The Quivering of the Rose

by Dijana Milosevic

in National Conference

Post image for The Quivering of the Rose

(This post is part of the 2014 TCG National Conference: Crossing Borders {Art | People} blog salon curated by Caridad Svich.)

“Story is the way we remember, the way we make judgments – and perhaps, because they touch the heart – stories point the way to forgiveness and understanding. By means of story, we can experience the terrible and noble dimensions of what happened, we can put names to faces, meaning to places and events, gain a sense of the humanity of the victims and the victimizers, relive the events of history in their fearsome detail.”
– “The Art of Truth-Telling about Authoritarian Rule”, Edited by Ksenija Bilbija, Jo Ellen Fair, Cynthia E. Milton, Leigh A. Payne

When we act we always plant seeds that will grow into future events. I think it is the greatest privilege of an artist to be able to recognize the connection between an act and that which grows from it, sometimes only years later. A few years ago Leonard Cohen, one of the greatest singer/story-tellers of our times, played a concert in Belgrade. As a birthday present, I bought a ticket for Maja Vujović, the actress who had been with me from the beginning of DAH Teatar, and we went to the concert together. It was in an enormous hall, with an audience of about 7000 people. I have never been to any such event, with so many people present, yet no incident happened – even the guys from security had smiles on their faces. After the concert seven thousand people left with incredible calm. The evening light floated above, and for a moment the world had become a magical place. Listening to this amazing artist in his late seventies, with his harsh, deep voice was more like a ritual than a concert. I had the powerful sensation that our life is so short. I turned to Maja and said: ‘People should live much longer, at least a few hundred years. In this short life we just start doing something, and then we die.’

Last year, several years after that concert, we started talking about the new performance of DAH Theater. Maja suddenly said that she wanted to work with the character of a woman that is a couple of centuries old, who had seen and experienced everything. This reminded me of what I had said to her at that concert. The seed of our new performance had been sown, yet when I said these words I was not really aware of what I was saying.

The performance “Presence of Absence” deals with missing people, those missing within our region and also all around the world. Listening to the accounts of those incredibly brave women from Bosnia, Serbia or Kosovo who have lost loved ones in their families, I realized that their lives are inhabited with a constant presence. The presence of absence; the presence of the absent ones.

Reading about men and women from all over the world who live with that devastating experience, I was intrigued that often they use identical words to explain what happened and to describe their feelings. Reading testimonies from women in Argentina, I thought about women from Kosovo, listening to testimonies of women from Bosnia, I thought about women from Chile, and so on. Their experiences erased all boundaries. ‘The absent child requires our full attention’ is a sentence I heard so many times, in different contexts and from different people living with this experience. The question that kept tormenting me was “What can I do for these women through this performance?” The realization that by sheer chance I was spared this tragic experience is always present. The cards of destiny are simply dealt out. That I am lucky enough not to live with such pain has nothing to do with any virtue of mine, and is not something I have achieved in any way. It is just chance. And that chance gives me and my colleagues from DAH Theater a tremendous responsibility: to speak out from our relatively comfortable existences, to give voice to the pain and the feeling of constant absence in these people’s lives.

History tells us that the only way of healing a society after atrocities have taken place, is to go through the painful process of truth telling. This is still on-going within our region. Our performance is a contribution to that effort.

“People cannot just disappear, they can die of illness, or they can be killed in wars or be murdered, but they cannot just disappear.” These words are said by the ‘Centuries Old Woman Who Saw it All’ during the performance. These words were also spoken by mothers from Argentina; and we heard them from women from Đulići in Bosnia. These words demand that responsibility be taken. Where are the missing? Who took them? Are they alive? In whose name were they abducted? What are our own and other governments doing about it? When will families get answers? Who is responsible? When will those responsible be punished? These questions inhabit our lives, whether we are aware of them or not. These questions demand answers.

At the end of the performance, while leaving, the audience will see roses beside the painted silhouettes of disappeared people on the sacks that were brought in at the beginning of the performance by the ‘Centuries Old Woman Who Saw it All’.  Roses were carried by mothers from Plaza del Mayo in Argentina, in their ongoing circling, searching for the truth about their missing. The Saturday mothers from Turkey carried roses and put them in front of the main state institutions, seeking for truth about their missing. Hundreds of roses were carried by families of the disappeared from Đulići, Bosnia, who left them on the sites of the concentration camps where their dearest had been taken and all trace of them had disappeared. Also the families of kidnapped Serbs from Kosovo carry roses when they mark the anniversary of their disappearance. In her text Of Beauty and Justice the Argentinian artist Claudia Bernardi writes about families of missing children from Guatemala. During the trial of a massacre where children had been abducted and killed, the families, as a sign of protest to the verdict of ‘not guilty’, held up the roses that they had brought. Bernardi finishes with these words: “I imagine the movement of the roses, undulating gently, like a hug, like a lullaby, without words or sounds. A lament dressed in deep red for the children who perished…”

The old Peruvian Quechua people do not think of the past as something that we leave behind, but instead they see it as always being in front of us. To be able to construct the future we have to constantly gaze at the past, they believe. This is very true in relation to our own country.

This performance is a reaching out towards the future, in which the last text heard is the Utopian shout of the philosopher Emil Cioran:

“I am simultaneously happy and unhappy, exalted and depressed, overcome by both pleasure and despair in the most contradictory harmonies. I am so cheerful and yet so sad that my tears reflect at once both heaven and earth. If only for the joy of my sadness, I wish there were no death on this earth”.
– On the Heights of Despair” by E. Cioran

Dijana Milosevic is an award winning theatre director, writer and lecturer. She co-founded Dah Theatre Research Center in Belgrade, Serbia and has been its leading director for over twenty years.

She has developed an extended theatrical network throughout her work. She was a program director for theatre festivals: Art saves life and Festival of New and Alternative Theatre, Novi Sad, Serbia, and she was the president of the Association of the Independent Theatres, the first one in former Yugoslavia Region. She is a board member of national ITI(International Theatre Institute) and president of the board of BITEF Theatre , Belgrade..

Miss Milosevic has directed theatre shows with her company and toured them nationally and internationally.. She also directed the work with other companies all over the world (Spain, USA, Sweden, Canada etc). She is a well-known lecturer and has taught at prestigious universities (Berlin, Germany, Bern, Switzerland; Californian Institute for the Arts , Aberyswyth , Wales, University of San Francisco, USA- to mention few).

She writes articles and essays about theatre that are published in various theatre / cultural magazines and books in the country and abroad.