Age of Aquarius dawns in Sarajevo: Despite mortar fire near the theatre, 'Hair' is still the hottest ticket in town. Marcus Tanner reports

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE SINGERS wore bell-bottoms, wiggled their hips voluptuously and warbled: 'This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius'. At the end of the 36th performance, Joan Baez, the US peace activist and folk singer, brought the house down when she joined the cast on stage for a number.

War-torn Sarajevo is a strange place to stage a revival of Hair, the 1960s hippie musical about peace and love. But this theatre attracts packed audiences, who brave snipers' bullets to come from all over the city. Dozens have to be turned away from every performance.

The psychedelic T-shirts and the purple trousers are all familiar. But the war in Bosnia and the year-long Serbian siege of the city intrude in many ways. The lack of fuel this winter meant actors had to sing and dance in sub-zero temperatures, bundled in thick sweaters. The chronic shortage of food caused some dancers to faint on stage.

The youthful cast chant 'peace, love, flowers, happiness'. Yet they have to trudge to the front lines when not on stage.

'One of our cast was in the trenches for days before he came to the theatre, and when he got here, he was suffering from frostbite,' said Kaca Doric, director of Hair, adding: 'The electricity can fail in the middle of a performance and we have to carry on without proper lights and backing.

More than 10 performances have had to be cancelled because of heavy mortar bombardment of the city centre, which is near the theatre. Some actors have left the city, worn down by the stress of everyday life.

In spite of, or perhaps because of, the incongruity of a pacifist musical playing in a city at war, this version of Hair has become a cult event in a place dubbed 'the coolest city in Europe' recently by a visiting US writer.

Ms Doric says requests for the company to take Sarajevo Hair on a foreign tour have poured in.

Not all the actors are delighted with the interest among foreigners. 'Many people visit Sarajevo as if they were going on a safari,' one actor said bitterly. But most disagree.

'As an artist I want to show Sarajevo is not on the periphery of the world,' said Srdjan Jevcevic, a singer.

A musician, Boris Bacvic, said: 'We have to show the West there is no big difference between us and them. I am delighted people come because we feel so helpless here, trapped in hell and in danger of being forgotten.'

Another singer, Dragan Ilic, said the show was keeping alive Sarajevo's old traditions of openness and ethnic tolerance. 'Before, I felt Sarajevo's spirit was in danger of dying. There is so much hatred in the city now, and and it is difficult to stay above it. We are showing it is possible.'

Ms Baez, 52, sang several songs for the French Foreign Legion yesterday after the soldiers had received communion at an Easter Mass in the shell-shattered airport terminal at Sarajevo.

No-fly zone warning, page 8

Leading article, page 15