The Most Important Polish Theatre Productions from 2016
A Mickiewicz marathon, musical biographies, performances inspired by cinema, and a TV series inspired by theatre. Culture.pl recalls eleven important theatre premières and international co-productions from 2016.
Forefathers’ Eve in Wrocław
It was an epochal event. For the first time in the history of Polish theatre, Mickiewicz’s Forefathers’ Eve (Dziady) was presented on stage in its entirety, without any shortcuts, 160 years after it was written. The 14-hour theatrical marathon was displayed to the Wrocław public by a specialist of the classic – Michał Zadara. In Professor Dariusz Kosiński’s opinion, the director did something that until then nobody had been able to: he took the pathos out of Mickiewicz. It turned out that Forefathers’ Eve is still unexplored and very current today.
Ivona, Princess of Burgundia in Moscow
Grzegorz Jarzyna, director of the Rozmaitości Theatre in Warsaw, presented Witold Gombrowicz’s Ivona, Princess of Burgundia in Moscow’s National Theatre. It was the first time that the Polish director had worked with Russian actors.
The performance had strong political overtones, because as Jarzyna himself underlined in an interview for Culture.pl, it was the deterioration of the political situation in Russia which helped him decide to cooperate. ‘I disagree with the blockade of cultural relationships between our countries. It’s a political game,’ emphasised the director. The opening of the play was received by the audience with thunderous applause.
Zero Point: The Kindly Ones, Provisorium Theatre
‘Are you sure how you would behave in my place?’, asks Max Aue, Nazi criminal and the protagonist of a sensational novel by Jonathan Littell, The Kindly Ones. The worldwide bestseller was transcribed to the theatre by Janusz Opryński, who enriched the script with quotations from books by Wasilij Grossman – Life and Fate and Forever Flowing – and part of a lecture by Imre Kertesz. The director said:
The book is powerful, provocative in its moral and erotic aspects, and the first time the main protagonist is an executioner, a European who follows the army, behaves in a classic, routine way for an educated man, visits churches and museums, and then kills.
From the point of view of theatre critic Jacek Wakar, Zero Point: The Kindly Ones is one of the more important performances of the past few years in Poland. For the performance, Opryński was honoured with the Konrad Laure, an award given at the Katowice Interpretations Theatre Festival. The cast included Łukasz Lewandowski, Eliza Borkowska, and Agata Góral.
One Gesture, mime theatre
One Gesture is a beautiful and important performance about the power of gesture and the world of sign language directed by Wojtek Ziemilski in Warsaw’s New Theatre. He cooperated with four deaf amateur actors who sign their stories from the stage. It looks a little bit like dance. Ziemilski said in an interview for Culture.pl:
One scene was a coincidence. I asked Adam to sign about anything to try it out and he started to talk about his favourite anime film – it was great, I’d never seen anything like it before. This part of the performance is a tribute to the possibilities of sign language, unreachable for hearing people. Because signing visual poetry is a specific kind of pantomime, understandable only by the deaf. After all, I don’t know how to create a whole story using only one form of a hand, one letter.
The performance One Gesture also earned enthusiastic applause from the audience of the Teaterhuset Avant Garden in Trondheim, Norway and the Arts Printing House in Vilnius.
All About My Mother by Michał Borczuch
The winner of this year’s edition of the 9th Divine Comedy Theatre Festival, where the international judges unanimously decided that this performance from the Łaźnia Nowa Theatre in Kraków deserved the main award. All About My Mother refers to Almodóvar’s films, and is an absorbing performance derived from the personal experience of its creators: director Michał Borczuch and actor Krzysztof Zarzecki, whose mothers died of cancer. Years later, the adult sons talk about life in the shadow of the illness and the process of remembering. ‘Innovative and exciting’ is how the judges of Divine Comedy described the performance.
The last novel by Witold Gombrowicz was transferred to the stage of Stary Theatre in Krakow by Krzysztof Garbaczewski. ‘It’s interesting to melt into the monologues and look at how they refer to us today’, underlined the director before the opening show of the performance.
The author of its surreal stage design is Aleksandra Wasilkowska, and the main role was given to Jaśmina Polak (casting Witold as a woman).
Do Yourself, dance performance by Marta Ziółek
In terms of attendance the biggest hit of the Warsaw municipality, this performance is about creating oneself and ones’ own language, style, sexuality. ‘We’re somewhere between a gym, a techno party, and the corporate mindfulness of a church’, explains Marta Ziółek, its director, who also performs in the role of Angel Dust. She is accompanied by a group of five performers, among them Paweł Sakowicz (High Speed), a charismatic dancer and choreographer who was nominated for this year’s Polityka magazine’s Passport award. Paweł Soszyński commented on dwutygodnik.com:
Clothing as mythology and logos as totems, house remixes tasting like songs from Coral Gardens and Their Magic by Malinowski – Ziółek composes from it a performance with huge reach, with the inherent contemporary social ritual of the element of self-irony. In Komuna we watch a spiritual karaoke and a seance of miracles.
Schubertiade in Wałbrzych
Music has the main role in Schubert: Romantic Composition For Twelve Performers And String Quartet, a performance from the Wałbrzych Drama Theatre awarded in Paradiso, the first competition for young artists at this year’s Divine Comedy Festival. The director doesn’t tell the biography of the romantic composer Franz Schubert, but on the stage samples of it are presented with fragments of his journal. The audience listens to the artist’s compositions with a contemporary musical commentary by Wojtek Blecharz.
As we can read in the press materials Schubert... is a tale about the power of music over generational divisions. Half of the actors are students of the Student University of the Third Age, and everyone is accompanied by a professional actor.
Magda Szpecht, along with Anna Karasińska, Katarzyna Kalwat, Weronika Szczawińska, and Anna Smolar, are all considered some of the most talented directors of the young generation. It is worth remembering those names and following their work, because we will hear about them in the future for sure. Critics don’t doubt that this year’s stages belonged to women.
Dybuk by Anna Smolar
Dybuk at the Polski Theatre in Bydgoszcz is considered to be the best performance in the output of Anna Smolar so far. It was awarded at 22nd Polish Competition for Performing Contemporary Art.
In the performance of Szymon Anski’s tragedy as covered by Ignacy Karpowicz, the director confront contemporary times. A group of teachers and students struggle with the tragic death of one of them. They perform Dybuk, confronting it with their own conscience. It was a good year for Anna Smolar – as well as Dybuk she also directed the performance Henrietta Lacks about the hero of the scientific world, hiding under the abbreviation HeLa (Copernicus Science Centre), and The Worst Man In The World, a performance inspired by the novel by Małgorzata Halber, in which the director confronts the taboo of alcoholism in women (Bogusławski Theatre in Kalisz). It is for the creation of intimate and empathic theatre and touching upon subjects from the peripheries that Anna Smolar was nominated for this year’s Passport Awards from Polityka magazine.
The Tempest Ballet by Krzysztof Pastor
The Polish-Dutch The Tempest fascinated not only with its choreography but also the work of a duo of outstanding Iranian artists: Shirin Neshat and Shoji Azari, who masterfully combined Shakespeare with Iranian culture and contemporary politics. It’s a ballet, but a very modern one characteristic of Krzysztof Pastor – just one dancer (Miranda) performs here on points.
The creators improvise a lot, but luckily every ballet sequence can be followed in front of a computer at home, because the full version of The Tempest is available online on the streaming platform of the Grand Theatre – National Opera. The performance is a co-production between the Polish National Theatre and the Het Nationalle Ballet from the Netherlands.
Theatre on TV, The Artists by Monika Strzępka and Paweł Demirski
Unusually, our review will be finished by a TV series which invites the audience behind the scenes of the theatrical world. The Artists, the 8-episode TV debut of Monika Strzępka and Paweł Demirski, who are amongst the most important figures in contemporary theatre, raised huge emotions among people of culture and divided the critics. Some wrote that it’s the most ambitious offering of Polish TV in years and that after watching everyone will wish to go to the theatre. Others noticed the flaws in the script. And what do the creators say? Paweł Demirski said in an interview for Rzeczposplita:
We try to look more broadly. There are no TV series about tensions between employer and employees, and these subjects don’t just concern artists. I hope that our theatrical ‘orphanage’ can be consolidated exactly in the time of the 250th anniversary of the public theatre. If people watch the series, passing through the theatre in their cities, maybe they will think that there are also such persons and conflicts that we present. I would like The Artists to have done a good job for the theatre.
The Artists is available online on vod.tvp.pl
Sources: Culture.pl, Rzeczpospolita, Gazeta Wyborcza, Divine Comedy, Polityka magazine, press materials, written in Polish by AL, December 2016, translated by BR, 12th Jan 2017