Tania Bosak: Miss Jugoslavia and The Barefoot Orchestra

Tania Bosak’s bio reads like someone who has managed to pack two lifetimes into one.  Miss Jugoslavia and The Barefoot Orchestra – part concert, part theatre, and part film score for a film that will never be made – is her first major work. Aussie Theatre’s Valentina Ilievska had the opportunity to chat with Bosak about her career to date and her new work.

Tania Bosak Image:  Jeff Busby
Tania Bosak
Image: Jeff Busby

A self-taught inter-disciplinary musician, performer, composer, actor and comedian, not to mention TaKeTiNa (rhythm teacher) Master, this former Miss Yugoslavia runner-up is also a Churchill Fellowship recipient, an award given to Australians who are “innovative, filled with a spirit of determination and possess a strong desire to benefit their community”.

Born and bred in Melbourne, Bosak has lived and travelled all over the world, but says she cut her teeth as a musician and performer in Hobart, after she moved there in the early 90’s and kick-started the band Rektengo, whose eclectic mix of Gypsy Jazz, Latin and Cumbia swing established the troupe as Tasmanian music royalty.

For Bosak, whose musician father is the inspiration behind Miss Jugoslavia and The Barefoot Orchestra, music was in the blood.

With no formal lessons or music training to speak of, Bosak admits she was a late starter. She took to playing the instruments her older sisters discarded after they tired of them, a consequence of being the youngest. Bosak gravitated towards playing the guitar and improvised piano, but longed to play the piano accordian.

Restricted by the confines of her public school education, which focused solely on Maths and English, Bosak changed schools in her final year to an experiential drama school in Melbourne’s west based on the Jacques Lecoq method, which encouraged its students to investigate ways of performance that suited them best. Here for the first time, Bosak found herself in a nurturing and creative environment that encouraged her to seek new avenues of expression as a performer.

After graduating, she joined a Gamelan inspired ensemble and got her first real taste for performing as part of an ensemble. Wanting to spread her wings further, she eventually uprooted herself and travelled around the globe, spending six months in Senegal where she trained in percussion and the total body articulation concepts of traditional African dance.

After returning to Melbourne, Bosak dabbled as a stand-up comedian, inspired by the likes of Joan Rivers’ take no prisoners’ shtick, and Sarah Silverman’s  smart, political satire. Comedy taught her what it meant to perform in front of a live audience night after night. While she loved the connection with her audience, Bosak found comedy at that time in Melbourne was a bit of a ‘boys club’ and her particular brand of left-of-field comedy didn’t exactly fill clubs.

When friend and fellow comedian Catherine Deveny convinced her to ditch the character act and just be herself, Bosak’s life took on a whole new trajectory.

Trained as a professional actor with film and tv credits, Bosak left Melbourne and moved to Tasmania in the early 90’s, splitting her time between performance and musical director roles, to playing Shakespeare outdoors. The talented Bosak was clearly a big fish in a small pond, but her distinct lack of ego allowed her to flourish. She describes this time in her life as incredibly important for her as an artist. She met her partner, also a musician, and went on about her business pretending to be a jazz singer. Culture starved Tasmanians just lapped it up and embraced her performance style, giving her permission, once again, to be herself. Bosak is featured somewhere on a list of the Top 150 Most Influential People in Tasmania, not that she would ever make a point of telling you about it.

Rektengo, the band she kickstarted in 2000, has over the years morphed into a fully-fledged music event under the same banner and is still embraced and loved by locals and visitors as much today as when it first began. The band has recorded two CD’s, but rarely play together these days. The band eventually took on a new shape in the form of Moods in Mambo, a 10 piece outfit playing Balkan Jazz fused with story telling. It was during these years that Bosak first started experimenting with the whole ‘concert cum cabaret cum variety show’ style. For Bosak this was particularly liberating and a far cry from the creatively limiting world and pressures of comedy.

Jedinsvto Drustvo members 1958
Jedinsvto Drustvo members 1958

Miss Jugoslavia and The Barefoot Orchestra is a story of songs inspired by her musician father’s defection from the former Yugoslavia to Belgium in 1958, seeking a better life. It is an intensely personal story, and rather Odyssean in its evolution. It is the culmination of thirteen years of creative development. Far from being didactic and sentimental, the music drives the emotion and the meaning behind some of the larger themes of exile and displacement. It is simultaneously an aural and a visual celebration of culture and identity. There is something very human about what is being explored thematically that makes it easy to relate with, no matter what your nationality. Bosak has also managed to assemble some of the best musicians in the world for the show she describes as “composed theatre”; every single one of them is a jazz superstar in their own right.

In her free time, which is a rare commodity these days, Bosak likes to read text books on Chaos Theory and Shamanism. She also admits to more than a keen fascination in the study of neuroscience and how music can impact different neurological conditions such as those described in Oliver Sacks book “Musicophilia: Tales of Music and The Brain”.

If you missed out on seeing Miss Jugoslavia and The Barefoot Orchestra when it premiered at MONA FOMA in January, then you have eleven days and a whole lot more reasons not to miss out this time.

Tania Bosak Image:  Jeff Busby
Tania Bosak
Image: Jeff Busby

Miss Jugoslavia and The Barefoot Orchestra performance dates:

30 October – 11 November 2013  (Preview 29 October)

For tickets and times visit www.fortyfivedownstairs.com

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Valentina has written 7 articles on AussieTheatre | Read more articles by