bojana mladenović



If one performance during the Something Raw 2009 festival succeeded in showing the rift between theatre and show business, it was ‘Violet’ by Bojana Mladenovic. The starting point for this work is a fait divers.  A cousin and youth friend of Mladenovic lives and works in Amsterdam as an artist, just like Mladenovic does. ‘Neither of us would want to go back to a regular 9 to 5 job, even if this is a weird way of living’, Mladenovic remarks. However, Lilly’s ‘art’, she being a stripper in a nightclub, belongs to another, parallel universe. Both women share the same physical space, and in a sense share the same profession, but nevertheless, they hardly meet, not in an actual and certainly not in  a symbolical sense. In ‘Violet’ this is made visible spatially. Upon entering the space, you have to make a choice between ‘butterfly’ and ‘mermaid’. The space is radically split in two, so that from that moment on you can only experience one of both worlds. In my case it was the world of Lilly, the stripper. She is lying voluptuously on a large cushion, slowly flapping up and down a large, gorgeous fishtail, designed by Janneke Raaphorst. You hear some waves of acid jazz. After a while, Lilly stands up, undresses and puts on a jeans and a blouse. She is standing on dangerously high heels too. Now she watches you with a partly defiant, partly shy look. At this exact moment, some contact is established between the two sections of the space through the voices of the women. They are talking about (the parallels between) their lives. It is funny to hear that the ballerina –Mladenovic original training and career was that of a ballerina- has rejected ballet, while the stripper thinks that ballet is the most beautiful form of live performance and has a grudge against what she calls –for lack of a better word– ‘modern ballet’…
‘Violet’ does not leave the spectator totally unharmed, but he is implicated in e very friendly way. No shocking questions are put, no hard confrontations are engaged in. The performance asks for your participation through the simple ‘format’ of a game. At some moments the spectator is requested to take a card out of a large envelope and follow the instructions on it. The first one is simple: tell us what you saw. Later however, when the cards are read out aloud, this proves to be something quite different according to each spectator. But also the question ‘What do you want to see’ can differ extremely according to who is watching. The opinions of the public are even totally divided once the last card is asking if you would like to see a real strip act to end with. The surprisingly large portion of the audience who prefers not to see the strip act, is treated on the one side of the space to some film fragments from the childhood of both women. If you choose for the strip act however, you are to see a wonderfully subtle piece of theater on the other side. Both women casually undress, their backs facing the public, as if they are preparing themselves to take a shower . Quite a weird striptease this is. Their nakedness seems unintentional. (Note: the dutch text says: ‘ Zo zijn ze eerder ‘bloot’ dan ‘naakt’ ‘ but this difference in meaning between ‘naakt’ and ‘blot’ does not exist in English as far as I know)–on a stage nakedness can be a kind of costume, you suddenly realize. Then they turn around en step up to the spectators.  Now they unisono perform little steps, hips swinging. Lilly ntakes the lead. She knows this game and she is master of the situation. Bojana/Bonny is much less certain of her presence. For her, this way of being an artist is new and uneasy. After their performance, both women retreat to the back side of the stage. There they help each other dressing again in a friendly, almost tender way. It makes you aware in a direct way that these two women not only are very intimate from childhood on, but also are probably really fond of one another. This intimacy is different, les intimidating en in its way more endearing than the suggestive enactment of an intimacy between spectator and stripper that, however false it is, is acting upon the male fantasy of the willing female. In this way ‘Violet’ is constantly trespassing the thin borderline between art and show business, real emotion and false effect. It confronts you, as a spectator, with your own gaze and thoughts every time your opinion is asked for through the cards. In that way,  ‘Violet’ ‘plays the game’ halfheartedly: behind the spectacular effect of costumes and strip act lurks a critical questioning of what all this really means and does to us. It blurs borders between theater and life.

Pieter T'Jonck
For "Volume" magazine published by Theatre Frascati Amsterdam