I had emailed Jas to let him know about my photo-documentary project “Journey to YU (in the footsteps of Rebecca West), about Dragana Jurisic’s extraordinary RHA and Belfast Exposed exhibition “YU – The Lost Country”, when it was but a Kickstarter project, in December 2014. The three of us met for coffee in Temple Bar when he was home for Christmas, after which he said he would like to schedule our project about Rebecca West, Dragana Jurisic's photography and former Yugoslavia as part of his 2015 festival. In a world that is full of waffle, and “plans” that don’t materialise, fair play to Jas for seeing this one through with flying colours.
True to his word, he flew both myself and Dragana to Belgrade on March 14th, and kindly hosted the world premiere of “Journey to YU (in the footsteps of Rebecca West)” to a packed house (there weren’t enough chairs for everyone), in UK Parabrod, a gorgeous 1920s Belgrade Arts Centre whose name means “Steamship”.
The audience was wide-ranging, from a Serbian Orthodox priest and his family, to Dragana’s mother, sister-in-law, cousins, to the cool intelligentsia of Belgrade (there are many of the latter).
It was nerve-wracking premiering work which touched on sensitive topics such as the recent wars and its traumatic effects in front of such an audience.
The next day was St. Patrick’s day. Like a good cailin I donned my Sharon Beatty Emerald Green Dress, and made my way to Belgrade University’s Department of Philology to deliver a talk on the amazing WB Yeats, in introduction to an excerpt of “Just the Lads” Balkan version of one of his Plays for Dancers, “The Dreaming of the Bones”.
Next stop was the floating restaurant Corso, where his excellency the Irish Ambassador to Greece and the region, Noel Kilkenny, ceremoniously turned the Ada bridge green after sunset in honour of our patron Saint.
On Friday evening, BIF presented my TG4 documentary “Dance Emergency”/ “Damhsa na hEigeandala” to an intrigued and very engaged audience in Parabrod's lovely cinema space.
|Brian Willis at Kinotek, Belgrade, after "Short Order" screening|
As part of the BIF programme I was thrilled to catch a luscious 35mm print of Neil Jordan’s first film “Angel” at the Kinoteka, as well as Brian Willis’s gorgeous feature “Short Order”, including a discussion with the producer himself who was in the house with his brother Ian.
As you can imagine, the 9 days were action-packed with other inter-cultural extra-curricular activity like dancing to live Balkan Bossa Nova at one of our (several) new friend’s birthday party until dawn (it would be rude not to!), and checking out a rave with the Bosnian Beatshakers in top Guardian-recommended nightspot Mixer.
I’m glad I got to meet the busy Dijana Milosevic of DAH Theatre, for coffee and a cake in her sister’s exquisite cake shop, the poetically titled Little Prince. I was fortunate to encounter Dijana at the “Theatre and War” Symposium at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre in January, which led to her short and significant contribution to “Journey to YU (in the footsteps of Rebecca West)". Among many other projects, I was intrigued to hear of her current important work with “Women in Black”, establishing a female court for female survivors of violence and rape during the war – which will emerge into the light of day this June (marking the 20 year anniversary of Srebeniza), in an 800-seater theatre, so I will be keeping my eyes peeled for that.
After the solar eclipse, which I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of through a public telescope while out on a run through Kalamegdon / Belgrade Fortress (While making an effort to train for the 10km “Great Run” in Phoenix Park on April 11th) our final event was another presentation on the cosmic world of WB Yeats at Kulturini Centar Beograda on World Poetry Day.
I am writing this now in Temple Bar Gallery and Studios (alas my final week moonlighting here) so have made it home in one piece and live to tell the tale! Belgrade-Irish Festival was a fabulous experience, and huge thanks are due to the BIF team, Jas Kaminski, Aleksandra Samardzik and Nikola Todorovic for all their hard work, super design, and good humour in putting all of this together. Thank-you for an unforgettable nine days which will hopefully snowball into more wonderful intercultural connections between our two countries, and ourselves. I could go on, but better to stop here for now! To be continued…