Mladi levi - Nine days of performances, chit chats and champagne
Ljubljana. It is not my first time in the city, but it is the first time I came for the Mladi levi festival. I arrived at the beginning of August to work with Bunker as an intern for the festival period. I get the luxury to have an overview of what is happening from different perspectives: as a temporary member of the production team, as a member of two artistic teams invited to perform, and as an audience member. The city is already full of Mladi levi posters, it seems to be an important annual event; it has been happening for 25 years already. Walking along Slomškova ulica from Bunker’s office to Stara elektrarna the festival’s headquarters, and back has become a recurring daily activity. It’s a moment to witness the construction works undertaken by the electricity company happening on one facade of the old power station. They are destroying one part of the structure, hopefully it won’t affect the rest of the building where the festival is happening. One week before the opening, while everything is getting ready to welcome artists and visitors, the atmosphere is starting to change, getting a bit more festive every day. The press conference happens, nice dresses are worn, pictures are taken, invitations are sent, alcohol is bought, the festival kitchen is set up, the first meal is served. Even the hard task of finding a DJ for the opening party is done. Everything is ready to start.
19. 8. 2022
First day. First official day of the festival. First glasses of champagne. They are announcing the beginning, the start of the evening. One evening, but two opening shows: This Song my Father Used to Sing (Three Days in May) by Wichaya Artamat (TH), showing in Stara elektrarna, and Bodybodybodybody by Dag Taeldeman and Andrew Van Ostade (BE) showing in the Ljubljana puppet theater. I got the chance to meet the Thai team a few days ago; like some other artists they arrived in advance to begin preparing their performances, but they are already leaving tomorrow to go and show in another country; they are on a European tour. I am watching their show tonight. It is my first chance to learn how the ticketing system works. In front of the door, volunteers are standing at a counter with a list of names of people that have a reservation. They just need to come and collect their ticket and pay the symbolic 1 euro price. Those without reservation are put on a waiting list, but usually everybody gets in. Later, the facade of ŠD Tabor is covered by the projection of the Mladi levi video, while the DJ plays music for over three hours. It’s the opening party, time to dance, drink and meet new people. And for those who have performances to come, time to forget for a while about the nervousness of their set-up to enjoy the evening.
20. 8. 2022
Today I am witnessing for the first time how it is like for an artist to show at Mladi levi. I am working on scenography and props in Daniel Victoria’s (MX) Love, Feathers and Javier Solis, showing at ŠD Tabor. Before the show, a member of the production team brings a box of snacks to the artist, delicate attention and important detail that demonstrates the care and respect that rule the festival. In the foyer of the sports hall, people are starting to gather, and the producers and volunteers are only waiting for our signal to let them in. The show goes well. Tamara invites us to join the production team at Stara elektrarna. We only discover when getting there that what is waiting for us is a bottle of champagne to celebrate the performance, delicacy granted to each artistic team. How nice.
21. 8. 2022
My geographical experience of Ljubljana is revolving around specific places, located a few hundred meters away from one another. A typical path that I walk almost every day is the one between ŠD Tabor and Stara elektrarna, the two main venues. It is around them that everyone gravitates. Stara elektrarna is the festival base, and a meeting point for artists, technicians, producers, volunteers and audiences. Everybody is there every day, mingling with each other in this common place, and seeming quite relaxed despite the work to accomplish. The festival was apparently designed for everyone to feel comfortable; I can only imagine the amount of work it took to make it happen. Between two set ups, Igor arrives with his little Paula; she is being taken care of and fed by others when her father gets busy. She is the proof of the warmth of the festival, and of the fact that it is made in a very human way. This evening, the short walk between the two main venues will happen again, after a gathering in a particular third place located exactly between them: the Ljubljana Center Retirement Home. There is the opening of Disappearing in Time, the mural painting project of the retirement home pensioners, led by the Škart duo (Dragan Protić – Prota and Đorđe Balmazović – Žole) (RS, SI). Tonight, ŠD Tabor is hosting the spinning dancers of Alessandro Sciarroni’s (IT) Turning_Orlando’s Version. After being transported by them and with them into another realm, a majority of audiences walks back together to Stara elektrarna. There, we watch All Inclusive by Julian Hetzel (DE, BE), his cleverly made and very controversial performance that makes people talk and reflect until days after it happens.
22. 8. 2022
During the festival, days are organized around daily occurrences: lunches and dinners provided by the festival. Nobody calls “kosiloooo” (lunch), but everyone is diligently present every day to enjoy the home cooked meals. Time is planned to match with meal hours. “Let’s meet for lunch before starting to rehearse”, “We will be back on time for dinner” … Except when sudden August thunderstorms or strong winds decide to strike, people gather outside for lunch most of the time, to enjoy the sun and light before going back to work. Although most of the shows are scheduled in the evenings, days are busy with workshops and preparations. Technicians and artists are setting up, some producers are having meetings while others are looking for missing props, a group of theater students is having a workshop led by Sodja Lotker (CZ), some volunteers are making costumes with Susana Botero Santos (CO) for her piece Fasciarium (Lat. Fascia: Connective Tissue), and (almost) everyone is drinking coffee. Other activities are probably happening at the same time, but I am only aware of these because I am participating in them, one way or another. Evenings at Stara elektrarna are always busy. When its gates are open on both sides, the old power station’s outdoor corridor could look like a small street for those who are not familiar with the city. This is why more than once, groups of people, possibly tourists, come asking if they can get a table and some drinks. It is true that at dinner time specially, with the warm lighting, the tables outside and everyone eating, drinking and chatting, the liveliness of the place is quite similar to one of a nice café or a bar, which could be confusing for those who don’t know what is going on. At this time of the day, producers are alert, trying to distinguish Mladi levi spectators from curious passers-by, and ready to explain to these spontaneous visitors that there is a festival happening and to show them the program. It is also at this time of the day that discussions are animated around glasses of beer, wine (and very often champagne), and that people share their thoughts about the performances of the day. This is how I learned about both Bodybodybodybody and the guided tour Bežigrad Stadium: Beating Around the Bush by the Nonument Group (SI) that I didn’t have the chance to watch. Many critiques are also present, and ready to discuss openly about their impressions, which is always quite interesting to me.
23. 8. 2022
The middle of the festival is the moment that regroups everyone, those who are almost leaving because they are done showing, and others that are just arriving to start preparing. Most people try to leave after or arrive before the picnic that is happening tomorrow. It is the moment for new faces to meet, to be at the same place at the same time for a short moment before separating again. Speaking of people and encounters, I am pleasantly surprised to see that all performances are always full, and that the festival attracts a lot of audiences, locals and internationals. I am watching Out of the Blue tonight, the documentary performance about deep sea mining by Silke Huysmans and Hannes Dereere (BE). They are showing at Plesni theater. New place on my map. It’s located about 20 minutes walk away from Stara elektrarna, so we have to rush back to be on time for Minga of a Ruined House by Ébana Garín Coronel and Luis Guenel Soto (CL). Luckily, people are still chatting and having dinner, the tickets line in front of the door is still long, and the other part of the festival audience that was watching Circle by Neja Tomšič (SI), that was showing at the same time as Out of the Blue, is still outside. We are right on time. It is later this evening that I hear the anecdote about one part of the old power station’s facade cracking because of the construction site, while Minga was being installed earlier today. The wall got repaired and didn’t result in anything too dramatic, apart from the slight detail that it happened with this show about a destroyed house. Funny coincidence…
Foto: Nada Žgank
24. 8. 2022
Picnic day. Bus, sun, people, deer, grass, drinks, ponies, white wine, sparkling water, smiles, chats, climbing wall, meetings, lunch, pictures, poses, landscape, wine again, laughs, soup, new people, impressions, dresses, sunglasses, shade, slowness, heat, tables, lines, line along the tables, line at the women’s toilet, wooden bear, some more food, some more drinks, some more chats, deer again, dessert, last glasses of wine, water, five thirty, bus again, different landscape, chatters, silences, goodbyes, see-you-tomorrows.
25. 8. 2022
The day is starting early for me; I am watching Petra Varl’s (SI) one-on-one performance Space in Two Acts: Act Two at 8:45. My dreamy experience of the space filled with white fog and light ends with a nice chat with the artist, which I always appreciate in this kind of more intimate performance context. Straight after that, I go to Stara elektrarna where I am working with Susana Botero Santos (CO) to finalize the preparations for tomorrow’s show. It’s the moment to catch up on what is going on with others. The Chilean group (Ébana Garín Coronel, Luis Guenel Soto and their team) is setting up and rehearsing for their second show, Mutilated, performing tonight. The topic of the piece is strong: people losing their eyes during protests after being shot by the authorities. It makes me realize how much I rely on vision in my daily and professional life. In the afternoon, we take another break from rehearsing while waiting for the performers and volunteers to join. I take this chance to walk along the river to get an ice cream. I suddenly meet a big group of people walking as in a procession. I recognize them to be from the festival; producers, artists, volunteers and visitors all included. It is Words, the intervention in public space of Siniša Labrović (HR). I join the group, holding my ice cream cone while others are holding demonstration signs, marked with words such as “Freedom”, “Creativity”, etc. I go back to Stara elektrarna to continue rehearsing. We finish on time for dinner. I finally get the chance to visit the exhibition A Quarter of a Century by Tanja Radež and Nada Žgank (SI). It retraces 25 years of festival through objects, clothes and images collected from each edition. I have been curious about it since the moment I witnessed some parts of its installation for the first time before the opening of the festival, but somehow didn’t have time to really visit it until now. I soon I have to rush out, Mutilated is about to begin.
26. 8. 2022
Busy day. We are setting up for Fasciarium (Lat. Fascia: Connective Tissue) in Stara elektrarna, in which I am working as scenographer. Technicians, producers and performers are all here to help. We get the snacks box, a big one this time for a big team. The week of costume making and rehearsing is coming to an end with the showing of the performance. The significant help of the volunteers, both to create costumes and to perform is greatly felt, as well as the producers and technicians’ efforts to find what seemed like unfindable props. We are showing twice this evening. After the second performance, the adrenaline slowly fades away, and everyone starts to realize that it is almost the end. Tiredness is starting to hit, it was a long week. Luckily there is champagne to keep us in the present, to help us celebrate the project’s adventure in this festival before thinking about tomorrow.
27. 8. 2022
Last day. Last dance. ŠD Tabor spins one more time with Alessandro Sciarroni’s (IT) Save the Last Dance for Me. I can feel that some people already left the city, maybe they were trying to avoid the final goodbye. The walk from the sports hall to Stara elektrarna became so familiar that it’s hard to believe it’s the last time I’m going through it before leaving Ljubljana. I even know the shortcut by now. In the old power station, we watch the last show, Oh How Very Ordinary, by Katja Legin and Bojana Robinson (SI). It ends with champagne. Champagne and sweets, to celebrate. To celebrate birthdays, to celebrate quarter of centuries, to celebrate the end, which means a new beginning next year. Celebrations became the very ordinary of the festival, toasting every evening in someone’s honor, to congratulate and celebrate. It has been nine days of celebration that I’m looking forward to continue in a year. I am not worried, I know it will happen; Bunker is already starting to prepare it.