» Culture » Theatre 19 century and later


Maybe, the Macedonian Renaissance is best to be defined as one of the phases/stages of the already unstoppable process of the Europeanization, which, starting from the second decade of the 19th century, slowly conquered/encompassed the "traditional Ottoman Balkans." However, being a large and exceptionally multi-cultural region, this slow and clumsy Balkans was to react in a specific way to the overall 19th century trend of creating national states. Namely, the process of the inevitable division/demarcation of the always unique and boundless Balkan space, the process which is condition sine qua non for each national and state emancipation, should develop on the Balkans not only exceptionally slowly, but also accompanied with an exceptionally great number of different shocks.

Always unique (within the framework of different empires: the Roman, the Byzantine, the Ottoman) in the third decade of the 19th century, the Balkans definitely started to be parcelled out, divided and separated...

In order to slow down its own evasion, if possible, the Ottoman Empire was making efforts to stabilise and modernise itself (to Europeanise) from within as much as possible. One of such attempts is the so called 1839 Gulhanski Order which abolished all valid feudal privileges so that all citizens - irrespective of their religion, nationality, language, culture - became equal before laws. Historians noted the unbelievably fast and unbelievably significant consequences of this reformative move of the state administration: trade began to flourish, cities enlarged suddenly, the industrialisation started, the life became more intensive in all spheres, including the cultural one!

The notable and distinguished Macedonian citizens started, more and more, to take care for matters of common concern, of social importance, through which they expressed their national feelings; education, architecture and urban renewal blossomed; printing of textbooks, music, collection of popular folk works, applied arts underwent expansion - that was the time of carving, the time when, in the church architecture, the wood carving definitely replaced the painting of fresco. 

Speaking of this intensive period of the development of the nation, which unfortunately was short - hardly 50 years - some authors even speak about the Macedonian Renaissance. Being an eminent urban category, the theatre certainly was not left aside of this "general" movement which encompassed almost each citizen. Making investigations of the Balkan theatre events of the 19th century - such investigations are still at their beginning not only in Macedonia - the theatre science has registered few outstanding and even fanatic followers of Thespis and their noble activity of performance.

His contemporaries spoken about him as "a philosopher of Skopje, our Tretjakovsky." Born in Veles and being one of the most educated men of his time, "he is making a decisive step towards the modern world education."

Allegedly, Jovan HadziKonstantinov was a hot-tempered man and that is why he got the nick name of "Dzinkata" - the word used by the people of Veles for those small hot peppers! In the year when Dzinot came in Skopje in order to become a teacher, the city (with less than 20,000 citizens) was smaller than his native city of Veles (more than 20,000), but he noticed that it was progressing constantly. We suppose that this happened in 1848 - in the key year when all of Europe was alarmed. The most influential people of Skopje of that time, put their efforts to maximum to bring this new teacher to the city and to find him a position at the new church school within the most beautiful church of Skopje, the Church of the Holly Mother.

Just at the school of that church, which was burnt down at the end of the Second World War, Dzinot, the ambitious and "European modern" teacher, would stage and perform the first public performances in the history of the Macedonian theatre. In order to do that, he had to solve several ("craftsmanship") important problems: to write the text of the drama, to teach his students how to "act" (to direct!), to prepare the schoolroom so that there would be enough space for the "actors" and the audience (most often their parents and relatives) and to arrange the whole spectacle - usually on Sundays in the morning, after the solemn Mass!

Owing to his talent, enthusiasm, and also to the diligence of this unusual man, several dialogues of his dramas, most probably performed between 1848 and 1857, have been preserved to our times. Dedicating himself completely and without reservation to this educational/enlightenment mission, Dzinot was to be active not only as a theatre worker, but also as a journalist-reporter: in some of his articles sent to the Istanbul Newspaper, which published them and in that way preserved at least some of his dialogue (dramatic?) and poetical works, the author clearly emphasised why he was doing all that. Because, as he said, he wanted to create "a completely new type of school, harmonised with the needs of the education, radically different from the traditional cell schools with their religious teaching. Now, knowledge of different areas is necessary for one educated citizen - knowledge of history, geography, grammar, mathematics..."

Certainly, Dzinot honestly believed that "one educated citizen" also needs a kind of aesthetic culture, although minimum one, and that it could be most easily - most directly-provided for through a theatre stage. Later on, his students have described him as being of middle height and with a serious expression on his face, with short beard and clean, bright skin, that he had European style of dressing - white shirt and always black necktie, that he was ascetic, vegetarian and he did not drunk, nor smoked... We know almost nothing about his private life, except that he certainly was libertine and that was the reason (why?) he remained bachelor all his life. As far as his earnings are concerned, we know that they were small, almost reduced to poverty. In addition to his knowledge, his certain author bibliography, relatively rich personal library, and finally, to his fragile title of a father of the Macedonian theatre, Jordan Hadzi Konstantinov Dzinot had not anything else during all his life! The Macedonian theatre history - unfortunately not written yet - should be also thankful to the city of Veles for the following relevant theater-graphycal data, too. The data is very precise: 24 December 1874. It is of exceptional importance because it precisely fixed the first public theatre performance on the Macedonian soil, more precisely, the first theatre performance which outgrew the narrow schoolroom frames, the first (let us say) theatre production which functioned socially for the purpose of the whole city and only for its aesthetic pleasure. The recent theatre researches provided evidence - we assume that the future ones will confirm it - that the first public, city theatre play, performed on the Macedonian soil, is just the mentioned "Genoveva, the sufferer", a melodrama of a very high calibre common to all of Europe, one of those tensed and pathetic stories which have always - even today - made people of all nations and religions cry. The story about Genoveva, a melodrama of all melodramas and a story upon whose sufferings many generations of the theatre audience of Europe were brought up, in fact theatricalizes the eternal story about the sacredness of the matrimonial fidelity and about a woman as its absolute axis. Genoveva, a melodramatic Madonna, doomed to eternal waiting, fragile and modest (and absolutely faithful, of course), decided to go far in the woodland in order to defend herself from a group of men-intruders because her husband had wandered off somewhere in a sacred war. There, in the woodland, she continued her life alone, in companion of only good, self-sacrificing, honest and trustworthy animals, who have accepted her as one of their own... until, at last, her knight-husband had not decided to return home, after 10-15 years of wandering...

During 18th and 19th century, the pieces of the type of "Genoveva, the sufferer" were hits beyond compare, not only in the Balkans, but also on the most elite theatre destinations all over Europe. The piece of "Genoveva" could be found on the repertories of absolutely all Balkans and European theatres - even Goethe did not mind to play it in Vaymar. In the case of Macedonia and Bulgaria, the performance of "Genoveva" marked the official theatre history.

However, in the Macedonian case, it has commenced with a real scandal worthy for the London or Paris yellow press:

Namely, in 1874 in Veles, the teacher named Tenka A.Kolarova had the starring role in "Genoveva." She played it so well so, as a result, she got serious problems. The local newspaper was to fiercely attack this first Macedonian actress that we know of, that she had not taken proper care of her honesty and being a pure and a chaste maiden it was not correct to show herself publicly, not at least in the "theatro"! It seems that Tenka A.Kolarova did not agree with her critics-moralists. This brave girl kept on playing her starring role (with great success, of course) during the theatre season that followed just to disappear afterwards from the Macedonian theatre and history - forever. The example of Dimitar Molerov, an exceptionally talented and productive playwright of Bansko, is a demonstration of how much and how valuable is the contribution of the Macedonian teachers to the Macedonian theatre. Like Dzinot 50 years before, Molerov was also dreaming of a new, more modern, more European school that would provide a diverse and broad education. Even in 1892, at the age of 18, he would write a comic piece on that topic - the incompatibility of the real school with an ideal one: the former is inevitable, the latter is impossible, while the teacher finds himself in the middle, destined to choose...

In his voluminous opus, there is a very extensive and very indicative piece of writing of later period, titled "Ajducka poljana" [which means a meadow belonging to freedom-fighters against the Turks], its protagonists were real, historical heroes (Goce Delcev!) and its topic - the abduction of Miss Stone, an event which in 1902 shocked the whole world and an event which should activate the unsolved Macedonian issue once again. In a way, this story is almost a romantic one: in order to collect money for purchasing arms in 1903, since the preparation for the Ilinden Uprising was underway at that time, the freedom-fighters made a decision to kidnap a respectable American Protestant missionary and hold him to ransom. But, instead of kidnapping a missionary-man, the troop of Jane Sandanski that was to carry out this assignment, abducted a woman - the Protestant missionary Miss Helen Stone, accompanied by a younger woman who subsequently turned out to be pregnant. 

Konstantin Molerov, a younger brother of Dimitar and one of the freedom-fighters, had put down in his diary the wanderings through the Macedonian mountains of Miss Stone, her companion and the baby. (Upon her return to the USA, Miss Stone, who also kept a diary, would publish a series of reportage.) After the adventure of Miss Stone was brought to the end, Dimitar Molerov, following the text of his diary, was to write his most significant and voluminous piece "Ajducka poljana." Ms. Stone, Mrs. Cilka and Konstantin himself were portrayed in this piece of art. The scriptwriters of "Miss Stone" (1957), one of the Macedonian best-selling movies and of the highest rating of all, had definitely consulted the Molerov's drama, based on the adventures of his brother, a kidnapper. One of the key, historical, more precisely mythical date in the history of the Macedonian theatre is certainly the night of 7/20 November, 1900. The day when in Sofia, in the hall of the "Slavjanska beseda" before the Macedonian emigrants, the play of "Macedonian bloody wedding" was performed for the first time by the first professional (precisely: half-professional) Macedonian theatre company. It is the play which its author had defined as a tragedy of the Macedonian life in five acts.

In that cold night of 1900, Vojdan Pop Goergiev, subsequently named Cernodrinski, really opened a completely new, intact white page in the history of the Macedonian theatre. After this bold action taken by Cernodrinski, which was welcomed with gratitude by the large audience who longed for their real and for their own drama for decades, nothing in the Macedonian theatre life was going to be the same any more. Unlike his numerous predecessors, Vojdan Cernodrinski was the first Macedonian theatre worker who was able and who managed to give a practical organisational form to his infinite theatrical zealousness. Out of all his considerable talent (since he had many special natural abilities and skills, he was an actor, director, playwright... at the same time) this extraordinary man made the best use of the most important talent - not only had he persistently performed the absorbing role of a theatre impresario for 50 years, but also performed it almost perfectly. Thanks to his unusual abilities to arrange, luckily accompanied by his inexhaustible working energy, the Macedonian theatre should at least got up to its first institutional form - the form of a traveling theatre company that would get the symbolic name of "Choler and consolation".

During his continuous activity in the years that followed, Cernodrinski changed not only the composition of the actors, but also the name of that professional theatre company, however remaining its constant spiritus movens. In the most successful, as well as in the most critical moments, Cernodrinski remained the first man of the company: a general manager, principle director, main dramatist and even main/"domestic" author - an author/playwright who was able to write a completely new, appropriate piece of work not only as fast as possible at any time, but also on any topic and for any important occasion - a piece of work exactly suitable for the occasion when something had to be marked, celebrated or praised. Almost all his 15 famous texts were written just for the purpose of specific happenings, events, jubilee. Being active for 5 decades solely as a theatre professional, in conditions which now seem impossible, Cernodrinski managed to stage and play up many performances mainly based on the text of "The Macedonian bloody wedding" - a piece which was for a long period of time functioning as a kind of Macedonian dramaturgic paradigm and which, irrespective of its aesthetic qualities, is nowadays rightfully distinguished as a national theatre classical work.

In spite of his initiative, effectiveness, marvelous persistence and diligence in carrying out his theatre mission, Cernodrinski did not manage in accomplishing only one thing - he did not manage to provide a permanent place for his traveling theatre institution. During his five-decades theatre activity (he died in 1951 in Sofia, only a few days after his 50-years jubilee), this first real professional worker in the overall Macedonian theatre history would not succeed in putting a roof over his fluid, traveling theatre institution, in writing a permanent address in its biography, in adding the adjective "permanent" seriously (not only formally) to any of its name. Wherever it came - and it appeared almost everywhere from Salonica to Belgrade, along and across the Balkans - the traveling theatre of Cernodrinski was only a guest who after a day or two usually left for some other places!


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  • It is fascinating that The fresco "Lamentation over the Body of Christ" in St. Pantelejmon was painted 140 years before Giotto's "Pieta"

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