Bolero is on tour this week in Pristina and Prizren. The cast and crew are on the road but I am watching from the wings. When I say wings, I mean back in the UK. I am busy touring another show around the country – The man who flew into space from his apartment. However, 21st Century technology enables me to keep in touch with the creative team. Ollie Smith, who wrote yesterday’s blog post, is our embedded critic for the process now, in the same way that Andrew Haydon coined the phrase, inspired by embedded journalists.
This phrase seems appropriate given the different political contexts the piece explores and inhabits on its tours of the Balkans. The complex politics of the area in the 1990s is hinted at in the piece but its aftermath has shaped the piece’s future too. Sarajevo War Theatre, as the name suggests, was set up in response to the siege. Theatre was the city’s lifeline. Last time I was in Sarajevo it was the centenary of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, and the Sarajevo War Theatre was at the heart of the city’s commemorations of the event.
Last time we were in Pristina we stayed near a giant statue of Bill Clinton. His smiling effigy dominated Bill Clinton Street in the city. A boutique next to the statue was named after his wife, and possible future president, Hilary. Nottingham playwright, Andy Barrett has written about Kosovo and the fact that a generation of boys named after Tony Blair have grown up. Now, Bolero is being presented as part of Teatri ODA’s 13 year anniversary. Another project partner that has made theatre part of its city’s cultural DNA. The piece has collected these narratives as it has toured. It has become haunted by its own history. Palimpsests of the places where it has taken place and the people that have performed it. I have just presented a paper at a conference at Manchester Metropolitan University about the politics of the guest performer. The paper concluded with the following words:
The work challenges the way a writer sometimes abdicates responsibility for what the actors say. The way a writer sits in the dark in the audience, anonymous, trying to imagine what everyone is thinking. The way a writer has to let a text go, like a balloon drifting from a child’s hand, and trust that it will be all right, that it will find the sky eventually.
I spoke with reference to the new show I am touring, but there is an element of the notion of letting go that seems appropriate to Bolero now too. I have not toured with it for nearly two years. My relationship to the piece and its cast and crew has become virtual. I see photos of them taking lunch breaks. Trying on ice skates. Rehearsing in theatres very far away. Reading the text I wrote but I am not there to hear it. I trust that it will be all right.
On this occasion, I am also getting updates from the team about the political situation in Kosovo. A new president is sworn in. Tear gas is released in parliament. People protest on the streets of Pristina. And I hear about it via WhatsApp before it appears on the BBC website. In fact it appears on the BBC website under other news. Trumped by headlines about Eurosceptics, rugby and a British nurse with ebola. Trumped even by Donald Trump. It is a distant political story in a distant land. It is how it always was. A story in the margins. If only we had had WhatsApp in the 1990s, we might have done more to help.
I am writing this in the margins now, on the blog I set up to document my journey making Bolero, from Nottingham to Paris, Sarajevo to Pristina. Now the piece has toured to Sarajevo, Mostar, Zenica, Tuslar and this week Pristina and Prizren without me. The seed I was given at Ravel’s house in 2012 has grown into a tree in my back garden in Nottingham. The story that seed started has grown into a show that has now toured Eastern Europe and been seen by over 3000 people in the UK, Bosnia and Herzegovina and now Kosovo.
Who knows what will happen next. When I saw Ollie last week I gave him a parcel of three conductors’ batons and a copy of the score to Bolero. He was my special envoy to Kosovo, carrying the missing props that we needed on the flight to Pristina. I was literally passing the baton. To a performer who tells my story at the beginning of the show. Sitting at a typewriter at the front of the stage. Talking about how I fell over in front of a fish and chip shop in 1984. How I went home and watched Torvill and Dean dance to Bolero on the TV.
I am like that child again. Sitting in front of a laptop. Watching Bolero being performed very far away, via a blog. I have let go of the balloon and it will find the sky eventually.