By Matthew Fam
“Take a moment and imagine you’re lying on the Adriatic Coast”.
With a headphone set and pair of 360° image cardboard goggles, we were all tuned in for a live podcast of Café Sarajevo.
Performed by Canada-based collective bluemouth inc, the 90-minute performance is a retelling of co-creator and performer Lucy Simic’s journey of self discovery, as she travels to her father’s birthplace, Bosnia.
Think Eat Pray Love—with war, trauma, and the search for one’s cultural heritage.
“There is a yearning for home, even if you [don’t] belong there,” Lucy shares of her time in Sarajevo during one of the live podcast sessions framing the performance.
Joined by co-creators Mariel Marshall, Peter Musante, and Stephen O’Connell, these vignettes are useful in giving historical context.
We learn of shifting boundaries—how the former Yugoslavia was split into numerous nation states; among these countries, Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia, each with a Catholic, Orthodox Christian, and Muslim majority.
It’s an effective prelude to the threads of racial and religious tensions that weave throughout Café Sarajevo’s three acts.
“When Bosnia got divided, people started hating each other,” Lucy recounts a conversation with her guide. “We don’t talk about religion here,” says another local Sarajevo resident narrated by an audience-participant from a script, as a character in Lucy’s travels.
Hearing their varying accents, mish-mashed together with the performers’ speech patterns, holds an uncanny mirror to the melting pot of cultures similarly found within the region.
Which begs the question: is division part of human nature? And is there more that unites than divides us?
The ensemble’s movement sequences seem to think so. After all, the body in movement exhibits markers of culture and transcends lines of heritage or religion.
The performers nimbly slip into regional folk dances and movement sequences. In one scene, they use acrobatic lifts to re-enact an East German climbing over the Berlin Wall.
However, the multimedia tools used to execute this same idea falls short. While the 360° images gave audiences an immersive view of each travel location, not all footage added depth to the performance.
Notably, the images were projected onto the walls of the performance space, and one could just simply forgo their cardboard goggles.
An exception: in the final and only image that portrays movement, we see Lucy and Stephen leaving Mostar on a cable car; the city appears to shrink as the cable car ascends.
Watching this dynamic image through our goggles, we hear vocals and the accordion in minor key by Mariel on our headphones. We see the shrinking city as the music fades to silence, in an instance where the elements of performance come together to create a sense of loss and yearning.
Café Sarajevo leaves much to think about, the message of division and unity amidst rising nationalism in our world in this tender, poignant exploration.
On that note, the show draws to a close. “We are bluemouth inc,” says Peter in an almost-croon. “Thank you for joining us.”
He ends the podcast, leaving us wanting to tune into another episode.
Photography credit: Crispian Chan