Cultural Centre, Studio Theatre March 2-4 (Being Harold Pinter), March 5 & 6 (A Flower for Pina Bausch)
Eastern Europeans risk persecution to criticise oppressive rule
“I’m not a big fan of the theatre itself,” says Uladzimir Shcherban, director of Belarus Free Theatre’s two avant-garde theatre pieces, Being Harold Pinter and A Flower for Pina Bausch, presented as part of the Hong Kong Arts Festival this week. “All we’re trying to do by our performances [is] to turn the theatre itself towards life, and speak from the stage about what [audiences] prefer to remain silent.”
Silence, as it turns out, takes on both literal and metaphorical significance in the elusive presence of this company, whose members are considered dissidents under their native country’s totalitarian government, and whose uncensored performances have been staged secretly in private residences, disguised as parties and announced by text messages. “We rehearsed this loud and dynamic performance by almost whispering and without moving,” says the director of Being Harold Pinter, “as rehearsals took place in private small apartments, which were known by their unrealistic audibility. Of course, there were scandals involving neighbours and threats to call [the] police. So we had to ‘encrypt’ and change ‘places’ constantly.”
Created in the group’s early days (it was founded in 2005), this meditative piece on the everyday occurrence of violence brings together Pinter’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, scenes from six of his plays – The Homecoming, Old Times, One for the Road, Mountain Language, Ashes to Ashes, and The New World Order – and letters of actual Belarusian political prisoners. “By this performance, we literally had formulated the credo of our theatre,” says Shcherban. “For me [and] for the whole troupe of the Free Theatre, it became a search of an answer to the question of where is [the] place of a creative person in the Belarusian society… The person has only two options: either to admire his or her reflection in the mirror, or ‘break the mirror’ to seek the truth.”
The group’s relentless quest for freedom of expression reaches its sublimated heights with A Flower for Pina Bausch, a conceptual homage to the late great choreographer that’s undoubtedly also evoking the performers’ personal struggle against Belarus’ political climate. Through hours and hours of conversation during rehearsals, the cast members would eventually turn to “use [their] bodies to recall a place in the space of life where [they] had missed an opportunity.” The director explains: “It’s about ‘unrealized’ human life, about something that was carried in imagination but hasn’t been translated into reality; about unspoken words, unrealised actions, [and] unspent emotions that accumulate in us. And what if we try to accomplish all this?”
By delving into the ecstatic worlds of two recently deceased artists, Belarus Free Theatre offers a poignant reminder of what the country has lost under continual political oppression. While Hong Kong audiences can enjoy the plays without the threat of mid-show shutdowns and arrests, Shcherban’s simple wish speaks more than anything else: “In this dramatic moment for Belarus, when the destruction of all independent media is in full swing, as well as the endless arrests of anyone who protests against the election fraud, we really want to believe that our meeting [in Hong Kong] will happen anyway.”
Performed in Russian and Belarusian with English and Chinese subtitles. Tickets: 2734 9009; www.urbtix.hk.