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Portrait Nicoleta Esinencu

Nicoleta Esinencu is a fighter. In her country, she practices the habit of speaking and thinking about things that have been heavily burdened by the course of history and are often met with silence rather than dialog. She tackles sensitive subjects such as the denial and discrimination of homosexuality and her country’s role in the attempted elimination of Jews. In addition, Esinencu is also a messenger who often has to explain her small country, the Republic of Moldova, which borders on Rumania and Ukraine, to other Europeans, for instance to people from Germany.

This may also be why her theatre collective Teatru-Spălătorie, which she founded in Moldava’s capital Chisinau in 2010, has on the one hand been described as a critical voice within her own country and on the other hand uses its pieces and public performances to draw attention to the people who represent the Republic of Moldava – and who all too often feel forgotten and betrayed by both European and their domestic politics. In her pieces, she first and foremost addresses audiences in her country, and yet she knows that many of her productions rely on the cooperation with institutions from other countries (among them HAU Hebbel am Ufer and Goethe-Institut) and the guest performances that allow the collective to travel abroad.

Born in 1978, she was a child and young adult when her country transitioned from Soviet domination to independence. She experience directly how language became deeply politicized: whether your name was pronounced with Russian, Rumanian, or Ukrainian inflection decided whether you belonged or became an outsider. In her work as theatre director, she integrates these experiences into her productions.

When talking to the young woman whose face is framed by blond curls, she always appears alert and in motion. Esinencu teases out where daily lives are affected by political conflicts: she sees deeply into people’s hearts and immediately seems to sense where the real problems lie.

In 2005, she became known for her monolog “Fuck You, Eu.ro.Pa,” which largely dismisses both the nationalism of the former republics of the Soviet Union and Western capitalism. At the time, her language was perceived as rather drastic, as enraged and tough. And yet many of her pieces, such as “Dear Moldova, can we kiss just a little bit?”, which uncover the concealment of divergent sexual orientations in both the past and the present, are touching precisely because of their language’s tenderness. In “Life,” a constantly breaking phone line remains the last connection between an elderly lady, who has stayed in her occupied hometown during the political crisis in Ukraine, and her daughter, who has left her home. The piece emphasizes that the ability to speak to one another is a precious gift that is all too often risked when neighbors become enemies, divided up along ethnic borderlines.

While the themes that Nicoleta Esinencu tackles appear rather grave, her theatre performances are nothing but lightly constructed frames that capture people’s lives in order to listen to their stories and understand where they come from.

Katrin Bettina Müller