The ABC of Fear Dec 21, 2017

Petra Zanki, 'The ABC of Fear', September 2017

The ABC of Fear by Petra Zanki


Watch the video of The ABC of Fear


As we head into the tail end of 2017, we look back to the searing first performance of the 17/18 Season — Belarus Free Theatre’s Burning Doors — which moved and inspired many audience members with its call for resistance under authoritarian regimes. Our Ambassador Writers Corps program invites writers to delve into the various kinds of responses to seeing art at OtB; these texts can take on the format of reviews or free writes or poems. Petra Zanki, a member of the Writers Corps, had a response to Burning Doors that not only included writing, but the making and erasure of that writing, that has resulted in a sculptural performance both evocative and haunting. 

Petra is a Seattle choreographer and theatre maker originally from Croatia. Croatia was one of six republics that made up the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which was led by the benevolent dictator Josip Broz Tito from 1953 until his death in 1980. After Tito’s death the relationship among the six republics deteriorated, leading to the Yugoslav Wars (or “Wars in the Balkans” as it is also commonly referred to in the U.S.) of 1991 to 1999/2001. These wars are considered Europe’s deadliest conflicts since World War II, marked by a high number of war crimes that included ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, and rape. 

Petra’s response to Burning Doors explores her strong, visceral reaction to the performance as it ties to her own history of having lived under the fear of violence during the breakup of Yugoslavia. “Love is not the most powerful force in the universe,” she said when we sat down to talk about her piece. “It’s fear.” The fear that was part of growing up during the war years is something that she — and many others who have lived through war and conflict — forever carry with them. 

Petra also points out that there are levels to freedom. Who has the right to speak out? Not everyone can resist or speak out in the same way. There are also other ways to revolt, other forms that look beyond violence. Petra pointed out the Singing Revolution in the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania from 1987-1991, that helped lead to their independence from the USSR using various acts of protest and acts of defiance, but not violence. Petra believes in evolution as opposed to revolution as a way to resist and incite change. 

In the erasure of the writing, and the resulting black square, Petra also makes a direct reference to Black Square (1913), the seminal work of Russian painter Kasemir Malevich. It was a singular entity at a time when most paintings were still of ‘real things’, and marked a change to come in art forever. Fiontan Montan, assistant curator at the Tate Modern, writes, “When he premiered the Black Square the world was going up in smoke — it was in the middle of the First World War, following the 1905 Russian revolution, and the continuing unrest that just a few years later in 1917 would explode into the Bolshevik uprising and October Revolution. The Black Square arrived at a time when Russian art crowds, although used to seeing cubist and futurist works, would never have seen a work like this. Bearing this turbulent time in mind, it seems difficult to think of the artistic revolution Malevich was bringing about as separate from the social revolution that was happening. Malevich didn’t intend for the Black Square to be a representation of a real thing, but a sign of a dawn of new age.”


— Jayme Yen, Director of Design & Communication



Petra Zanki is Seattle choreographer and theatre maker originally from Croatia.


On the Boards Ambassadors are cultural and civic leaders who bring new voices and perspectives and share our programs with new communities. 

The Ambassador Writers Corps is a team of experienced writers and artists who develop responsive and critical content around On the Boards performances or write about specific issues in our creative and civic community.