Odilo. Obscuration. Oratorio, Mladinsko Theater, Slovenia

Nazi war criminal born in Slovenia, Odilo Globočnik, is the central figure of the Slovenian political theatre performance Odilo. Obscuratio. Oratorio directed by Dragan Zivadinov, the co-founder of the Neue Slovenische Kunst Movement. It is a ritual dedicated to, as the performance states, killing Odilo’s name, as he was in the highest ranks of the German Nazi system, invented extermination concentration camps, and was responsible for the deaths of thousands. Odilo, fear for your good name! proclaims the text, We will only bring you to life to annihilate your name. He represents the shadow side and the myth of each society and nation, in this case, Slovenian, that must be identified and dealt with to prevent the rise of nationalism, fascism, and racism in the future. The text is written by Peter Mlakar in collaboration with Dragan Zivadinov and consists of song lines and a couple of playing scenes with dialogues. The performance is a stylized reconstruction of Nazist political rallies, it opens with military drums and reveals a grandiose sight – an ensemble of 30 uniformed members, a sign of a big co-production by Mladinsko Theatre and Kino Siska. At the beginning of a theatre, there was only choir: A choir marches in on the stage and positions itself in rows with strict precision, drawing inspiration from ancient Greek tragedies, their steps, movement, and breaths are unified, and so are their voices, they act and speak as a “we”, not as individuals, while breaking the fourth wall. They are not actors, but an impersonal state apparatus. The use of the choir is a part of a skillful director’s concept, and its main purpose is to gain an ironical distance from Odilo and to avoid the unintentional glorification of his crimes by clearly stating the author’s attitude. A question does arise whether this attitude should have been shown rather than spoken at the audience, but it is effective and serves the purpose nonetheless. The tone of voice in the choir stays neutral but creates flow dynamics by switching between a whisper and loud declarations. Both male and female actors are wearing full German war uniforms, varying in degree depending on their ranks, all with red stripes around their left arm. One of the peculiarities is the stage itself, it has a symbolic shape and resembles a bowling alley. The actors play with black and red balls throughout the performance. Were the casualties of World War II just bowling pins in the eyes of the Nazi regime? The special effects are used on the stage, it is mobile, it rotates, and has holes for actors to enter, as if in a military trench. Colors are important and give context to the narrative, in props, scenography, stage lights, and costumes, and the red is, expectedly, the domineering color, along with black, reflecting the Nazi Germany flag. The built reality of the performance relies on massiveness, numbers, and corporeality, and not so much on the individual actor’s facial expressions or any details. The hierarchy of military ranks is marked by the arrangement of the actors on stage. Elements of documentary theatre are used as well, and historical photographs of e.g. Nuernberg are being displayed in the background video screen, along with the large Nazi Eagle, a symbol developed by the Nazi Party in the 1920s. The performance is rich with iconography, digital constructions of symbols, and Nazi associations. The playing illusionistic scenes with a dialogue portray a leading member of the Nazi party, Heinrich Himmler, and Odilo discussing war plans. An auditive leitmotif of dialing a phone number (sound design is signed by Jure Vlahovič) appears multiple times, enhancing the atmosphere of uncertainty, danger, and secrecy, and the impressive lighting design by David Cvelbar adds to it as well. Odilo. Obscuration. Observatorio. is a relevant and brave theatre performance warning of urgent and ever-present issues of right-wing populism and xenophobia.

AUTHOR: Ajla Medanhodzic