Splashy, confrontational post-dramatic fun

LIFT's Artistic Director and CEO recently travelled to Kosovo for #Manifesta. Here are his reflections.

“A few weeks ago I was in Prishtina for the Kosovo Theatre Showcase and final weekend of #Manifesta (I’m still there a bit in my dreams every night, even weeks later). Complicated and complex theatre – ranging in style from memory dramas to splashy, confrontational post-dramatic fun. Lots of works about loss and memory, the imprint of the war – both it terms of its figureheads (Husino’s Miner by Branko Simic, The Handke Project by Jeton Neziraj) and its impact on individuals. At one point we were immersed into the Museum of the Prison of Prishtina for a harrowing and at times darkly comic assembly of voices of Albanian and Kosovar prisoners. This was Ulpianë Maloku and Agnesa Mehanolli’s Death Hour and it punched hard. UK audiences may be familiar with them – they had an audio play produced in 2021 by Tamasha Theatre.

Migration was central too – particularly in ‘Kosovo for Dummies’ also by Neziraj which at a final moment in the play flips the migration story from a Kosovar’s struggles in Switzerland to a reckoning with how Kosovo is treating migrants arriving there – and left an impression on me for sure. Natasha Tripney of The Stage was there and will likely offer a more complete critique of the showcase, she’s been following the region for years and is deeply invested in its artistic vitality, so keep your eyes out for her expert words.

Meanwhile, at Manifesta, I was wowed first off by the audacity of taking over a broken down 4-star hotel and dedicating floor after floor to visual art. Then I was wowed by young artists from Kosovo and across the region reckoning with the legacy of Yugoslavia, the broken promise and potential dreams of many abandoned buildings and fallen institutions… and resilience – the history of underground schools suppressed in the war brought to the surface for art-goers to interact with. The landscape also played a role, I couldn’t pull myself away from Adrian Paci’s The Wanderers – a diptych of life in a Kosovo mountain valley with dramatic and almost cheeky appearances from local villagers, a bridal party, sheep and snow. Spell-binding. Equally so was Doruntina Kastrati’s Ring the bells my land – a Mars-like landscape of brick and rubble, a satellite dish and a discarded weave floating from the ceiling. Made me pause and made me chuckle. Identity and migration played a huge role here, the striking RomaMoMa Library (in the brutalist National Gallery – you know it from a BuzzFeed article on ugliest buildings in Europe or something like that – I think it’s gorgeous) brought Roma reading resources with vibrant and striking portraits of Roma women by Farija Mehmeti and reminded Kosovars that though it is a new republic, it’s an uneven one, with massive inequalities faced by its Roma peoples. International artists mixed well into the biennale, I was happy to see some of my favourites like Lawrence Abu Hamdan & Larry Achiampong. It was a great experience.

Plus, I got to see an old high school friend. Besa Shahini and I met up for cocktails and a deep catch up on old friends, what we did in our 20s, 30s and now -uh – after 30s, Canada, Albanian and Kosovo politics, her experience as Education Minister in Albania during the pandemic, the underground queer cafe (I can confirm it’s a darling as I visited later that night) and Prishtina’s wry humour. It was too short. The present pulled us out of the past, and seeing shows and childcare duties called.

Now you can see why my brain is still buzzing. Big thanks to everyone at Qendra Multimedia for the brilliant introduction to the Kosovo theatre scene and the invitation to attend. Put it on your radar theatre folks.”

Manifesta is a nomadic European biennial of art.

Kosovo Theatre Showcase, curated by Qendra Multimedia, takes place every year in Prishtina and other cities of Kosovo.

To dig deeper, read these reviews from the Kosovo Theatre Showcase critics, and these on See Stage.