Violets instead of Violence
Theatrical duo drops violets on Balkan Wars
Croatian government bestows highest civilian honor on Priddis theatre company
By Cindy Ballance
It meant more than a standing ovation, more than bouquets being thrown to their feet and much more than bellows of ‘encore’ from the seats.
It was an honor that nearly made them weep.
Robert Greenwood and Dana Luebke, founders of Sun.Ergos, a mastery of theatre and dance in Priddis were given the highest civilian honor for culture, equal to that of the Order of Canada or the Congressional Medal of Honor, from the Croatian government and their hearts melted.
The honor, Redom Danice Hrvatske s Likom Marka Marulica, was awarded to the theatrical pair for their performances, workshops and artistic and humanitarian donations during the Balkan Wars from 1991-1995 and in 1998. They are the first foreigners to be honored with this award.
“It is like being knighted or given the Medal of Honor or Order of Canada. It is that level of award,” said Greenwood with obvious pride.
“It is a recognition of all of the performances and workshops and a recognition of the fact that we were humanitarians,” added Luebke. “We have given a lot but we have also received a lot with such grace, joy, heart and fun.”
Last year Sun.Ergos participated in 411 events, literally from coast to coast to coast.
Founded in 1977, Sun.Ergos (Greek for working together) is a unique two-man company of theatre, art and dance touring nationally and internationally as cultural ambassadors.
Their trips to Croatia began in 1991 when Greenwood and Luebke planned to attend the world-renowned International Children’s Festival in Sibenik. During that first trip the city was on the verge of war.
“We performed one day in the municipal theatre in Yugoslavia. The next day Croatia declared independence and the war started,” said Luebke.
“The ground sort of shifted under our feet there,” explained Greenwood.
Due to the political unrest many performers backed out of the festival, but Greenwood and Luebke agreed to continue performing, bringing their shows in two suitcases to play in cramped bomb shelters, then disappearing.
“If there is one child left alive in Sibenik, we will have a festival . . . that is why we went,” said Greenwood of their drive to continue performing despite the dangers of war.
At one point the Sibenik government did find out the pair were there, but mistook the performers for a group of children.
“They called the Canadian consulate and questioned why we would send a children’s company into a war zone. They did stop bombing and in all the press we were called ‘Canada’s Children’. They stopped bombing for nine days,” said Greenwood.
During the war, Greenwood and Luebke also performed in refugee camps and the heartache there was nearly unbearable.
“Sometimes when we performed the little women would make us socks. They had nothing and they gave us socks,” said Luebke.
Over the duration of the Balkan Wars, the pair traveled to Sibenik six times. The seventh was the most depressing. The war had ended and the demoralization of the people was heartwrenching.
“We didn’t perform,” said Greenwood. The pair then opted to teach workshops, hoping to leave a legacy with the children and help rebuild a culture that had been almost completely destroyed.
To help in some small way, Luebke and Greenwood donated $500 to help rebuild the 150-year-old theatre which had been bombed during the war.
The children’s festival as well went through a major upheaval and is just now regaining its strength on an international level.
For their efforts in Croatia, Luebke and Greenwood were presented with a beautiful drawing depicting an angel dropping violets on their war — a symbolic testament to their efforts to sustain culture and art even through a most devastating time.
Their efforts in Croatia are even more astounding when you consider their history.
Luebke and Greenwood are not bound by their physical limitations and through their exquisite artistic ability have become chameleons in the theatre creating costumes, writing the script, planning the set design, booking flights, taking phone calls, producing a newsletter, conducting promotions and licking the stamps all under one roof in their Priddis home.
“We live with the stuff we have for our performances,” said Luebke sitting on a prop used in one of their performances that doubles as a livingroom couch.
Living with their props and collection of worldly artifacts inspires imaginative scripts and set designs.
Greenwood, originally from New Hampshire, England, has over 50 years experience in theatre. He was trained at Dartmouth College and the Yale University, School of Drama in New York, Los Angeles and London and has created over 350 roles on stage, radio and television. He has also taught numerous actors in New York and London including Ed Harris.
Luebke is well versed in ballet, modern and folk dance performing over 160 roles. He began his career with the Minnesota Dance Theatre and since danced with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.
The mandate of Sun.Ergos is to celebrate the differences and recognize the similarities among people and cultures.
“It is our way of attacking prejudice,” said Greenwood of the performances that are adapted from various cultural themes, stories and traditions in a way that everyone can empathize.
“Using the basic language and core of just being human,” added Luebke.
Being a part of the various festivals around the world, particularly the International Children’s Festival, is an avenue for the pair to express these principles.
“The festivals are wonderful ways of people maintaining their culture but keeping an international window to the world,” said Greenwood.
Sun.Ergos has represented Alberta and Canada to 17 countries on four continents with a repertoire of some 47 shows with workshops, classes, residencies and community outreach programs.
They have received previous awards from Croatia including honorary citizenships from the Zupanija of Sibenik, the key to the City of Primosten and art awards from Osijek, Sibenik and Rijenka. They have also received awards from Canada, Poland and the United States.
This fall the company will travel again from coast to coast and will spend Christmas in Yellowknife and there are no signs of them slowing down.
For more on the company visit www.sunergos.com