alice's mother. A puzzle is a pretend chaos created by the imagination. Imagination has the power to recognize this chaos as order, to show the seemingly hopeless meaninglessness of Alice's tormented mind as meaning. However, remember that all puzzles are self-serving. And so this play ultimately closes in on itself, in Alice's mind, achieving a smug triumph of imagination. It's impressive that the arrangement goes one step further than this concept. Balázs's Alice only descends from her throne onto the stage boards in the last seconds of the play, and even then only to utter a word that solves the final puzzle: nothing. This riddle, this nothingness, which is self-serving, self-dissolving, is like a snake eating its own tail, like Alice eating her own name.” Lamija Milišić

"Susan Sontag's celebrated play gained a completely new dimension with this performance, the specific stage movement, the special sound and music, and revealed the harsh reality of the privileged woman "trapped" in the world of prejudice. The actors have successfully achieved a perfect fusion of play and text. Above all, Alice in bed reminds us of the limits (limitlessness) of the human spirit, where the boundaries of reality and dreams merge. This performance inspires us to dream, to look for miracles, where the line between the possible and the impossible is lost." heartbeat.poet

Translated by: Sylvia Huszár

Susan Sontag: Alice az ágyban

Translated by: Senada Kreso

Co-production between the MESS International Theatre Festival, SARTR Theatre, Maladype Theatre and the Budapest Spring Festival 

Alice James: Snežana BOGIĆEVIĆ
Mom/Nurse: Ana-Mia KARIĆ
Alice's father „Henry”: Kemal RIZVANOVIĆ
Alice's brother „Harry”: Sanjin ARNAUTOVIĆ
Margaret Fuller: Matea MAVRAK
Emily Dickinson: Hana ZRNO
Young man: Enes KOZLIČIĆ

Director: Zoltán Balázs
Dramaturg: Zoltán Balázs
Set designer: Zoltán Balázs
Costume designer: Ljiljana Majkić
Mask: Sanela Aličković Ćatović
Music director: Tijana Vignjević
Editor of sound: Nedim Zlatar
Sound: Irhad Hodžić
Light: Armin Berberović, Džani Dimovski
Assistant directors: Ajla Medanhodzić, Minja Novaković
Production assistants: Lejla Hsanbegovic, Belma Jusufović
Production managers: Katalin Balázs, Maia Salkić
Producers: Sylvia Huszár, Nihad Kreševljaković

Scene of the premiere: SARTR - Sarajevo War Theatre, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Opening night: 10/01/2023
Duration of the performance: 75 minutes

Sponsors: Ministry of Culture and Innovation, Ministry of Culture and Sports of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Szinhaz.online, 2023

Translated to English by: Zsuzsanna Juraszek