From Vyrypaev to Wilson: Foreign Theatre Directors on Polish Stages
Stars of the theatre and a new generation of artists from Russia, the United States, France, Lithuanian and Hungary are increasingly choosing to work on the Polish stage. Who is challenging theatrical routines and who is trying to measure up to legends of Polish theatre such as Tadeusz Kantor or Jerzy Grotowski? Culture.pl takes a look at the profiles of foreign directors and their most important Polish projects.
A poet and playwright from Siberian Irkutsk, Ivan Vyrypaev is one of the most intriguing artists of contemporary Russian art. In 2006, Polish audiences were entranced by his debut film Euphoria, which played at the Venice and Warsaw Film Festivals. A few years later, his screenplay for Oxygen brought him world renown. His work in the theatre is experimental but maintains a respect for tradition. His performances often engage with language, style and beautiful phrases. For his work reminding Polish audiences that theatre can also be poetry, Vyrypaev was presented the Paszport Polityki award by Polish weekly Polityka in 2013.
On Polish stages, his productions include July, in which Polish theatre and film actress Karolina Gruszka acts out a monologue of a 60-year-old serial killer, Dancing Delhi and Niesznośne Długie Objęcia (editor’s translation: Unbearable Long Embraces), which was a hit at the Powszechny Theatre and was honoured with the Grand Prix at Kontrapunkt Festival in Szczecin. His works UFO: Contact, Marriage and Illusions have also all appeared on stages in both Warsaw and Kraków. His most popular play, Valentine’s Day has been performed dozens of times, with productions mounted by some of the most prominent directors in Poland, including Michał Zadara and Agnieszka Glińska.
Next on our list is Konstantin Bogomolov, an important artist on the contemporary Russian scene. He is sometimes referred to as the ‘Russian Warlikowski’ – Krzysztof Warlikowski is one of the most highly-acclaimed contemporary Polish theatre directors. His performances include everything – Putin, Russian oligarchs, officials, even the Orthodox Church and traditional Russian theatre. In Moscow, Bogomolov directs works for the main stage at the Moscow Art Theatre. Polish audiences know him from his production of An Ideal Husband, broadcast live from Moscow during the Da!Da!Da! Russian Cultural Festival, and the controversial Ice, by Vladimir Sorokin, staged in 2014 at the Narodowy Theatre in Warsaw.
In an interview with the Russian publication Tieatru, Bogomolov emphasized that this performance challenged the routines of modern Polish theatre:
Among those in the Narodowy Theatre, Ice was considered to be something radical, while by the so-called ‘theatrical avant-garde’ it was considered something extremely archaic. (…) I am convinced that Ice in any Moscow theatre would cause much more confusion than it did here. This performance is radical not because of anything flashy or any visual madness, but because it is absolutely anti-spectacular, anti-theatrical. I would not be able to do anything like it on a major stage in Moscow – I realise that. (…) I think the theatre, which I try to articulate, is different – both from Russian and from Polish theatre.
After Ice, Bogomolov directed Chekov’s Platonov at Kraków’s Stary Theatre, casting men in women’s roles, and women in men’s roles.
Kornel Mundruczó is a Hungarian Sorokin and Frankenstein expert, a director of film and theatre, a screenwriter and actor. He is one of the most well-known artists from Hungary and at Cannes alone he has already presented five of his works, including 2010’s Tender Son: The Frankenstein Project. This film was also staged in Budapest as the cult theatrical performance Frankenstein-terv (Project Frankenstein), in which professional actors mingled with the local homeless population in a trailer behind the Bárka Theatre. The performance was additionally staged in, among others, Paris, Kraków, Brussels, Vienna and Seoul. Mundruczó has also directed his work on the stages of Germany and Austria.
In Poland, Mundruczó’s productions include Sorokin’s Ice and a 2012 performance of The Bat at TR Warszawa, a work based on motifs from Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss which won the main prize at the Boska Komedia Festival. The festival’s jury praised the performance as having ‘managed to take the difficult and controversial topic of euthanasia and show that responsibility for ethical choices rests on all of our shoulders’. Reviewing the work in Wprost weekly, Jacek Wakar wrote:
Mundruczó achieves something amazing right before our very eyes. By stirring up a storm of music and theatre, he makes death look at itself in the mirror of a silly operetta. (…)You can experience The Bat as a perverse game, entertainment carrying a horrifying stigma. But not for long. Soon, you’ll start thinking: Can it be that Kornél Mundruczó opened Pandora’s box, so far closed in Polish theatre, with important topics begging to be discussed with a bit of humour and in an attractive form, yet seriously?
The Bat was also awarded the Gwarancja Kultura 2013 by TVP Kultura, Polish television, in the ‘Theatre’ category.
A Lithuanian interpreter of Shakespeare, Pushkin, Chekhov and Dostoevsky, Eimuntas Nekrošius is one of the most outstanding theatre directors working today. His atmospheric productions foreground metaphor, symbols, and music and have appeared on stages in Lithuanian, Russia, Poland and Italy. Last year, at the Theatre Narodowy in Warsaw, he took on Adam Mickiewicz’s Forefathers’ Eve and the legend of Kazimierz Dejmek’s 1967 performance.
Arkadiusz Janiczek, cast in the role of Senator, told journalists that working with Nekrošius is a great honour for any actor:
We waited for him for years. He has his own international language. In his work music is narration and props enhance actors’ presence on stage. He belongs on the same level as directors like Jerzy Grzegorzewski.
Eimuntas Nekrošius was honoured for his direction of Forefathers’ Eve with the Konrad Świnarski Prize.
Paul Bargetto is an American theatre director and director of the undergroundzero festival in New York. He has been in interested in Polish theatre for years and has staged a number of Polish works in the United States. He initiated Trans-Atlantyk Theatre in Warsaw along with the actors Marta Król, Grzegorz Sierzputowski and Tomasz Sobczak. Together they created a performance inspired by photographs taken by SS officer Karl Höcker, showing SS officers on vacation in Solahuette. Of the project, Bargetto said:
Höcker’s album brings a unique view on the history of the Holocaust and its perpetrators. Instead of inhuman beasts, it depicts relaxed people – singing, playing with dogs, flirting, laughing, or even decorating a Christmas tree. We believe that an actor is a documentarian who has unique abilities of reading photographs and translating them into living, speaking characters. Our aim is to show the perpetrators of the Holocaust through a magnifying glass of their own self-image.
In April 2016, Karl Höcker’s Album opened a season of Polish theatre in China. It was presented in the Harbin Great Theatre and the Tianjin Great Theatre and was met with great interest from the Chinese audience and was promptly sold out.
Yana Ross, a Latvian-born American director, holds an MFA from the prestigious Yale School of Drama. She has worked with the Austrian Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek and directed productions on some of the most important stages around the world – from Berlin’s Volksbühne to Seoul’s performing arts festival. Since 2006, she has been the resident director of the National Theatre in Lithuania.
In Poland, Ross directed Request Concert, an intimate monodrama without words, for Kraków’s Łaźnia Nowa Theatre. Polish actress Danuta Stenka played in the starring (and only) role, a performance to which audiences at the New York Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) responded with standing ovations. BAM President Joseph V. Melillo noted that Request Concert is an example of innovative and experimental art for which Poland has been known since Grotowski and Kantor. He added:
Contemporary Polish theatre is a very important part of world culture and of course New York, so it was a pleasure for me to introduced New Yorkers to this show with a Polish actress by this director.
In addition to Request Concert, Warsaw theatregoers were also able to see Ross’s Lake, the Polish premiere of the work by the eminent Russian playwright and scriptwriter Mikhail Durniekov. The production of Lake at TR Warszawa was the first performance of the work outside of Russia. A translation of the script by Agnieszka Lubomira Piotrowska was commissioned by the Gogol Center in Moscow. The cast featured Agnieszka Grochowska, Dawid Ogrodnik, Adam Woronowicz and Agniewszka Żulewska.
Jacques Lassalle is one of the most outstanding French theatre directors working today. In the 1990s he directed the Comédie-Fraçaise, and was granted the French National Grand Prix in Theatre. He is an officer of the Legion of Honor. In Poland, he has twice chaired the jury of the International Festival of Theatre Schools in Warsaw. He has been building a rapport with Polish audiences for years with his productions of French classics and in interviews emphasises that, for him, Molière is unbeatable.
Of Molière, Jacques Lassalle told Polish Radio:
There are no geniuses today, who could undertake in one play so many important and timeless issues as Molière.
On the national stage in Warsaw, he produced Tartuffe by Molière, The False Servant and Lorenzaccio. At the Polski Theatre, he staged The School of Wives and King Lear.
A legend of the stage, Robert will is an American director know to Polish viewers for, among others, his productions of Temptation of St. Anthony (Spotkania Festival, 2006), Rumi (Polish National Opera, 2008), Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape (2009) and Lady from the Sea (Dramatyczny Theatre in Warsaw, 2005). Lady from the Sea was written by Susan Sontag for Wilson and is based on motifs from the works of Henrik Ibsen.
On the Warsaw stage, the director built a simple, raw, minimalist space. The scenery brought to mind the deck of ship and the music was a combination of traditional Scandinavian songs and the sounds of coastal beaches.
Lady from the Sea premiered on 28th October 2005 and was one of the most important artistic events of the year. Co-produced by the Dramatyczny Theatre and Change Performing Arts, the production featured Dominika Kluźniak, Dominika Ostałowska, Danuta Stenka, Władysław Kowalski and Henryk Niebudek.
Sources: : Culture.pl, TR Warszawa, Polskie Radia, Teatr Łaźnia Nowa, PAP, Teatr Narodowy in Warsaw, Teatr Polski in Warsaw; originally written in Polish by AL, translated by AGA 13 Jul 2017