The Roma Theatre Pralipe (Romanes for ‘Brotherhood’) was founded by Rahim Burhan (born 1949) at a time and in a place both fuelled with optimism during the emergence of the Roma movement in the settlement of Shutka in Skopje, the largest contiguous Roma settlement in Europe.
That moment brought a leap forward in development: the film Skuplači Perja [I Even Met Happy Gypsies] by Aleksandar Petrovic, the first film in which Romanes was spoken, had just received an international award (nominated for the Academy Award, Golden Globe Award and the Palme d’Or in Cannes for the best foreign film).
In 1971 the World Roma Congress took place in London. There, the World Roma Union was founded with Yul Brunner as honorary president, and the term ‘Roma’ was used as a proper name for the minority in contrast to the foreign name ‘Gypsy’. The song ‘Gelem, Gelem’ from the soundtrack of the film was declared the anthem of the Roma. Activists from the former Yugoslavia played a special role in this process.
In this intellectual climate, the Theatre Pralipe was born, and over the decades it has become the most important cultural institution to represent the minority. The group’s first performance, No, No , in 1970 was a protest against the Vietnam War. The theatre quickly became known throughout Yugoslavia. Key productions of the first phase of the theatre were Mautije [The Goddess of Violins] in 1973, and Soske? [Why?] in 1975.
In the course of these productions Theatre Pralipe appeared at the most important theatre festivals in Yugoslavia. In 1977 it was invited to the legendary Nancy Theatre Festival under the direction of Jack Lang, who in 1985 organized the first international exhibition of international contemporary Sinti and Roma art in the Conciergerie in Paris.
In addition to its self-developed texts, the theatre also engaged with European theatre classics, such as its King Oedipus , after Sophocles, with which it gave a guest performance at the first theatre festival in Delphi, Greece. The theatre’s performances took place exclusively in Romanes. With few exceptions, the scenes were never subtitled, so that on the one hand the theatre played an important role in mediating and preserving the Roma language, but on the other it developed its own captivating theatre language of great physicality, as well as an imaginative visual language in order to reach its international audience.
The theatre was set up by a relatively constant ensemble around its director Rahim Burhan, who, thanks to this continuity, was able to create its own artistic signature. The theatre was inspired by the writings of the French theatre theorist Antonin Artaud and the Polish theatre-maker Jerzy Grotowski, but also by Indian forms of representation such as Kathakali. In the course of Pralipe’s 38-year history, numerous key theatre texts have been translated into Romanes. Rahim Burhan is also linked to the contemporary literary scene in the former Yugoslavia, ensuring that important contemporary theatre texts are either written in or translated into Romanes.
The year 1990 was the starting point for the cooperation with the Theater an der Ruhr in Mülheim. Its director, Roberto Cuilli, who at that time was closely associated with the Yugoslav cultural scene and in particular with the Belgrade theatre festival BITEF, had invited the Theatre Pralipe on the occasion of the first festival ‘Theaterlandschaft Jugoslawien’ [The theatre scene in Yugoslavia]. During the decline of the multi-ethnic state and the resulting precarious situation in Macedonia, Ciulli finally managed to establish the Theatre Pralipe as a permanent and independent theatre ensemble in Mülheim in 1991, founded by the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) and the German federal government.
The new theatre, with its distinct language, became known all over Germany. The production Blood Wedding, based on the text by Federico García Lorca, which premiered in Mülheim in January 1991, was a sensational success and would be performed almost 400 times throughout Europe over the years to come. In 1992 the Theatre Pralipe was awarded the Association of German Critics’ Prize for the best theatre in Germany.
During the racist attacks in the 1990s, the theatre undertook a sensational tour through the new federal states. In 1995, in protest against the murders of Roma in the Austrian Oberwart, it was invited by the Vienna Burgtheater to interpret Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
In the same year actor Nedjo Osman, who had played a central role in the ensemble since the foundation of the theatre, left to found the Theater TKO in Cologne in 1996, together with director Nada Kokotovic.
Among the most important productions by the Theatre Pralipe during the Mülheim period were Shakespeare’s Othello, Yerma by Federico García Lorca, an author with whom the theatre was strongly associated (awarded the Lorca Prize of the International Theatre Institute (ITI), Fuente Vaqueros); O Baro Phani [The Great Water], after Živko Čingo’s novel (prize for the best production of the 12th NRW Theatertreffen 1993); Mutter Courage by Bertolt Brecht; Klassenfeind [Class Enemy] by Nigel Williams; Tetovirime Vogja [Tattooed Souls] by Goran Stefanovski; as well as Z2001 – Die Tinte unter meiner Haut [Z2001 – The Ink under my Skin] (with successful performances in Berlin, among others) and Kosovo mon amour by Jovan Nikolić and Ruzdija Sejodvić (co-production with the Ruhrfestspiele Recklinghausen).
In 2001 the Theatre Pralipe separated from the Theater an der Ruhr. From then on, it had to continue as an independent enterprise, supported by the state of NRW and the Federal Republic of Germany under the new name European Roma Theatre Pralipe. After a provisional phase in Düsseldorf, marked by failed attempts to establish itself securely, the theatre relocated to Cologne. An old industrial hall in the Ehrenfeld district was finally converted into the Theaterhaus Europa. With this project, the theatre pursued the goal of creating a house for cooperation and collaboration for theatre artists from all over Europe who had become acquainted with the Pralipe during its extensive tours.
Since then the Theater Pralipe has toured with the productions Kalea by Dragica Potočnjak (premiere in Vienna), and Carmen (bringing its own circus tent) after Prosper Merimée (with the live music of a Sinti band inspired by the opera by Georges Bizet, under the direction of Pesso Krause), as well as the productions Scheherezade (premiere in Seville) and Khamoro. A spectacular guest performance in Newcastle upon Tyne in 2003 with Carmen, however, was to be the theatre’s last great international success. In 2004 Pralipe filed for bankruptcy.
With the end of Theatre Pralipe, the international theatre scene lost a unique voice. Furthermore, the minority lost its most important institution – an institution that had succeeded in developing a contemporary theatre language for Roma culture.
Rights held by: Moritz Pankok (text) — Mina Lunzer (translation) | Licensed by: Moritz Pankok (text) — Mina Lunzer (translation) | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: RomArchive