After Bolero

On Friday 20 September, I was invited to present a paper on making Bolero at the Performance & Conflict Symposium hosted by Mansions of the Future, Lincoln.

Conducting Requiems for Sarajevo: The dramaturgy of ruins, the musicality of repair

  1. On 14 February 1984, I fell over outside a Fish and Chip shop in Nottingham. I got a black eye. My dad carried me home on his shoulders. My mum gave me some ice cubes wrapped in an old tea towel to hold against my face and switched on the Black and White television set from Radio Rentals. I heard the music before I saw the image fizzing into life. Torvill and Dean were dancing to Bolero at the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. When I hear the music now I remember the fall, the smell of fish and chips and the feeling of watching the world from my Dad’s shoulders. I remember the tears rolling down my cheeks and the cold of the ice against my face as I watched two people from our home town dancing on ice somewhere very far away. I remember the pain. I remember the cold. I remember the ice melting.
  1. 10 years later, on 19 June 1994, acclaimed conductor Zubin Mehta led the Philharmonic Orchestra of Sarajevo in a performance of Mozart’sRequiemat the city’s National Library (City Hall) lying in ruins after constant bombardment. The concert was shown live on television across Europe and the USA and attended by an audience of 50 local dignitaries and UN representatives. The concert starts with Mehta walking across the debris of the bombing and the dust of five million books incinerated in a fire on the first day of the Siege. It is claimed, by Robert Donia, that by destroying the library, the Serb aggressors were attempting an act of ‘memoricide’.[1] _MG_5137edits
  1. The ice stadium where Torvill and Dean danced in 1984 was destroyed during the siege. Wooden seats turned into coffins. The grounds around the building turned into a graveyard. The UN used the ruined stadium as a morgue. Olympic logos were riddled with bullet holes. In 2014, I created a devised performance with a cast of English, German and Bosnian actors that explored Ravel’s Bolero in relation to the city of Sarajevo, the Winter Olympics and the Bosnian War (1992-1995). In our Bolero, we re-enacted this Requiem. It was performed in Sarajevo on 28 June 2014, the exact centenary of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. The performance features the assassination and follows the ricochet of the gunshot that triggered the First World War through 100 years of history, to the 1984 Winter Olympics to the Bosnian War to the present day. I invited Bosnian actors, who had lived through the war, to share their experiences as part of the devising process._MG_5141edit
  1. Robert Donia in Sarajevo – A biography(2006) writes that ‘… the attacks were unmistakably directed against the city’s chief institutions of collective memory, he characterizes these attacks as “memoricide”… shattering civic pride by wiping out records of the city’s diverse history’.[2]One of the first targets was the City Hall, the exact place Archduke Franz Ferdinand had visited before he was assassinated in 1914. In 1992, when the conflict began, it was the largest library in Europe housing approximately 5 million books. The first days of the war were waged in a fog as the dust of these burning books rained down on the city. Its epicentre of memory lay in ruins. To mark the centenary of the assassination in 2014, the City Hall was rebuilt and hosted a concert. This was the first time music was played there since Mehta’s Requiem. Performance and conflict are interwoven into the fabric of the city’s history._MG_5208edit
  1. We recall Mehta’s concert in Bolero as a performer says the following text.

An arc of strings: violins to the right, cellos to the left, woodwind in the centre. Around the orchestra is the choir; almost more performers than audience. The conductor, Zubin Mehta, stands proud at the front.  He works himself into a frenzy.  The orchestra is framed by ruins. Broken pillars, blown out windows, burnt books. Tonight a concert. Tomorrow a trip to find water, food, shelter, safety. This is a requiem for five million books. This is a requiem for 11,541 people. This is the requiem.[3]WesPinch - Figure 5.2

  1. When Torvill and Dean danced to Bolero at the Winter Olympics, their recording was 17 seconds too long so they waited 17 seconds before they started to skate. The original version of Ravel’s Bolero takes 17 minutes to perform depending on the conductor’s tempo. Ravel always reminded conductors to ‘stick to the tempo’. The only recording that does this is one that Ravel conducted himself. It lasts exactly 17 minutes and sounds like a train. It was inspired by rhythms of machinery, factories and World War One gunfire. You hear this in the beat of the side drum._MG_5217edit
  1. Our Bolero is both a eulogy for lost lives and an apology for not knowing enough about them. We worked with the Bosnian artist, Haris Pasovic, who was in the city during the Siege. His input ensured we were more aware of historical acts of remembrance that took place in Sarajevo. And every year, in the city, a reading takes place of the names of those who died in the siege. It is a register of remembrance, an itinerary of ruined lives, passed down through generations so families may never forget, it is a litany for a city, a eulogy for four years of lost life. As John Berger writes:‘storytellers are Death’s Secretaries’.[4] _MG_5220edit
  1. In Dragan Klaic’s ‘Theatre of Resistance’ (2002), he writes about making a piece – Sarajevo, Tales From a City – casting the city as both a martyr and a hero. He describes that, ‘Instead of rehearsing with an international cast and performing to audiences across Europe in a production about the war… he had an urge to create theatre in Sarajevo, with his colleagues and students, for Sarajevans, as a form of spiritual resistance and moral encouragement’.[5]This theatre, he realised, was not reaching ‘to the very core of the pain and horror of the war’ but ‘developing a discourse around the catastrophe’.[6] _MG_5226edit
  1. One of the performers of Bolero, Jasenko Pasic, told us that during the war, there was a show at Sarajevo War Theatre every night of the 1425-day siege. There were gasps of pleasure in the audience when someone lit a cigarette onstage. Theatre was an escape route from the tragedy of everyday life. Theatre was a reminder of the world outside the endless war. There were three casts for Waiting for Godot in case one of the actors was killed during the run. If a shell fell they would wait for the dust to settle, the lights to return and carry on with the show._MG_5236edit
  1. Klaic writes about making his work at the time, ‘It went further than squeezing empathy from the audience; it reinforced the sense of responsibility and metaphorized the lifestyle being destroyed in Sarajevo.[7]For Bolero, I metaphorized Ravel’s pieceto tell the story of how a composition, inspired by WWI, could soundtrack both the 1984 Olympics and the sound of a city under constant fire. According to one of the actors there was never silence in the siege. The mountains around the city amplified every explosion so the city’s destruction became its own heartbeat. Klaic concludes that, ‘Theatre needs time to distance itself from the event in the reality it wants to address. After the war, with some time-distance built in, theatre would have more of a chance to dramatize wartime experience’.[8]For Bolero,I told a story that used Ravel’s music to weave together a childhood memory of falling over outside a Fish and Chip shop in Nottingham to Torvill and Dean, to Paris, to Sarajevo._MG_5314edit
  1. The piece invoked a narrative of ruins, juxtaposing the destruction of a city with the decay of Ravel’s neurological condition that led to his early death. The piece had a dramaturgy driven by the music and a century of creativity and conflict that ran through it like the piano wire that bound the assassin, Gavrilo Princip’s withered arm after he was imprisoned for the assassination. Where shells fell across Sarajevo, the holes in the pock-marked pavements have been filled with red wax to make them look like flower petals. The streets there, bleed flowers. They call them Sarajevo Roses. Our performance ended with red roses falling onstage like flowers on a grave, like flowers at the end of an ice dance routine._MG_5380edit
  1. The music acts as a narrative the audience follows like a score. Like the sound of a gunshot on a Sarajevo street that triggers 100 years of conflict and continues to ricochet through time. We discussed the politicality of ruins inherent in the piece and how Torvill and Dean’s dance became a dance of death, a couple’s embrace becoming the way someone might carry a body. The way that funerals lasted 15 minutes before the snipers came. Roughly the same length as Bolero. And how used to death its citizens became during the siege, running across roads to get water, escaping snipers’ bullets every day._MG_5376edit
  1. The Bosnian cast of Bolero (2014), who lived through the war, shared their experiences of the Siege of Sarajevo and this addressed the ‘memoricide’ that took place.[9]The dramaturgy of ruin and repair that the performance invokes explored the conjuring ghosts of music and cities where one conflict has rewritten the bullet holes of another on walls and war memorials. To capture this in performance was to seek ways to make manifest these iterations on a stage where one historical narrative replaced another and a red velvet curtain (Paris 1928) revealed a cardboard wall (Sarajevo 1992-96) which in turn revealed a pockmarked, shell damaged concrete surface (Sarajevo, 2014)._MG_5370edit
  1. As a British artist in Bosnia I was made to feel welcome as it was recognized I was trying to tell their story in their words. For Bolero, as the cast involved were an intercultural ensemble our shared language was theatre-making and our vocabulary physical rather than verbal. We spent more time making the work than talking about it. As Goat Island said: ‘The dialogue is the work’.[10]They also said ‘Some words speak of events, other words, events make us speak’. This conflict made us speak the words in our performance.
    WesPinch - Figure 5.3
  1. We told each other’s stories, for example, a British performer spoke of the siege, a Bosnian performer spoke of watching Torvill and Dean on television. A performer in Bolero(2014), Amila Terzimehic, said: ‘My generation doesn’t know much about these things’.[11]Her memories of growing up during the siege were shared in the piece. Her mother making her crawl across the runway and telling her the lights in the sky were fireworks not tracer bullets._MG_5311edit
  1. When Ravel was writing Bolero, he began experiencing the early stages of dementia. We can hear it in the repetitive rhythm of the side drum. Ravel’s memory itself was degrading and, like the city of Sarajevo, his sentient ability was under siege. The verb, to ravel, inspired the making process for Bolero (2014), which involved weaving together different narratives connected to the music of Ravel, from the assassination in 1914 to Torvill and Dean in 1984. The dramaturgical process draws on Fischer-Lichte’s ‘interweaving performance cultures’ as an evolution of the intercultural theoretical paradigm and Barba’s notion of ‘weaving together’ the found and the fictional texts about performance and conflict._MG_5307edit
  2. Bolero wove together the performative and the commemorative to stage the loss experienced by a city, a country, a composer. The tempo to which Ravel was adamant conductors conform translates literally as time. Whether 17 seconds before Torvill and Dean’s skates touch the ice, 17 minutes of Ravel’s Boleroor 3 years 10 months 3 weeks 3 days of the siege. There is an element of Klaic’s ‘time-distance’ here, as we move further away from conflict the potential to make theatre about it grows. To commemorate through performance seeks to repair the ‘memoricide’ that took place there. To stage loss is to conduct requiems._MG_5073edit

[1]Robert J. Donia Sarajevo – A Biography (London: Hurst and Company, 2006) p. 315.

[2]Robert J. Donia Sarajevo- A Biography (London: Hurst and Company, 2006) p. 315.

[3]Michael Pinchbeck, Bolero, dir. by Michael Pinchbeck (first performance Nottingham Playhouse, 31 May 2014).

[4]John Berger, And our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos

[5]Dragan Klaic The crisis of theater? The theater of crisis! in Performance manifestations for a new century ed Maria M. Delgado and Caridad Svich (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002) p. 150.

[6]Ibid. p. 150.

[7]Ibid. p. 150.

[8]Dragan Klaic The crisis of theater? The theater of crisis! in Performance manifestations for a new century ed Maria M. Delgado and Caridad Svich (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002) p. 150.

[9]Robert J. Donia Sarajevo- A Biography (London: Hurst and Company, 2006) p. 315.

[10]Michael Pinchbeck, ‘The worship of detail, the detail of worship’, Dance Theatre Journal, 22.3, 5-10.

[11] British Council, Michael Pinchbeck – The End[online video][accessed 1 May 2017].

Images: Julian Hughes