Hovering on the outskirts of Central Europe, Croatia has long been a hub of artistic interest, though it rarely received the hype of Western European nations like Italy or France. That may change come July 2013, when Croatia formally joins the European Union, and the tiny Eastern European country gives its fellow members a run for their creative money. The arts have long been burgeoning in Croatia, as evidenced by a number of Croatia's festivals, many of which have been among the country's cultural highlights for decades. From one of contemporary music's biggest festivals, to a traditional folklore fest and even a cutting-edge electronica festival, discover Croatia's most interesting festivals.
Since 1961, the Music Biennale Zagreb transform's Croatia's capital into the world's hub of contemporary music. Held in the spring of odd-numbered years, the Biennale welcomes an international array contemporary music composers, musicians, music critics and contemporary music and arts lovers to Zagreb, which hosts numerous events and recitals. Attendees can hear new and classic compositions and see performances from renowned chamber ensembles and symphony orchestras, such as the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as attend productions of experimental musical theater, contemporary dance and jazz.
Organized by the Croatian Composers Society, the Biennale has also begun to feature lectures, workshops and symposiums covering topics such as 20th-century classical compositions, to accompany the live music. Most notably, over the years festival organizers have collaborated with major figures in contemporary music who in the past have included John Cage, Igor Stravinsky and Bruno Maderna, helping solidify the Biennale's reputation at the forefront of the genre.
As Eastern Europe's premier theater festival, the Eurokaz Festival has been delighting theatrical arts fans since 1987, when it first commenced in Zagreb. Held every June, Eurokaz is more than an exhibition of theater performances; it encompasses multiple genres, including live art, dance and circus performances.
The festival strives to highlight aspects of the arts in countries around the world -- for example, focusing on new theater in Italy, modern dance in Africa, traditional Asian theater and French filmmaking. Film and video screenings, discussions, symposia, workshops and concerts pepper the festival, often corresponding to performances. While an array of international performances are featured, the festival also serves to highlight the Croatian arts scene, with performances from national theaters and artists, such as internationally renowned Croatian artist and video maker Dalibor Martinis.
Easily ranked as Croatia's edgiest annual gathering -- and one of Europe's hottest up-and-coming music festivals -- the Hartera Festival, an electronica music festival, calls a former cigarette manufacturing factory in the town of Rijeka home. The factory was in use for 150 years before falling into total disrepair. That changed when a group of music enthusiasts saw it as an ideal place to hold cultural events. Though the location is near the town center, the factory is set far enough away from its neighbors to allow for a full-blown, noisy party.
The 3-day festival features performances by more than 200 artists, and attracts some 35,000 attendees. Recent bands to hit the Hartera stage include the Norwegian electronica duo Röyksopp; the London-based dub music band Dub Pistols; and the British indie-rock band the Klaxons. Festival-goers even have the option of camping onsite at the festival, or staying at nearby hostels or hotels, like the Hotel Continental.
For nearly 50 years, the dance and musical heritage of many European nations have been celebrated in Zagreb at the International Folklore Festival. This melting pot of cultural traditions features exhibitions, concerts, dance performances and music workshops. At each year's festival, dozens of folklore groups from around the world swarm Zagreb's streets and squares, dressed in traditional garb and ready to perform and discover traditions from across the globe.
While the festival's theme varies each year, in 2013 it will be celebrating Croatia entry into the European Union, and visitors can expect a focus on a rich variety of European dances such as promenades, contra dances, quadrilles, cotillions, mazurkas, waltzes and polkas. Performances are typically held in Zagreb's Old Town, on stages in the Gradec neighborhood and the central Ban Jelačić Square. Attendees can even bring their dancing shoes if they wish; a series of folkloric dance lessons are open to the public throughout the 6-day festival.
Chris Haring & Loizen Bauer
Croatia's most important dance festival, the Dance Week Festival, pays homage to contemporary dance. Held annually in Zagreb, the festival features work by members of the Croatian Choreographic Platform and artists from around the world. One of the festival's primary goals is to portray the diverse styles of dance and choreography impacting the realm of contemporary dance and to feature the work of up-and-coming artists and choreographers.
Festival events are held at theaters throughout Zagreb and even in some performance spaces in Rijeka. While many of the festival's events are geared toward the dance connoisseur, such as its roundtable discussions ancillary to specific performances, novices will enjoy the festival's dance exhibitions, performances by top-notch choreographers and film screenings.