Krzysztof Warlikowski, photo by Marek Dusza

One of Poland's most inventive theatre directors. Born 26/05/1962.

After studying history, Romance languages and philosophy at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Warlikowski left in 1983 for Paris, where he attended a seminar on Classical theatre at the École Pratique des Hautes Études and studied philosophy and French language and literature at the Sorbonne. In 1989 he returned to Poland and passed the entrance exams for the Theatre Directing Department of the State Higher School of Theatre in Kraków, where he studied under Krystian Lupa.

Everyone should meet someone like him as early as possible in their life - Warlikowski says of his mentor. - His mind has been shaped by a different set of readings and a different generational experience. We are linked, however, by the manner in which we seek to open up the theatre to many different issues. ("Notatnik Teatralny" / "Theatre Notebook," 2003, no. 28-29)

Of his first experiences with theatre, the director has said:

In Kraków, I saw the productions of Konrad Swinarski, Jerzy Jarocki, Andrzej Wajda and Krystian Lupa. Abroad, in France, I did not happen upon any interesting theatre, and as a result I spent my evenings at the opera or ballet. What I saw there were hardly revolutionary productions, but they were undoubtedly beautiful and manifested a sense of style. I saw Baroque theatre productions at the Opéra Comique, operas at the Opéra-Garnier, and at the Odéon I saw the productions of Ingmar Bergman, Giorgio Strehler and other guest artists of the Theatre of Nations, which subsequently became the Union of European Theatres. ("Notatnik Teatralny" / "Theatre Notebook," 2003, no. 28-29)

Theatre provocateur

Warlikowski also had an opportunity to meet Peter Brook, Ingmar Bergman and Giorgio Strehler personally by taking part in workshops they led. Brook ultimately asked the young director to work with him on an operatic production titled Impressions de Pelleas, based on Claude Debussy's Pelleas and Melisande (Buffes du Nord, Paris).

For his thesis production at the theatre school in Krakow, Warlikowski selected Elias Canetti's Auto da fé (1992). On the School Stage of the State Higher School of Theatre in Krakow, Warlikowski also mounted productions of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Białe noce / White Nights (1992), while at the theatre school in Wroclaw, the director staged Eugène Labiche's Zbrodnie przy ulicy Lourcine / Crimes on the Rue de Lourcine (1994).

Warlikowski directed his first professional productions in Poland at the Stary Teatr (Old Theatre) in Kraków, where he staged Heinrich von Kleist's Markiza O. / The Marquis of O. (1993), and at the Teatr Nowy (New Theatre) in Poznan, where he chose to stage Bernard-Marie Koltès's contemporary play Roberto Zucco (1995). With the latter production, Warlikowski gained the reputation of a theatre provocateur.

Killing as the final alternative, solitude, biology, the rush towards death, a terrible, distorted world that cannot be repaired and in which there is no room for feelings - was critic Jacek Wakar's description of the Poznan production of "Roberto Zucco". Wakar earlier noted that  - the success of Warlikowski and the actors of the New Theatre lies in the fact that just like Koltès's text, the production simply strives to describe the world. This is hardly a simple matter and one that often ends with the posing of a series of questions that viewers must answer for themselves. ("Teatr" / "Theatre" monthly, 1996, no. 1)

Warlikowski once again directed a Koltès play in 1998 at Warsaw's Teatr Studio (Studio Theatre). This time he staged Zachodnie wybrzeże / Western Shore, which he had earlier directed at the Gradsko Dramsko Kazaliste Gavella in Zagreb (1998).

I value Shakespeare for his refusal to compromise

Shakespeare remains one of the most important authors in Warlikowski's theatre.

Shakespeare became a master of the craft to me - admits the director. - I value him for his refusal to compromise and his desire to describe the entire world, rather than a mere fragment of reality. ("Notatnik Teatralny" / "Theatre Notebook," 2003, no. 28-29)

Thus far, Warlikowski has directed the plays of the famous bard from Stratford ten times. In 1994 he staged The Merchant of Venice at the Teatr im. W. Horzycy (W. Horzyca Theatre) in Torun. Other important productions have included The Winter's Tale at the Teatr Nowy (New Theatre) in Poznan (1997) and The Taming of the Shrew at the Teatr Dramatyczny (Dramatic Theatre) in Warsaw (1998).

Warlikowski

(...) without restraint has introduced elements of contemporary reality onto the stage (...) - noted Roman Pawlowski. - However, the director's intrusions into the world of Renaissance comedy do not stop at dressing his heroes in jeans and sport coats. Warlikowski has performed fundamental reconstructions of the meanings of these plays, filtering them through contemporary thinking. His "Taming of the Shrew" became a story about breaking a woman's character and depriving her of her freedom. (...) He transformed "The Winter's Tale" from a fantastic fairy tale with dancing, pastoral scenes and singing into a bitter story about the decline and dismantling of a family. ("Notatnik Teatralny" / "Theatre Notebook," 2003, no. 28-29)

The director has so far staged Hamlet twice - the first time at the Beit Zvi School of Drama in Tel Aviv (1997) and once again in 1999 at the Teatr Rozmaitości (Variety Theatre) in Warsaw, a theatre with which he has been working regularly since then. In the Warsaw production, Warlikowski rejected the political perspective of the play, and Hamlet, as played by Jacek Poniedzialek, above all poses questions about his own identity, including the sexual dimension of it.

Warlikowski's breakthrough Shakespeare production came in the form of The Tempest (Variety Theatre in Warsaw, 2003), a drama to which the director has turned to on more than one occasion. Three years earlier he had staged Sturm / The Tempest at the Staatstheater in Stuttgart, on the theatre's Kammertheater stage. Warlikowski admitted that in staging the play in Warsaw, he had in mind the recently rediscovered tragedy at Jedwabne and all that surrounded it, i.e. matters of inter-human understanding and forgiveness. In this production, the director asked some important questions about freedom and the possibilities for forgiveness and unification in today's chaotic world, a world in which most have lost their sense of values.

Precise, surprising with its raw and pure form, wise (...) - wrote Iza Natasza Czapska of the production. - The strength of this staging is its highly contemporary formula, which restores truth to the words and events contained in "The Tempest". This somewhat grandiose work by Shakespeare is thus converted into an intimate drama. (...) ("Życie Warszawy" daily, January 9, 2003)

In turn, his French production of Le songe d'une nuit d'été / A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Théâtre National in Nice (2003) was considered a provocation by part of the public and caused some viewers to walk out of the theatre.

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" was read by many directors of the 20th century as a romantic fairy tale. In this staging it becomes a brutal story about the thrashing of human feelings, the rape of bodies and souls - wrote Roman Pawłowski. - The forest, customarily portrayed as a kind of space of freedom contrasting with the strictures of the Athenian court, here takes on the form of a hell of deviations. In this manner, the issues of freedom that are explored in "The Tempest" are expanded by Warlikowski to include other kinds of freedom, including moral freedom and the grave consequences that a loosening thereof might have for contemporary man. ("Notatnik Teatralny" / "Theatre Notebook," 2003, no.28-29)

Warlikowski's previous Shakespeare productions abroad included successful stagings of Pericle, Principe di Tiro / Pericles, Prince of Tyre at the Piccolo Teatro di Milano (1998) and Was ihr Wollt / Twelfth Night, or what You Will, on the Kammertheater stage at Stuttgart's Staatstheater in 1999.

As Warlikowski admits, the Bible and the Classical world occupy a special place in his sphere of interests and creative fascinations. The first Classical drama to be staged by Warlikowski was Euripides' Hanashim Hafanikiot / The Phoenician Women at the Municipal Theatre in Beer Sheva (1998). He also directed an updated version of Sophocles' Electra, which he set in Balkan scenery, at the Dramatic Theatre in Warsaw (1997) and once again took on Euripides, this time his Bachantki / The Bacchae, at the Variety Theatre in Warsaw (2001).

(...) "The Bacchae" is stunning above all for the courage with which it explores the darkest secrets of existence, the boldness and clarity it shows in penetrating the essence of deification and the necessity imposed by fate and destiny - wrote Piotr Gruszczynski. - This production is another step in the effort to expand the limits of theatre. Used as a tool for discovery, in line with the tenets imposed by its status as sacrum, theatre regains its ability to generate deep intellectual discourse supported by the deepest emotions. ("Tygodnik Powszechny" / "Popular Weekly," March 4, 2001)

Opera is a prison

Warlikowski also stages operas.

Opera is a prison - says the director. - The extent to which we can create an enclave of freedom within it is the most fundamental and most important problem. The director's task is thus to inject life into the structures imposed by the score and ossified conventions. ("Rzeczpospolita", 2004, no. 224)

In 2000 Warlikowski debuted on the operatic stage with Roxanna Panufnik's one-act opera titled The Music Programme (produced jointly by the BOC Covent Garden Festival in London and the National Opera - Grand Theatre in Warsaw). He has also directed a number of other productions at the National Opera - Grand Theatre, including Giuseppe Verdi's Don Carlos (2000), Paweł Mykietyn's Ignorant i szaleniec / The Ignoramus and the Madman (2001), Martijn Padding's Wytatuowane Jezyki / Tattooed Tongues (joint production with the Stichting Geest Gronden CC). Another venture of Warlikowski into opera was a highly controversial staging of Ubu Rex (Ubu Roi) by Krzysztof Penderecki (2003).

He has staged two operas written by Alan Berg, Wozzeck (2006) and Lulu (2012). In an interview conducted by Christian Longchamp for La Monnaie, Warlikowski revealed the reasons of his fascination with the composer’s work. He has taken particular interest in the biographical information that he discovered about the composer:

We know that Berg never took care of her [a daughet which he had at age seventeen] and that he only saw her a few times in his life, apparently always on request of his daughter, whose name – Albine – is a feminine form of his own name. When we think of Wozzeck and Lulu, it is interesting to know that he had a child out of wedlock. Berg could not help seeing himself in some of his characters. Perhaps he even sought this closeness with a painful personal event marked by a guilty conscience. All of this allowed him to make Lulu more human, in contrast with Wedekind. With him, she exists and is real.

Psychodrama in Theatre: Cleansed, Angels in America, Krum

In 2001 Warlikowski once again took on a contemporary play, staging Sarah Kane's Oczyszczeni / Cleansed (produced jointly by the Teatr Współczesny / Contemporary Theatre in Wroclaw, the Teatr Rozmaitości / Variety Theatre in Warsaw and the Teatr Polski / Polish Theatre in Poznan) - a cruel, shocking production about solitude and the need for love.

When I stage a play by Koltès or Kane, I get the feeling that I am trying to invade a kind of closed universe. I am not satisfied by limiting myself to problems particular to individuals, closed groups and communities, that is, daily matters pertinent to tomorrow or yesterday - said the young director comparing the plays of young authors to the works of Shakespeare. ("Notatnik Teatralny" / "Theatre Notebook," 2003, no. 28-29)
This is a staging in which Warlikowski shows his fully formed style, one that is cleansed (nomen omen), one that has been brought to artistic perfection - wrote Janusz Majcherek about Cleansed. - He is no longer young and talented; he is simply an exceptional director. He has found a means and a way for this drama, which when read seems to exceed all staging possibilities. Warlikowski on the other hand has understood perfectly that literal description needs to be translated into metaphorical signs, and that in her essence Sarah Kane is a poet whose works require a poetic approach in the theatre. ("Teatr" / "Theatre" monthly, 2002, no. 1-2)

Recently, at the Schauspiel in Bonn, Warlikowski also took on a great, epic work, adapting and directing Marcel Proust's Auf der Suche nach der verlorenen Zeit / Remembrance of Things Past (2002). In this production he primarily explored the themes of transcendence and death.

In Warlikowski's theatre we discover a different Proust, one who has a keen perception of the decline of European civilization, one who settles the score with sexual hypocrisy and moral conventions. (Piotr Gruszczynski, "Tygodnik Powszechny" / "Popular Weekly," 2002, no. 29)

In 2003, based on a special commission from the Avignon Festival, Warlikowski prepared a production titled Dybuk / The Dybbuk, based on Solomon An-ski's drama titled Dybuk / The Dybbuk and a short story by Hanna Krall of the same title (produced jointly by the Teatr Współczesny / Contemporary Theatre in Wroclaw, the Teatr Rozmaitości / Variety Theatre in Warsaw, the Festival d'Avignon and Theorem).

Krzysztof Warlikowski has for years been working with the same artists, among them Malgorzata Szczesniak, scenic designer and Paweł Mykietyn the composer of music for most of his productions.

For its viewers, Warlikowski's theatre is a repository of deep psychodrama. Not psychoanalysis, because that occurs later, once viewers have exited the theatre, and is something that viewers accomplish on their own - wrote Piotr Gruszczyński. - As the spectacle unfolds, the minds of viewers are drawn into a rebellion that consists of overthrowing those few unmovable convictions that each of us carries within and nurtures. The purpose of his theatre is to eliminate directed thinking, thinking motivated by effectiveness, by the desire to achieve specific objectives. This way of thinking and living, which is something that daily routine requires of us, blocks our access to the sphere of myth and fantasy. In the face of cultural restrictions, this way of thinking turns this sphere into something that is forbidden, even taboo. Warlikowski's assumes that without dismantling this barrier that consists of thinking directed at the achievement of life goals, the thinking of conquerors, it is impossible to create honesty within the theatre. And he believes that this honesty is a prerequisite to talking about important matters, matters like guilt, sexual identity, the character of human nature and its conditioning towards evil. ("Notatnik Teatralny" / "Theatre Notebook," 2003, no. 28-29)

In 2007 was featured in a series of interview by Piotr Gruszczyński,  Shakespeare and the Usurper. In 2008, he was also featured in Grzegorz Niziołek’s Warlikowski. Extra Ecclesiam from Domini Publisher in Kraków.

Euripides, Cabaret and Shakespeare

(A)pollonia (2009) is an outstanding production by Warlikowski and his team, staged in cooperation with major European festivals and theatrical scenes. The performance is about voluntary and compulsory sacrifice and dedication for ones homeland conveyed by the creators through texts by Aeschylus, Euripides, Hanna Krall, and JM Coetzee. The lead roles were played by Magdalena Cielecka, Maciej Stuhr and Magdalena Popławska. Critics agree that this was one of the most important performances of contemporary theatre in recent years. Aneta Kyzioł wrote in a review for Polityka:

On the stage arranged in Warsaw's Koneser Vodka Factory, the set designer Małgorzata Szczęśniak has built a dining room, two transparent containers with the flats of Clytemnestra and Alcestis, a bathroom, and a small concert hall. The classical theatre piece is interspersed with a rock concert by Renate Jett and her band, speeches of heroes (e.g. Agamemnon, a war criminal played by Stuhr, quoting a passage from Little’s The Kindly Ones, argues that nobody is born an executioner, it is the circumstances that make him one), lectures (Anna Radwan-Gancarczyk, using the words of the fanatical animal rights advocate Elizabeth Costello from Coetzee's novel, equates animal slaughterhouses with Nazi concentration camps), an online chat, and a TV quiz. At the rear wall we see close-ups of the faces of actors who are followed by the camera. All this makes (A)pollonia the most unleashed show of Warlikowski and his crew. Despite the great acting and estimable magnitude of work involved in its preparation, the show leaves the impression of being overloaded and over-aestheticized. As if it was beautiful, showy, and every inch a professional product, created and calculated to gain international success. And it will certainly achieve this goal.

After it was received enthusiastically in Poland, the show was presented to the most demanding audience at the festival in Avignon, and in the prestigious Theatre de Chaillot in Paris. For six consecutive evenings, the theatre's full house gave the artists a very warm ovation. Almost all of the opinion-forming French media, including Le Monde and Le Figaro, valued (A)pollonia very highly. Reviewers agreeably complimented the passionate and daring performance of the whole team of actors and Warlikowski’s prowess as a director.  According to the daily newspaper Le Monde, the show “is aesthetically shocking and it deconstructs the common assumptions regarding the atrocities and sacrifices committed in the history of mankind."

In 2010, Warlikowski took on the challenge of staging A Streetcar Named Desire, the play based on Tennessee Williams' novel, produced in collaboration with the Paris Odeon. The leading roles were played by Andrzej Chyra and Isabelle Huppert. This time, the French premiere divided critics. Some wrote about a derailed "streetcar", and others – about a moving, intoxicating journey to the depths of hell. Everyone, however, thought highly of the actors, as well as the sets designed by Małgorzata Szczęśniak.

When there is no way out, one has to go through the theatre - we read in the description of Koniec (The End), which premiered on 30 September, 2010. In this play, Warlikowski refers to three texts: an unrealized film script by Bernard-Marie Koltes - Nickel Stuff, The Trial by Franz Kafka and fragments of JM Coetzee's novel Elizabeth Costello. The lead roles were played by the highly-esteemed Ewa Dałkowska and Marek Kalita. In a review for Gazeta Wyborcza, Joanna Derkaczew wrote:

It is a journey through the dreams, fears and complexes of the director. Slow, tedious,  suffocating. There is no coherent treatise as was the case with (A)pollonia, but a very personal and intense spilling of guts (...) Warlikowski had never before played with the physicality of his actors to such extent. He made them into hybrids, half-marionette, half-human, or digitally multiplied afterimages. Sometimes he divests them of their voice, other times he supplements their body (e.g., a doll featuring an actor), he doubles them through film, he breaks, stitches and cuts them. He carries out complicated engineering operations on them, as if he was trying to find out where the “dead end” of a human was. By the processes of deduction, addition, and transplantation, he interrogates the constitutive elements of human identity. Do we really need our bodies? Is our memory not enough? But it can also be manipulated when dreaming. Memory can deceive us. 
 
A year later, another production was introduced to the repertoire of Warsaw's New Theatre. The frequently-awarded and highly-debated Opowieści afrykańskie według Szekspira (African Tales by Shakespeare) has also been presented all over the world. Having already staged 10 of the British bard's dramas, this time Warlikowski took the risk of an authorial interpretation of three of his texts: King Lear, The Merchant of Venice and Othello, which he mixed with contemporary novel Summer by Coetzee, The White Mary by Hanna Krall and monologues by Wajdi Mouawad. The acting team, led by  Stanisława Celińska and Adam Ferency, received the Diaghilev Award for their performance.
 

Another challenging confrontation with scenarios of oppression was the basis of the acclaimed show Kabaret Warszawski (Warsaw Cabaret). Warlikowski juxtaposed two distant (in terms of time) realities:  The Germany of the Weimar Republic, when fascists began to gradually seize power, and New York after September 11.  Facing those events, contemporary Warsaw reflects upon itself. Inspired by the film Shortbus and the texts of I'm a Camera, the show portrays a group of artists for whom art is the main purpose of action. But art does not repay itself. On the contrary, it makes those devoted artists feel lost. On the one hand, art allows them to live, on the other, it poisons them with doubts that make life impossible. Warlikowski, while creating a space for therapy and for releasing fears and transgressing taboos, also shows the danger and oppression which are automatically generated within these kinds of enclaves.

The play, with a sensational performance by Magdalena Cielecka and Maciej Stuhr, captivated Polish and foreign reviewers and the European audience, including spectators of the Avignon Festival, which co-produced the staging. - Dazzling, provocative, a classic - these are just some of the comments that could be read in the French press. Les Echos emphasized Warlikowski’s remarkable ability to direct the scenes: "He draws the  particular sequences of the performance with immensely moving visual force" - writes the reviewer and, calling the play "Baroque and generous." "This is the genius of Krzysztof Warlikowski: while creating a cabaret he also meditates on love, life and death" - sums up Les Echos.

Parallel to his successes in drama theatre, Warlikowski continued intensive work at prestigious opera houses throughout Europe, where he also flourished. In 2012 he directed the sexually scandalous Lulu by Alban Berg, which was enthusiastically received at La Monnaie in Brussels.

However, the real challenge for the Polish director was his staging of Kobieta bez cienia (Women Without a Shadow) in November 2013, which, even before its premiere, become a significant event. The production opened the jubilee season of Bayerische Staatsoper, considered the most important theatre scene in Europe. The project was associated with the 50th anniversary celebration of the restoration of the historic Munich Opera House.

For me, Woman without a Shadow is an image of the collective memory captured in the form of artificial fairy tale full of strange symbols - Warlikowski said. – In the fate of the Empress seeking her shadow I discern a kind of cleansing process, the therapy for New Age times. This opera poses the question of what it means to be a man, which in a strange way affects us all today.

After intensely-discussed and enthusiastically-received operatic stagings of Tchaikovsky and Strauss on the Belgian, French and German opera scenes, Warlikowski embarked on a conquest of theatre in Madrid. In February 2014, the Teatro Real performed Alceste by Gluck.

This is not the first encounter of the Polish director with Spain's most important operatic stage. In 2012, Warlikowski amused the audience with his bold interpretation of Szymanowski's Król Roger (King Roger), and with Coronation of Poppea by Claudio Monteverdi. Not surprisingly, Warlikowski wrote his own prologue to the classic opera depicting a story from ancient times. Director’s text portrays an old professor teaching at a modern American university who contemplates the meaning of his past decision of temperance in life’s physical pleasures.

 

Significant awards and distinctions:

  • 1997 - Honorowy Złoty Yorick / Honorary Golden Yorick - award of the Theatrum Gedanense for his staging of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale at the New Theatre in Poznan
  • 1998 - award for his direction of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew at the Dramatic Theatre in Warsaw - 3. Ogólnopolski Konkurs na Inscenizacje Dzieł Dramatycznych Szekspira / 3rd Polish National Competition for Stagings of the Dramatic Works of Shakespeare
  • 2003 - Złoty Yorick / Golden Yorick - award of the Theatrum Gedanense Foundation for the best Shakespeare production of the 2002/2003 season - for The Tempest at the Variety Theatre in Warsaw; Award of the French Theatre Critics' Union for his production of Sarah Kane's Cleansed at the Variety Theatre in Warsaw, judged to be the best foreign language production to be presented in France during the 2002/2003 season; award for the popularization of Polish theatrical culture abroad, bestowed by the Theatre Critics' Section of the Polish branch of the International Theatre Institute; Laur Konrada / Conrad's Laurels - 6. Festiwal Sztuki Reżyserskiej "Interpretacje" / 6th "Interpretations" Festival of the Art of Directing in Katowice - for his production of Sarah Kane's Cleansed at the Variety Theatre in Warsaw; "Polityka" weekly "Paszport" /"Passport" award for 2002 in the category of theatre (more...), "for not only his achievements of the last season, but above all for restoring belief in the artistic and ethical mission of theatre."
  • 2004 – Diploma from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for exceptional promotion of Polish culture abroad in 2003;
  • 2006 – Meyerhold Award in Moscow for exceptional accomplishment in theater worldwide;
  • 2007 - Konrad Swinarski  Award for Best Direktor of the  2006/2007 season, for his play Angels;
  • 2008 – Honorary European Medal; New York OBIE Award, award from the weekly "Village Voice" for directing Hanoch Levin’s Krum; Award of the French Theatre Critics' Union for best foreign spectacle for Tony Kushner’s Angels in America with TR Warszawa; International Award  "New Theater Realities" awarded in Athens for innovation in theater.
  • 2009 - Festiwal Sztuk Przyjemnych i Nieprzyjemnych w Łodzi - Tytuł Najlepszego Spektaklu dla przedstawienia "Anioły w Ameryce" z TR Warszawa; Divie Komedy festival in Kraków – Award of the Divine Comedy for a director „for his remarkable sense of drama, through which he questions the idea of truth in performance”.
  • 2010 – Award of the Ministry of Culture of Culture and National Heritage for (A)pollonia.
  •  2012 - Golden Mask” for the best foreign performance shown in Russia in 2011 for (A)pollonia.
  • Culture.pl award Superbrands in 2012 for his active promotion of Polish culture abroad
  •  2013 - High distinction of Commandeur des Arts et Lettres from the French Ambassador in Poland, Pierre Buhle.

Author: Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora, February 2004. Updated by LB, June 2013.