Grotowski’s Traditions and Wild Polish Music Across the US
Image from the Studium Teatralne performance
With Grotowski’s former student Piotr Borowski as director, Studium Teatralne sets out to tour the U.S. with Chasing the King of Hearts - a bodily ballad of love amidst war. Following Ohio performances, the company's Bay Area debut forms a rare chance meet-up with colleagues in the wild Janusz Prusinowski Trio
Studium Teatralne set out to present their series of U.S. performances on the 26th of September, beginning their trip in Ohio just five days after the Prusinowski Trio launched their own tour in Madison, Wisconsin. And in San Francisico, the rare opportunity to see the bodily language of Jerzy Grotowski’s method speak of Second World War atrocities - and also of the power of love - comes another rarity: the opportunity to hear music from the heart of Poland by the Janusz Prusionowski Trio at Yoshi's, the Bay City's renowned jazz club.
Historic&Heartfelt - Poland's Heritage Here and Now
A scene from the Studium Teatrlane performance
What the two fantastic formations have in common – along with Piotr Piszczatowski, a former Studium Teatralne member and currently percussionist in the Trio – is a unique take on the best of Poland’s traditions: the practice of theatre in the renowned Grotowski method, and a unique revival of the jolty rhythms and melodies of Polish folk music.
Studium Teatralne present their stage adaptation of Hannah Krall’s prize-winning novel Chasing the King of Hearts (in English from London's Peirene Press in September 2013). King of Hearts is based on the true story of Izolda Regenberg, a young Jewish woman trapped in the Warsaw ghetto with her husband and their families during the Second World War. U.S. audiences have the chance to witness the intertwining resonance of what Poland is perhaps most known for - its tragic past and the unthinkable fates of Holocaust survivors - with the method of Grotowski, whose metaphysical search for what is deeply human revolutionised contemporary theatre across the globe.
The Body of Grotowski's Method and the Holocaust
Poster for Akropolis, version V, courtesy of the Grotowski Institute
In autumn 2013, 51 years have passed since the premiere of Grotowski’s milestone staging of Acropolis in Wrocław. The director's name is not associated with Poland's Second World War history in any obvious way, yet that performance that is said to have best presented his concept of the Poor Theatre in attempting to depict the most grim of this history’s events.
Grotowski collaborated with legendary director and designer Józef Szajna for the production with the Theatre of the 13 Rows. Acropolis premiered on the 10th of October 1962 and was based on the dramatised poem published by Stanisław Wyspiański in 1904. Wyspiańki’s oeuvre consisted of a prophetic drama which combined motifs from Polish history with Homeric and Biblical sequences, thus staging a summa of Europe’s Mediterrenian cultural heritage. As its central theme, however, Acropolis evoked the idea of resurrection, both in the sense of redemption from death and oblivion, and that of a task to be faced by each man.
This axis of the play was moved by Grotowski into a concentration camp - he juxtaposed Europe’s great founding myths with the Holocaust, placing them under radical if not impossible scrutiny. In Grotowski’s vision, the actors built the symbolic space of a crematorium on stage, and their close proximity to the audience served the paradoxical purpose of creating radical distance between them and their viewers. The actors seemed to completely negate the presence of the audience, and the strange, hostile world they evoked is said to have depicted the unimaginable reality of the concentration camp. Acropolis is considered a masterpiece of 20th-century theatre across the world.
Adapting Krall's Chasing the King of Hearts - its title is translated by Studium into English as The King of Hearts Is Off Again - marks probably the first time that Grotowski’s former apprentice follows in the path of his guru’s method, evoking the unthinkable history of the Holocaust in Poland.
The main motif of their production is the story of a young Jewish woman who, after escaping the ghetto, disguises herself as a Pole - and then as a German in order to find her husband and drag him out of the concentration camp. Her love becomes a shocking “way” of surviving. Her fate is the story of her “non-existence”, her “absence”, and it is a fate by which what she is looses its meaning. The only thing that matters is the man she wants to rescue, and in order to attain that goal she is ready to do anything.
It seems that morality no longer concerns her, that God has no place there, and that in the face of situations that surpass human imagination, conventional values become something abstract. The viewer is meant to have the impression that this is a story that unfolds contemporarily, before his own eyes, that time does not flow in a linear way but that, instead, “today” is just another link in a very old, continuous chain of events. The artists state that rather than reconstructing or documenting a story, they seek to depict the timeless power of human sacrifice and love. On their website, Studium Teatralne state:
In our era, when the comfortable conditions of our lives are frequently taken for granted, in which we mechanically and notoriously complain about the present, wherein the phenomena of intolerance are growingly strong - this performance will be a reminder of the relativity of human judgements and convictions.
A review of the performance, written by Tina Jeppson for the Swedish journal Barometern, describes the production:
The stage is cold and empty, only a table and a few chairs made of metal - all this in sharp contrast with a beautiful, colourful floor with a pattern from an old Polish synagogue that was destroyed during World War II. This carpet becomes the symbol of a life that the characters of the play could have had. Could have, were it not for the war. [...] I have never seen actors depict a story with such an expressive language of the body. They do not speak many words, their bodies say more. [...] Even if it is a terrible story about the atrocities of war, it does speak about the power of love.
Studium Teatralne is an ensemble theatre in the tradition of Jerzy Grotowski. Their new production is directed by the company’s leader, Piotr Borowski, a longtime student of Grotowski. The four actors employ techniques of the Grotowski method to collectively portray 22 characters on a stage with a minimalist set.
The performance in San Francisco takes place as part of the San Francisco International Arts Festival.
September 26, 27, 28 at 8 pm
September 29 at 2 pm
Balch Street Theatre (former Akron Jewish Center),
220 South Balch Street, Akron OH, 44302
San Fransisco, California (as part of the International Arts Festival):
Wednesday – Friday October 2-4, 2013 8 pm
2840 Mariposa Street, San Francisco, CA 94110
Saturday October 5, 2013 8 pm
University Theatre, CSU East Bay,
25800 Carlos Bee Blvd Hayward
Knee Deep in Musical Heaven
Janusz Prusinowski Trio, collage art by Michal Wiedro, courtesy of polishculture-nyc.org
The day after Studium Teatralne's San Francisco performances conclude, the city's music lovers are presented with a concert of Jazz-World-Traditional Polish music, fused with an avant-garde approach. The Janusz Prusionowski Trio gig at Yoshi’s on the 6th of October promotes the trio’s forthcoming album Knee Deep in Heaven.
Prusinowski Trio is traveling the U.S. with a tour-de-force itinerary covering 16 venues and a group of five musicians who follow the traditions of village masters they have learned from. But they are also an avant-garde band with their own characteristic sound and language of improvisation. They combine music with dance, the archaic with the modern. The Trio’s unique style is distilled from their informed re-interpretations of central Poland’s village music. It brings mazurkas – sung, played, danced and improvised – to a new, youthful audience.
What contemporary quality can be given to archaic, seemingly simple melodies and rhythms without resorting to trendy samples and loops? Listening to the Trio, you can hear how Polish village tunes can echoe a variety of genres: the music of Chopin in its melodic pattern and the use of rubato, a shared love of improvisation with blues and jazz, tonal sophistication shared with both 20th-century classical music and free improv, and the energy and propulsion of rock.
The End of Song...
The Koniec Pieśni (End of Song) project website
This is a very new take on what's fascinated Polish artists of the previous decades. The Trio make a fresh chapter in Poland’s history of cherishing folk music's riches. The leader of Studium Teatralne, Piotr Borowski, once set out on a Wyprawa zimowa. Throughout this Winter Expedition of 1980, together with two actor colleagues, Borowski visited villages in northeast Poland. While visiting people there - many of whom were of Belarussian and Tatar descent - Borowski and his friends recorded songs sung for them in exchange for the "wandering" performance they were presenting.
He returned to the Białystok region in the northeast in 2007, to give back the recordings to the people or their family members. This project, Koniec pieśni / The End of Song, constituted for Borowski the documentation of a vanishing world. (For images, film and information in Polish, see the project website: http://www.studiumteatralne.pl/koniec_piesni/wyprawa.html)
...and the Trio's Here and Now
Journalist and music critic Michal Shapiro comments in his review of the Trio’s performance at the WOMEX festival:
What struck me right away about this music was its amazing ability to mix the feel and power of village dance music with the personal contemporary sensibilities of the players. [...] The addition of wind and brass to the Trio's sound really pushes their music into another realm.
Janusz Prusinowski, the Trio's leader, is a fiddler who also plays the dulcimer, Polish accordion and the hurdy-gurdy. A singer and a composer, he learned to play from village musicians and was a pioneer of the traditional-music revival in Poland. Prusinowski has played in bands including Bractwo Ubogich and Kapela Domu Tańca, and is co-founder of the “House of Dance” Association (1994). He has performed concerts throughout Europe, in Africa, Asia and North America, and has played and sung at hundreds of dances and church fairs.
As a musician and composer Prusinowski cooperates with the Polish Radio Theatre and the Scena Lubelska 30/32 theatre in Warsaw. Together with his wife, Kaja, he runs the Play by Ear children’s theatre; they also compose songs and lullabies. The author of an educational programme, he leads workshops in singing and fiddle-playing. He has organised cultural events and is artistic director of the Mazurkas of the World festival.
Piotr Piszczatowski is a percussionist, accordionist and a keen dancer, who always inspires others to dance at traditional music events and wedding receptions - providing instruction when required. His hobby is recording traditional folk music, both secular and religious. He is especially fond of the countryside traditions of Poland and Belarus. He has been involved in educational programmes in which he taught groups of children and teenagers. He acted and co-wrote music for Studium Teatralne from 1996 to 2007 and is now an actor and director at the Play by Ear theatre. He has performed with Kapela Domu Tańca, Kapela Brodów, Adam Strug and Aleksander Łoś, and was a founder of the House of Dance Association and the Mazurkas of the World festival.
The Prusinowski Trio's lineup is Janusz Prusinowski, fiddle, voice, dulcimer and Polish accordion, Piotr Piszczatowski, baraban drum and frame drum, Michal Zak, wooden flutes, shawm and clarinet, Piotr Zgorzelski, folk bass and dancing and Szczepan Pospieszalski on trumpet.
The band has performed in most European countries, Asia, Canada, and the U.S. (including Carnegie Hall and the Chicago Symphony Center). The Trio shared the stage with renowned artists including pianist Janusz Olejniczak, trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, and Alim Qasimov. They have released two critically-acclaimed albums, Mazurkas (2008) and Heart (2010). In October 2012, the Prusinowski Trio was selected for the main showcase of the prestigious world music fair WOMEX (World Music Expo) in Thessaloniki.
The concert of the Janusz Prusinowski Trio is co-organised by the Polish Cultural Institute in New York, and their concert in San Francisco is part of their extensive tour across the U.S.
Tour details are:
Sat, Sept 21, 2013, 1:30 pm
Madison World Music Festival
Wisconsin Union Theater
Sun, Sept 22, 2013
15th Annual World Music Festival Chicago, IL
Wed, Sept 25, 2013
Landfall Festival of World Music
Legion Arts, Cedar Rapids, IA
Fri-Sat, Sept 27-28, 2013
20th Annual Lotus World Music & Arts Festival
Sun, Sept 29, 2013, 3 pm
Music at Lily Pads, Peace Dale, RI
Fri, Oct 4, 2013, 7:15 pm
DROM, New York City
Sat, Oct 5, 2013, 7 pm
Intimate House Concert in the hills of San Diego;
for details email [email protected]
Sun, Oct 6, 2013, 7 pm
Yoshi's San Francisco, CA
Thu, Oct 10, 2013, 7:00pm
European Jazz @ UCLA
Sat-Sun, Oct 12-13, 2013
Richmond Folk Festival, Richmond, VA
Wed, Oct 16, 2013
The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage,
Author: Paulina Schlosser, 30.08.2013
Sources: San Francisco International Arts Festival press release, Studium Teatralne, Jerzy Grotowski Institute, Polish Cultural Institute in New York, Janusz Prusinowski Trio, culture.pl, own materials