Noel Witts - Professor of Performing Arts


July 10, 2013


The Sibiu Festival in Romania is  20 years old this year, and has now become one of the most comprehensive in Europe. In terms of numbers of performances it beats Avignon, but  of course not yet Edinburgh, although it rivals Edinburgh in scope, having sections devoted to : theatre, dance, music, street performance, theatre schools, seminars, lectures, and daily conversations with artists. I suppose Romania is still, for some people, a far away country of which we are now learning something, but this festival, unique in Europe, allows cross disciplinary meetings and events that are treasured by those of us who know it.

My association with the festival goes back 20 years, when I visited Sibiu to make a BBC Radio 3 programme about theatre after Ceaucescu. In those early days the festival was small, but in the eyes of its founders, Constantin Chiriac and Cristian Radu, it had the scope to become an international force. Chiriac still directs it – one of the longest-serving festival directors in Europe – and Radu still cleverly flits around  in the background, and their joint efforts  made one of the reasons for Sibiu being awarded Joint European Capital of Culture in 2007.

This year, in some ways typical, the festival attracted performers from a vast arena,  from Russia and France  to Japan and Korea, with special sections devoted to Russia, UK, France, Austria,Italy , Korea, Japan and Germany ( Sibiu was originally a German settlement called Hermanstadt),and  with a final tally of over 70 countries represented in one way or another. Sibiu has formed many relationships with many artists, festivals, critics, academics, politicians, which enabled it this year to award its inaugural Walk of Fame plaques to : Ariane Mnouchkine, Eugenio Barba, Silviu Purcarete, Jonathan Mills, Declan Donellan, George Banu, Sasha Waltz and Nakamura Kanzaburo.

A brief visit this year could have seen the following : “Divina Comedie” from Lithuania, directed by Eimuntas Nekrosius, “Ubu Roi” from UK’s Cheek by Jowl,”Faust” directed by Silviu Purcarete, “As You Like It” from Georgia, directed by Levan Tsuladze,  “The Wedding” by Chekov, a Belarus-Moscow collaboration, directed by Vladimir Pankov, “The Master and Margarita” directed by  Zoltan Balasz, “Songs of Lear”  from Song of the Goat theatre, Poland, “The Tale of Haruk” from Tuida theatre, Korea, “A Japanese Story”, directed by Masahiro Yasuda with actors from Sibiu, “Continu”, choreographed by Sasha Waltz, “Clear tears, Troubled waters”, choreographed by Thierry Smits, Belgium, “Dance of the Magnetic ballerina” from Andrea Mitnerova of Prague, “Black Fairytale” from Oded Graf and Yossi Berg of Israel, Klezmer music from Canada, Old Adriatic Music from Serbia, Songs from Corsica, Theatre Titanic, Theatre Tol from Belgium, Bash Street Theatre from UK, Comic Band La Racchia de Vejano, Italy, The Reading Scottish Pipe Band, and the Royal Stiltwalkers from Merchtem. From European theatre schools you could see a Multi-Media project from Sibiu University, an Ensemble show from Osijek Academy of Arts, and a one-woman show from Leeds Metropolitan University. This is simply a small sample of the huge  menu supplied by Constantin Chiriac in a variety of venues across the beautiful city of Sibiu, which includes its mediaeval streets and baroque squares. There were also lectures and seminars from : George Banu, Nelson Fernandez, Mike Phillips, Bernard Faivre d’Arcier, Jonathan Mills, and Pawel Potoroczyn among others.

Students and others can attend the daily press conferences, chaired by Octavian Saiu, where performers talk about their work and problems. Or they can attend the daily Cultural Conversations with artists in the Atrium cafe.  Or they can simply walk down the main street spotting someone interesting to talk to.

This festival grows and grows and is staffed by a multitude of volunteers and old friends as well as the professional team of the “Radu Stanca” theatre of Sibiu, which has now taken two shows – “Faust” and “Gulliver” – to the Edinburgh Festival. It is one of the places in Europe where nation can speak peace to nation, and nowhere is this more important than in Romania, a place of Europe yet on the main routes to the Middle East. Festivals in this part of Europe are far more than showcases: they allow unexpected dialogues to take place and joint projects to be planned. The scale of Sibiu is such that the streets become places of debate and remind us of the roots of so many festivals in places which simply bring people together to do things in common. Watching the queues of young people trying to get in to the Lithuanian “Divine Comedy” or the Russian-Belarus “Wedding” or the Israeli dancers ,one can only come away heartened that in this  less-known corner of Europe there is a place where dreams are realised and not destroyed.

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