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Off Center and all together

Edgy festival at Segerstrom Center brings together artists — and some activists — from around the world.

January 17, 2013|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • A photo from "The Car Plays" from last year's Off Center Festival.
A photo from "The Car Plays" from last year's… (Courtesy Doug Gifford,…)

Natalia Kaliada has faced rejection from arts facilities, endured police raids, been arrested and lived in exile for more than two years.

All of that for one cause: a relentless commitment to free thought and expression.

As the founding co-artistic director of Belarus Free Theatre, the sole 25-person acting troupe in a population of nearly 10 million people, Kaliada, along with her husband, Nicolai Khalezin, and director, Vladimir Shcherban, were forced out of their home country, Belarus, in 2010.

Undeterred, they took to Skype as UK residents and continued working with actors who had been left behind, many of whom have been blacklisted, dismissed from universities, fired from jobs and evicted from their homes.

"Every time we talk to our actors and express how proud we are, they reassure us that they are not scared of those jerks in police uniforms," Kaliada said. "In a situation like ours, when you live under a dictatorship, you have very small choice, it's either black or white. When you have a group of people who decide to make and say whatever they want, when they want, it will disturb the authorities."

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Soon, 16 people from this ensemble will fly out separately from Belarus, so as not to alert the government about the company's activities, to be a part of the second installation of the "Off Center Festival." Hosted by the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, they will perform "Minsk 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker," which delves into the state of Belarusian society through the prism of sexuality.

Kaliada explained that it is at shows, and in front of audiences, that the actors get a chance "to live, and not only survive."

"We don't have a choice," she said. "This is our life. We just want to do what we love and what we think is important, artistically and as human beings."

From Tuesday to Feb 2, the Costa Mesa arts complex will showcase nationally and internationally piquant performances, from comedy to music, dance to theater, presented at multiple corners of the campus.

"We wanted to have a name that connoted a range of programming that was alternative to what people might normally expect and added to the personality of what we were trying to do," Center President Terry Dwyer said about the origin of the name "Off Center." "This festival offers an array of contemporary performance styles and is defined by its eclectic and unexpected nature."

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