Goran Bregović fittingly refers to his vast ensemble of musicians, trumpeters, choristers and backing singers as the Weddings and Funerals Orchestra. His compositions draw on the musical traditions of the Balkans, of the Eastern European Roma, of Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia, of Turkey – and of Bulgaria – they are songs of elation and celebration but also lament. Bregović is perhaps best known for collaborating with and soudtracking the work of the Serbian filmmaker Emir Kusturica and one of his most popular songs, ‘Kalashnikov,’ is taken from the soundtrack of Kusturica’s massive, messy allegory, Underground; it’s a sky-punching, foot-stamping, pistol-firing, rakia-downing, midnight embrace of a song (though not lacking in irony, teetering at times on pastiche). It is a song I have definitely danced to when drunk at least once.
It’s also a song that erupts several times throughout Two Destination Language’s thoughtful, quietly moving Near Gone – performed at the Bush as part of Radar – a show about trauma and distance. Katherina and Alister stand on a stage framed by bunches of white flowers (carnations I think, weddings and funerals again). They begin to tell us as story, with Katherina – who is from Sofia – speaking in Bulgarian, and Alister, after a beat, translating. At first her story sounds not unlike a 1970s language textbook. She tells us Sofia is very hot in the summer, she lists the abundant produce of the green markets – pears, peaches, berries red and blue – she tells us the women are very beautiful. All this is accompanied with by a series of gestures and movements which Alister, slightly reluctantly, mimics.
Katherina then starts to describe her parents’ house. She takes a long time doing this, honing in on small details, as if putting something off. Occasionally the translation machine breaks down: Alister gets a word wrong or misses a piece of information and needs to be corrected, thus calling attention to and extending the process. There is a gap, a lag, like you used to have with long distance phone calls.
Eventually Katherina starts to describe a serious accident that befell her younger sister, and the anguish of uncertainty, of waiting to see whether she would recover. The details are revisited and picked over, relived: the length of time it took for the ambulance to arrive, the doctors standing outside the hospital smoking. Her story is interspersed with blasts of Bregović’s ‘Kalashnikov’ to which she dances energetically but not chaotically, holding a bunch of flowers in each of her hands, strewing petals across the stage. While it is a song which invites abandon, there is a sense of ritual and order in her dance though it becomes more ragged with each new iteration, her cheeks flushing pink, her breathing getting heavier. It is a draining, emptying process.
Alister can only watch as she goes through these motions (and emotions). For while this is a show about trauma, it is also about distance, about being caught between states and places, being far away, geographically and culturally, from the place you want and need to be, about how to exist in that awful pause: waiting for news to come, good or bad.
I found that I was able to understand about half of the words in Bulgarian, which meant I was both waiting for Alister’s translation to clarify things while patching together Katherina’s words as she said them, getting trapped between what I understood and that which remained hazy and unclear, which in the end seemed an apt way to experience it.
For it turns out this is not only a piece about grief and distance but also about what it is to bridge these gaps, cultural, linguistic and emotional, to emerge out of the other side intact, to connect with someone else, to share this dance together.
Katherina Radeva an Alister Lownie on translation and performance.
Miriam Gillinson on Near Gone, Pulse, and the Suitcase Prize.