Michael Pinchbeck’s Bolero, a piece which deals with politics, history and art in almost equal measures, proved to be a poignant and fitting finale to Nottingham’s recent arts festival, neat14. Performed at the Playhouse on the closing night, it starred a small group English, Bosnian and German speakers, along with members of the local community, and charted some of the world-changing events of the 20th century, particularly those which happened around the Balkans.
But rather than it being a brisk amble through our recent history, Bolero layers the stories of people from different times and places on top of each other. It moves back and forward in time examining the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 in Sarajevo, the Winter Olympics in 1984 and the Bosnian War, as well as Pinchbeck’s own childhood memories of growing up in Nottingham. These events are knitted together by Maurice Ravel’s 1928 piece of music Bolero – which Torvill and Dean famously used for their routine at the 1984 Olympics. Music is also inextricably bound up with war and we find out, for instance, that after the First World War Ravel struggling to write in the way that he had done before.
The play is full of great dramatic flourishes. Different languages are spoken in an almost Babel-esque way, evoking the idea of different narratives existing at the same time. The black and red stage set is minimalist and on the brown paper backdrop, blood-like red paint is used to count down the days as the bombs fall in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war. The institutional-looking chairs around the stage are used a props throughout but at the end they take on a new significance. In 2012, 11,541 red chairs were laid out to form the Red Line of Sarajevo, a memorial to all those who lost their lives during the seige. We are shown film footage of the memorial and as the camera follows the never-ending line of chairs, the audience sat in stunned silence. It was a powerful reminder of just how deadly this war was.