The new season of the National Theatre of Cluj-Napoca opens with the premiere of the performance The Gypsies' Camp after Ion Budai-Deleanu, on a script written by Cătălin Ștefănescu, and directed by Alexandru Dabija. The premiere takes place Sunday, September 23 2018, from 7.00 p.m. The director's collaboration with the Cluj National dates back from 1979, and has been utterly fruitful. Alexandru Dabija directed nine performances, with The Gypsies' Camp its tenth. We used this occasion to address him a few questions.
Let us start by quoting a fragment from critic Doina Modola's portrait of the director: „Alexandru Dabija has such a whimsical and feisty presence, that his attitude becomes engaging, fascinating, deblocking, uninhibiting, liberating. He loses himself in his directing work, and has the generosity and gratitude of letting the actor simply perform. He always makes his argument in an implicit, mediated, devoted manner.
One might find this discretion unexpected to such a special character, but Alexandru Dabija is also a poet of the image: he assembles the image, brings it closer or more remote, places it on screen or makes it fade away, provides it with unity, style, signification. The director seems a bard who is steadfastly enamored with the art he serves, with innermost passion, irony, playfulness, and joy. To him, theatre remains a perpetually young first love, which brings tender consolation to the passage of time, to years and decades that fly by, to all traces of transience, redeemed by the durable memory of the total, authentic emotion experienced during first encounters. Such encounters are recalled by the director even today, to claim back the thrilling experience of a first love."
Eugenia Sarvari: Why did you choose this text? What made you want to dramatise it, was it the idea you outlined when you first met the actors, namely that „we live in a polemical age, when to speak your own language is an artistic act in itself"?
Alexandru Dabija: I'll answer as De Niro would: indeed. It's such a self-answerable question that I cannot but agree. This is exactly what I believe: to speak a language correctly is an artistic act in itself. But there's another reason also: I have a passion for Romanian language, a passion for writing in Romanian and, although no longer a passion now, old Romanian language has been one of my constant preoccupations. I have always wondered where and how was the Romanian language made. These are not just philological questions. They also concern theatre. For the theatre we practice today is still spoken.
I am passionate about Romanian language, and old Romanian literature. But I don't reveal anything new, rather I wish to confirm what several other people believe, namely that some kind of cultural mission needs to address the injustice we are facing. To ignore Budai-Deleanu's The Gypsies' Camp is indeed a huge cultural miss. Huge, indeed. Because if this text had been known at the right time, early enough, at the very time it was written, it would have had a bigger impact upon the subsequent literature. I'm thinking about the classics of Romanian literature. That made me realize the text needs to be reevaluated. And since Cătălin Ștefănescu is himself a fervent admirer of Budai-Deleanu, I suggested he dramatised the text. Cătălin Ștefănescu has put a lot of time and effort into this. The result is not a workshop, or a collective work. It is Cătălin Ștefănescu's literary creation written in the writer's idiom.
E.S.: Would you like to elaborate upon another statement made during that first meeting, which went: „We have to regain the patience to listen and chat with each other in Romanian"?
A.D.: I think that beside the great falls and gaps to which we are constantly subjected in the modern world, we also experience a perfectly natural reaction of returning to solid things, to stable forms, a sort of patience. And speaking about patience, I think that new technologies made us reach the saturation point, after which the only thing that could help us, the only natural consequence would be, as always, a return to tradition, as it happens in cuisine. And tradition relies in story telling and listening. In speaking your own language. This makes me believe we won't return to spectacular, pathetic forms, but to normality. Just like people are gradually starting to move from cities towards the suburbs, because it's only natural that they should long for gardens, authentic food, peacefulness. Language relates to a similarly natural process.
E.S.: There is a circle in the middle of the empty space on stage, during the performance. Does it hint at the famous cone of Dante's Inferno?
A.D.: No. I didn't have that in mind. It's rather a reference to The Ring of the Niebelungs. It is a ring indeed. No, we didn't go that far. It's a Gypsy ring just like Wagner's was a German ring. In fact, it is just a ring, a little hoop through which people have always tried to pierce, either into the other world, or into other spaces.
E.S.: Some kind of gate towards another world?
A.D.: Yes. Exactly. There is a door as well in many modern films. No, I didn't have in mind references as erudite as Dante.
E.S.: Why did you decide to dramatise a non-dramatic text? Do you prefer dramatised texts, rather than texts written for theatre?
A.D.: I chose it by skill. I have a true skill for this. I don't brag, but it takes craftmanship. Whereas in terms of preferences - I'd rather direct a play. The biggest problem - which I think stands for most directors - is that you can hardly find good, already-written texts, when you work for as much as four, five, sometimes even six performances in a year. But I definitely prefer an already written play - I'm thinking of Caragiale -, a well-written play, to an extra effort. I'm not so keen on expressing my own ideas through the texts of other writers. It's not what I prefer. I have my own literary idiosincrasies, Romanian literary idiosincrasies.
E.S.: Such as?
A.D.: Creangă, first of all, whose work I dramatised almost entirely. Speaking of dramatising. I directed very many plays based on Creangă. Al this has to do with language, rather than with dramatising. I don't find much joy in dramatising texts. But there are writers who use a wonderful Romanian language, and this is more meaningful to me than the authors' themes or ideas. So language is my starting point. Romanian theatre is usually written in a bad language. That's the naked truth. It's weak playwriting. It is extensive, wide, like all things, like all modern and contemporary literature, extremely wide, horizontally spread. A lot of things happen in this theatre, and, to quote Caragiale, who said that opinions are free, but not mandatory, so is literature - an absolutely free process. Of course you can manifest yourself, but you don't need to publish in some volume anything you scribble on the wall, on a paper or a train station toilet. This is what has been happening for about one hundred years. Since living in the Gutenberg era. Now Gutenberg is literally in our homes. So you can take things in your hands... People are actually aware they can do everything themselves. They write, they read, we write among ourselves...
E.S.: Do you think it's time to return to a theatre that is closer to the authentic experience of life?
A.S.: It's been forty or fifty years since people have been writing about that. The idea is that playwriting should be made in collaboration with actors. The whole contemporary theatre, at least the Western one, that has suffocated us, is like that. Blood and sperm. It's a rough, violent theatre. Just like hip-hop has turned into poetry, so has the speech. So, we don't need to put extra effort into that. Excessive urbanization weakens tha language in general, rather than enhancing it to poetry. Sometimes it does get there, though. But generally speaking, in terms of the number of words, the richness and the refinement of vocabulary, the communicative effects, we are witnessing an involution. A narrowing down. We want to spped up the communication. To make an extreme point, I could say that theatre might be made of text messages, just like novels have already been.
E.S.: Working with you educates the actors, enables them to grow, triggers their personality and guides them in the right direction. Is that the reason why the „seeds" you place in the „soil" from Cluj bring so many fruitful results?
A.D.: What I do is not school, but some sort of recreation. It was indeed a school, but is now a recreation. I have a great relation with the Cluj company, who developed nicely. I've always said it's the company with which I work best, the company that expresses itself most easily in the multiple ways that contemporary theatre is, fortunately, able to suggest. Which are such different things. They are extremely different things done here, to which the company reacts very well.
Material realized by Eugenia Sarvari