Dubrovnik culture and events

Dubrovnik has always been synonymous with its Summer Festival, the event that more than any other puts its cultural stamp on the city. In many ways the festival serves as a reminder that Dubrovnik always was a cradle of culture  – indeed Dubrovnik’s contributions to Renaissance and Baroque literature provided the modern Croatian language with many of its essential building bocks. Whether Dubrovnik still carries the same cultural weight nowadays is open to question – but for a city of just under 45,000 inhabitants, it still manages to display an impressive artistic profile.

The Dubrovnik Summer Festival (July 10 - August 25) itself has often found itself caught between competing priorities, balancing ground-breaking culture with things that the average audience will understand; while offering a programme that will mean something to the locals while attracting foreign visitors at the same time 

The theatre part of the programme had a cutting-edge, contemporary feel in 2013, but tracks back towards the classics in 2014. The message seems to be that the Dubrovnik Festival is never going to succeed as an out-and-out avant-garde event, so it may as well stick to what it knows best: a bit of Shakespeare, not too many theatrical experiments, and lots of serious classical music.  

This year there’ll be two Shakespeare plays (Timon of Athens and Romeo and Juliette), and the first performance in 13 years of a much-loved local classic, Marin Držić’s sixteenth-century comedy DundoMaroje. Although Romeo and Juliette will be performed in Croatian, ticket-holders will be given the option of receiving real-time English subtitles on a tablet or mobile phone. 

And even if the language gap remains a problem, you can always enjoy the locations in which the performances are being staged. One thing that will always be unique to the Dubrovnik Festival is that it is site-specific, using the city itself (one of the best outdoor locations in the world, as the producers of Game of Thrones will tell you) to add the whiff of real history to every drama. 

Equinox, by Croatian playwright Ivo Vojnović (1857-1929), is a heavy local-family drama that would normally mean little to a foreign audience. This year it is being staged on the rocks of Lokrum island (and with English subtitles to boot), and looks set to be a truly magical experience.

Other venues to be used this summer include Šulić bay below Lovrijenac, the Rector’s Palace, Boškovićeva poljana, and, for the first time, the Aquarium, which will host a dramatization of Džemila Bukovica’s War Diary 1991-1992 (the Aquarum was used as a civilian shelter during the siege described in Bukovica’s book). 

The danger of the Dubrovnik Summer Festival is that it tends to overshadow everything else that happens in the city, swallowing both media attention and available budgets. There’s certainly a lot more going on in Dubrovnik, and it doesn’t always get the press coverage it deserves.

Fans of the performing arts will find a riot of quality entertainment going on at Le Petit Festival (www.lepetitfestival.com), which has been bringing international theatre, cabaret, chanson and discussion to Dubrovnik since 2005, with shows usually taking place in smaller-scale auditoria. This year the festival runs from June 21 to 28 with most events being held at the Lazareti cultural centre just outside Ploče Gate.   

The Art Radionica Lazareti (www.arl.hr) is itself one of the prime incubators of contemporary art in Croatia, organizing exhibitions, seminars and performances throughout the year. The number of tourists who make their way to Lazareti to catch the Art Radionica’s events is however disappointingly low, despite the place’s reputation for producing cutting-edge culture. The Dubrovnik Art Gallery (www.ugdubrovnik.hr) has a regular programme of contemporary art exhibitions throughout the year, but is under-promoted by a local community that assumes its foreign visitors are not really interested in things avant-garde.   

A far as the nightlife end of things is concerned, the Revelin Culture Club (www.clubrevelin.com) is primarily known as the club in the Old Town, the place where everyone ends up when everything else within the walls is closed. However the caliber of the rock-pop concerts and DJ events held here is way above the level of a mere tourist disco – and the medieval-fortress setting is more than memorable.    

Making an even bigger impression over the last few years is Orsula Park (www.parkorsula.du-hr.net), an outdoor stage that boasts an amazing hillside location east of the city, famous for its jaw-droppingly dramatic views of the Old Town below. Reached from the city by a winding path, Orsula Park is a venue that was deliberately conceived a place where alternative culture could flourish without being shut down by sleepless neighbours or unsympathetic policing. A nature conservation project as well as concert venue, everything about the site is ‘hand-crafted’, as founder Andro Vidak says. Even the trenches for the electricity cables were dug by volunteers.  This summer Orsula Park finds itself in the middle of something of a transitional year. Last year’s Mali Glazbeni Festival (Little Music Festival), with its summer-long programme of concerts, will be reined in until economic conditions improve. Taking its place will be a more modest concert season featuring a handful of big regional names. Be sure to check the schedule - any concert here can well turn out to be a magical experience. 

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