Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Damir Todorovic

Actor, choreographer, theatre-maker

Born June 20 1973; died  October 15 2014



Damir Todorovic, who has died aged 41 following a short struggle with
cancer, was an actor prepared to go places others feared to tread. This
may not have been immediately obvious in a stream of film and TV roles
in which the Serbian-born performer's shaved head and sharp East
European features saw him frequently play the bad guy. With the
Glasgow-based Vanishing Point theatre company in shows such as the
award-winning Interiors, The Beggars Opera and Wonderland, however, he
created parts that were quietly intense and which, by way of Vanishing
Point's devising methods, were born from a place deep within him.

It was made even clearer just how far Todorovic was prepared to go in
As It Is, a show created by himself in which he strapped himself to a
lie detector while being interrogated about his time as a young soldier
in the Serbian army during the Balkan conflicts in 1993.  Originally
commissioned by the Belluard Bollwerk International Festival in
Switzerland and later produced in an English language version by
Vanishing Point in Glasgow, As It Is made for uncomfortable but
fascinating viewing. It tapped into a period in Todorovic's life that
had clearly left its mark, and which shaped his artistic choices
thereafter. As with everything Todorovic did, As It Is was also a
search for truth, even as it confronted his own past.

“Thinking about this, after twenty years, it feels like a dream,”
Todovoric said of his time on the frontline in an interview with the
Herald in 2013, “so thinking about what's happened since in terms of my
identity, I was a little confused. What happened was my own experience,
but some of that could be products of my imagination. So I wanted to
see what has happened to my memory, and to the memory of the people,
and to examine all these experiences.”

Todorovic was born in the small town of Vrsac in Serbia, and trained at
the National Academy of Drama Arts in Novi Sad. At the beginning of his
career, he was a member of CZKD (Centre for Cultural Decontamination)
and BITEF Theatre, both centres of artistic and political resistance
with whom he performed in socially provocative interpretations of
Kafka, Genet, and Shakespeare. In 2002, Todorovic performed at the
Venice Biennale with Italian theatre company Motus, and  went on to
work extensively in Italy, France and the former Yugoslavia.

It was while living in Italy that Todorovic auditioned for Vanishing
Point in 2008. This was for a new co-production with the Napoli
Festival that became Interiors. Once spotted by Vanishing Point
artistic director Matthew Lenton over the extensive auditioning
process, Todorovic developed the character of the mysterious stranger
in Interiors who is inexplicably invited to the meal on the darkest
night of the year that is the show's centrepiece.

“Damir was brilliant at improvising,” Lenton remembers of the man who
became one of his best friends and greatest collaborators, “thinking
laterally and creatively, with his eyes wide open. He was fearless,
sometimes eccentric, always experimental, never afraid to try
something.”

One of the starting points for Interiors had been a quote from the
Venerable Bede, about how the life of man on earth was like the 'swift
flight of a single sparrow through the banqueting hall', one minute
there, gone the next. It was perhaps significant too that the insignia
of Todorovic's website was the shadow of a black crow.

“Damir could relate to this,” says Lenton of the Venerable Bede's
words. “In Interiors and in life, Damir had charisma, charm, warmth and
was always compelling to watch. He was open and eccentric and,
importantly, had the ability to provoke others. I loved this quality.
If he sensed someone was inauthentic, he could have an acid tongue (I
was on the receiving end of it at times), though it mostly remained in
his cheek.”

Interiors was to mark the beginning of a major ongoing collaboration
with Vanishing Point, that saw him become a vital member of Vanishing
Point's international ensemble. He appeared in the company's
comic-strip style cyber-punk reimagining of John Gay's The Beggar's
Opera, at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, and in Wonderland, an
unflinching examination of pornography by way of Alice in Wonderland
presented as part of 2012's Edinburgh International Festival. Todorovic
played the brutal film director, his face looming frighteningly on the
big screen at the back of the stage as he clutched his young victim.

Todorovic toured with Interiors all over the world with a company that
Lenton describes as a family, and in which he was one of three original
members of the cast who stayed throughout each international excursion.

Outside of Vanishing Point, Todorovic continued to develop his own
work, and followed As It Is with Holiday On Stage, a collaboration with
Martin Schick that explored western capitalism's relationship with art.
The show was seen in Switzerland, across Europe and at the Brighton
Festival.

It was As It Is, however, that remained Todorovic's most personal work.

“Damir saw and suffered things during those years [of the Balkan
conflicts] that many of us in western Europe can only imagine,” Lenton
says. “His subsequent pursuit of the artistic life was authentic, real
and shaped by his experiences as a young man. That is also probably why
he didn't suffer fools gladly. He could live the high life because he
had suffered the hard life.”

Todorovic was mid-way through developing Vanishing Point's most recent
show, Tomorrow, when his cancer was diagnosed, and as his treatment
became more severe, he was forced to pull out of the show. His unique
signature nevertheless remains embedded in the finished piece, a
hauntingly beautiful meditation on caring for the elderly.  Last
weekend Todorovic was scheduled to begin re-rehearsing Interiors for
the show's forthcoming dates in Poland, but reluctantly emailed Lenton
to say he was too ill to take part.

Lenton remained in contact with Todororoc via a close friend, and
emailed a message of love while he was undergoing a blood transfusion,
and asked if he wanted anything in return. Todorovic responded with a
YouTube link to a rare recording of the Beatles singing Norwegian Wood
(This Bird Has Flown). It was, says Lenton, “a very Damir gesture”,
that brought to mind the black crow of Todorovic's website and the
Venerable Bede's sparrow.

“Was Damir that bird, leaving the banqueting hall?” Lenton ponders. “I
think he was, and he knew it.”

Having spent so much time in Scotland, Todorovic thought of Glasgow as
his second home, and often talked of moving to the city where he had
forged so many friendships and creative partnerships with like-minded
people.

“We don't need machines to discover what is deeply within ourselves,”
Todorovic said in 2013 when talking about As It Is. “Contact with human
beings is much more important. That's how we find the truth.”

Todorovic is survived by his mother, Branislava Todorovic, and his
brother, Borko Todorovic.

The Herald, October 20th 2014


Ends

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