05 April 2022

DEJAN MIJAČ DIES

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Photo: Željko Jovanović
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Dejan Mijač, one of our most important theatre directors, died today in Belgrade. A memorial service will be held at the Yugoslav Drama Theatre. The times of the memorial service and the funeral will be announced in due course.

Dejan Mijač was born in 1934 in Bijeljina, where his father served as a priest. After graduating from the grammar school in Valjevo, he began his studies of Yugoslav literature at the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade as well as of theatre and radio direction at the Theatre Academy, under the mentorship of professor Vjekoslav Afrić. After his graduation in 1957, he began working at the National Theatre in Tuzla. During the four seasons he spent working in Tuzla, he directed dozens of productions and even though this theatre may not have been central to the theatre life of Yugoslavia, his work was widely recognised. This resulted in an invitation from the renowned director of the Serbian National Theatre to move to Novi Sad where, over the next thirteen years working as a director-in-residence Mijač directed a number of notable productions of both the classical and modern repertoire. The turning point came with his production of The Stuck-up Woman by Jovan Sterija Popović in 1973 which represented a radical move away from hitherto traditional interpretations of this classic of Serbian theatre. Mijač maintained his interest in the works of Sterija for the rest of his life and went on to direct other plays by this author: The Chubby Husband (SNT, 1962), The Marriage of Men and Women (National Theatre Sombor, 1975), Kir Janja (Association of Film Actors of Serbia, 1978), The Liar and the Arch Liar (Knjaževsko-Serbian Theatre, 1980), Orphan Simeon (YDT, 1981), Patriots (YDT, 1986 and again in 2003). His work with actors also involved teaching and during his time in Novi Sad he taught at the SNT Drama Studio. From there he went on to teach at the Faculty of Dramatic Art in Belgrade at the Theatre Direction Department. He continued teaching at the Faculty of Dramatic Art until his retirement.

Productions of Vassa Zheleznova by Gorki and Offing by Nušić were his first productions with the YDT and though he never worked there as full-time director, Mijač was widely considered a director-in-residence. Similar to his production of The Stuck-up Woman in Novi Sad, Offing was yet another step away from classical interpretations of works by national classical authors and has remained a milestone in the history modern theatre in Serbia. With Jovan Ćirilov at the helm of the YDT, Mijač continued to direct important new productions such as the première of The Travelling Troupe Šopalović by Ljubomir Simović as well as the first version of Patriots by Sterija. Although Mijač never worked as a theatre manager or in a high level institution, his authority was widely recognised and he was always welcome to direct at theatres such as Atelje 212, Theatre City Budva, Zvezdara Theatre, Kult Theatre, the Boško Buha Theatre, National Theatres in Niš, Sombor, Belgrade and Sarajevo, the Belgrade Drama Theatre, the Jazavac Theatre in Zagreb, Croatian National Theatres in Split and Rijeka, the Joakim Vujić Theatre.

Actors enjoyed working with Mijač because he expressed his ideas through is actors so that even a small role became meaningful and visible. He knew how to engage the ensemble, how to bring out the best in his actors, even though he was known to be very demanding and strict.

Dejan Mijač had a knack for choosing the right play to fit a particular social context, but it was the production of Golubnjača, by Jovan Radulović (1951-2018) at the Serbian National Theatre in 1982 that upset the Communist Party of Vojvodina, which proceeded to ban it. It was through sheer artistic bravado on the part of the director and his actors that the production managed to survive by moving to Belgrade in 1983 where it saw as many as 250 performances before packed auditoriums of the Student Cultural Centre and even at the renowned Alpe-Adria Festival in Slovenia. Mijač directed the production of The Spawning of Carps by Aleksandar Popović (1929-1996) for the inauguration of the Zvezdara Theatre in 1984. In 1987 he staged the challenging production of Spiting the Nation in Two Parts by Slobodan Selenić at the Yugoslav Drama Theatre.

The fact that it was Mijač who directed the premières of three of her works (America, Part II (Atelje 212, 2003), Locusts (YDT, 2005), Barbelo, About Dogs and Children (YDT, 2007), together with the work he did on some of her other plays, is what helped Biljana Srbljanović become the playwright she is today and one of the leading playwrights in Europe.

In spite of numerous invitations to direct, Mijač decided to retire from directing in 2011 and as his last will and testament became a production of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard at the Yugoslav Drama Theatre.