Founded in 1967, Bitef has continually followed and supported the latest theatre trends, becoming thus one of the biggest and the most important European festivals. Transcending all political and cultural borders, in more then four decades Bitef has managed to keep its pace with a tumultuous evolution of performing arts. Thus, one could identify the history of Bitef as a history of contemporary theatre.
Through the revolutionary Sixties and Seventies, Bitef spectators could see some of the most courageous stage experiments pursuing the destruction of dramatic forms, but also some significant classical achievements, as well as the examples of the traditional Oriental theatre. In the Eighties and Nineties, Bitef has presented highest reaches of the post-modern theatre and dance. Even in the conditions of political-economic crisis and embargo the festival succeeded to promote ultimate cultural values, bringing to Belgrade some of the biggest names of the world performance. In the first decade of the 21st century, Bitef presents the original and innovative productions of the world mainstream theatre, the performances of post-dramatic, non verbal expression, as well as those realised with new technologies, thus opening its doors to the virtual reality of cyber theatre.
In the course of all these years, Bitef has preserved its place in the family of major international festivals. For its continuity and quality Bitef was awarded the Special Prize for 1999. by "Premio Europa per il teatro".
Instead of explaining the history of Bitef at great length, it will suffice to list the names of the artists who have visited Belgrade in the past years. Some of them were discovered at the festival, while, for others, Bitef has been another in the series of affirmations of their artistic significance and value
Jerzy Grotowski • David Esrig • Living Theatre&Judith Malina, Julian Beck • Otomar Krejča • Victor Garcia • Peter Zadek • Georgij Tovstonogov • Arsa Jovanović • Richard Schechner • Luca Ronconi • Peter Schumann • Jirži Menzel • William Gaskill • Klaus Peymann • Eugene Ionesco • Božidar Violić • Eugenio Barba • Mira Trailović • La Mamma&Andrei Serban • Hans Lietzau • Ingmar Bergman • Petar Selem • Branko Pleša • Roger Planchon • Joseph Chaikin Jerôme Savary • Pip Simmons • Charles Ludlam • Arianne Mnouchkine • Dino Radojević • Shuji Terayama • Merce Cunningham • Dušan Jovanović • Peter Stein • Hisao Kanze • Georgij Paro • Miklos Jancso • Peter Brook • Giles Havergal • Memè Perlini • Paolo Magelli • Robert Wilson • Anatolij Efros • Konrad Swinarski • Charles Marowitz • George Tabori • Roger Planchon • Slobodan Unkovski • Patrice Cherau • Jurij Ljubimov • Samuel Beckett • Andrzej Wajda • Lee Breuer • Ljubiša Ristić • Philip Glass • Miroslav Belović • Tadeusz Kantor • Dejan Mijač • Lindsay Kemp • Pina Bausch • Robert Sturua • Georges Lavaudant • Benno Besson • Nuria Espert • Antoine Vitez • Kazimierz Dejmek • Carmello Bene • Roberto Ciulli • Aleksandar Popović • Jerzy Jarocki • Igor Vasiljev • Jerzy Grzegorzewski • Ivica Kunčević • Alexander Lang • Janusz Wisniewski • Janez Pipan • Eimuntas Nekrošius • Jan Fabre • Petar Živadinov • Jürgen Flimm • Haris Pašović • Hansgünter Heyme • Karge Langhoff • Erik Appelgrin • Johann Kresnik • Dimiter Gotscheff • Mira Erceg • Jorma Uotinen • Steven Berkoff • Tamás Ascher • Michael Clark • Wolfgang Engel • Anatolij Vasiljev • Erwin Piplits • Carolyn Carlson • Janos Szikora • Hinderik de Groot • La fura dels baus • Tomaž Pandur • Henrijeta Janowska • Gábór Zsámbéki • Kama Ginkas • Frederick Flamand • François Michel Pesenti • Meredith Monk • Roman Viktjuk • Wim Vandekeybus • Andràs Urban • Ivana Vujić • Theodoros Terzopoulos • Lev Dodin • Silviu Purcarete • Joseph Nadj • Nigel Charnock • Jagoš Marković • De la Guarda • Frank Castorf • Saburo Teshigawara • Nikita Milivojević ▪ Théátre de Complicité&Simon McBurney • Vito Taufer • Gorgio Strehler • Angelin Preljocaj • Phil Soltanoff • Ivan Popovski • Margaret Jenkins • Valerij Fokin • Sonja Vukićević ▪ Christoph Marthaler • Sacha Waltz • Thomas Ostermeier • Regis Obadia • Biljana Srbljanović • Aleksandar Popovski ▪ Michael Nyman • Eric Lacascade • Arpad Sopsits • Susanne Linke • Nicolas Stemann • Alisa Stojanović • Dalija Aćin ▪ Grzegorz Jarzyna • Michael Thalheimer • Krystian Lupa • Marius Kurkinski • Krysztof Warlikowski • Rezo Gabriadze • Pjotr Fomenko • Johan Simnos • Oskaras Korsunovas • Egon Savin • Tomi Janežić • Ian Grieve • Daniela Nicolo • Enriko Casagrande • Yossi Yungman • José Montavlo • Lorenzo Bazzocchi • Matjaž Farič • Robert Alföldi • Rami Be'er • Heiner Goebbels • René Pollesch • Alvis Hermanis • Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker • Bojan Đorđev • Lloyd Newson • Marie Chouinard • Constanza Macras • Dmitri Černjakov • Stefan Kaegi • Rodrigo Garcia • Kirsten Dehlholm • Lotte van den Berg • Guy Weizman • Rony Haver • Ivica Buljan • Maurice Bėjart • Ohad Naharin • Romeo Castellucci • Emma Dante • Boris Bakal • Lenka Udovički, etc...
Bitef began with a decision of the City Assembly of Belgrade in 1967 to establish and support an international festival of the performing arts that would be an event of special importance to the city. It is held annually in September.
The chief purpose of the festival is to present authors, productions and trends that are the most important phenomena in modern performing arts. In doing so, Bitef initiates and promotes a different approach to theater, expands the boundaries of cultural identities and creates a map of professional contacts. It also enriches and encourages the new Serbian theater scene, contributing towards its greater recognition in the European and broader international context.
Bitef currently receives financial support from the City Assembly of Belgrade (approximately 50 percent), the Serbian Ministry of Culture (approximately 20 percent), embassies and foreign cultural centers, as well as donors and sponsors. Bitef's general sponsor is JAT Airways, in one of the most successful strategic partnerships between cultural and business sectors in Serbia. Another example of successful strategic partnership is the cooperation between Bitef and "New Moment-New Ideas", the marketing agency that realizes Bitef's visual identity, which is based on a design that Slobodana Mašić originally created for Bitef #5.
Bitef's productions are formally undertaken and underwritten by Bitef Theater, which employs 22 persons full-time and engages between 40 and 100 others each season. During the past few years, Bitef Theater producer has mounted very successful international co-productions, such as ENPARTS (Culture 2007-2013), "Lack of Space", directed by Christoph Marthaler, "The Servant of Two Masters", directed by Andrea Paccioto, and "The Big Closing Time", directed by Christian Papke.
Bitef's Board of Directors includes a president and four members who, like the festival's Artistic Director, are appointed by the City Assembly of Belgrade and have four-year tenures.
The festival is held at many venues, in traditional and "untraditional" performance spaces. Recently Bitef began a program of regional cooperation, and performances are held not just in Belgrade, but Novi Sad and Niš. Regional press conferences are also held in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
The main program consists of those performances in the festival's official selection. The number varies from year to year, but in recent years roughly ten performances make up the main program. Traditionally, Meet the Artists discussions are held after each performance.
Since Bitef's establishment, the selections in the main program have been chosen by Jovan Ćirilov, who continues to serve Belgrade, the international performing arts community and festival audiences in that role. Since 2006, Anja Suša is also a selector of the main program.
The accompanying program has been an integral part of the festival since 1967. Some "accompaniments" have evolved into "constant companions," while others have been one-year or multi-year projects. They include events such as:
*Showcase (2005 to present) highlights cutting-edge Serbian theater productions that represent contemporary trends in performing arts. It continues to be a favorite of directors, producers, theater journalists, critics and other festival guests. Showcase promotes the contemporary Serbian performing arts scene within the European and wider international context and creates opportunities for Serbian artists and theater companies to develop collaborative projects with partners from abroad.
*ENPARTS (2007-2013) is one of the ten most significant projects undertaken within the program Culture 2007-2013, a collaboration among Bitef and five European partners, led by the Venice Biennale, designed to foster long-term cooperation among Europe's most important performing arts institutions through co-productions, guest exchanges, conferences and other events. Every year, Bitef presents one of the new productions that emerge in the ENPARTS collaboration.
*Bitef Polyphony (2000 to present) explores and promotes innovative, participatory and socially-engaged theater by and for young people. It takes on important social topics, promotes change and transforms established practices. Through round tables, presentations, workshops and performances, Bitef Polyphony explores the use of drama, play and theater as method, instrument and technique in education, social engagement and humanitarian work.
*BITEF on Film (1976 to present), the "oldest" accompanying program, is devoted to a special theme.
*Criticism that Walks (2007 to present, as part of the Seminar on Criticism) is an intensive, three-day program, along with Theory that Walks, that contributes to the development of local critical discourse, supports new and contemporary critics of performing arts and stakes out new space for their work. This accompanying program also enhances the manner in which Bitef and contemporary performing arts practice is received at home and abroad.
Associated with these programs – but also independent of Bitef – workshops, presentations, round tables, theoretical symposia, multimedia exhibits and other performing arts exhibits are organized throughout Belgrade to coincide with the festival. After Ten Parties, featuring a range of entertainments, are a festival standard.
Jury and Awards
Bitef is a festival of competitive character. Its five-member jury is chosen on the recommendation of festival management from among internationally-respected figures in culture and the performing arts.
Two juried awards are given to productions selected for the Main Program:
*Grand Prix "Mira Trailović" – for the best production
*Special Award – for outstanding contribution to theater arts
An Audience Award is presented, based on the results of audience surveys collected at the end of each performance.
A special jury of the daily newspaper Politika, Serbia's paper of record, presents the Politika Award.
Every year Bitef publishes a festival catalogue and bulletins. The catalogue offers a critical presentation of the festival as a whole and is available for sale immediately before the festival opens. The Bitef bulletin is published every day and describes current events in the festival.
Much has been written about Bitef, and in many languages. Of special note, however, is the monograph Bitef, 40 godina novih pozorišnih tendencija, published by the Historical Archive of the City of Belgrade.