Amareya is a theatre of movement and gesture. It was established by Agnieszka Kamińska, Katarzyna Julia Pastuszak and Alexandra Śliwińska in January 2003 in Gdańsk.
Table of contents: Initial Inspirations | The Three Paths of the Amareya Theatre | Educational Path | More Mature, More Creative | Anniversaries | Cooperation: Amareya Theatre & Guests | Creative 2014 – New Opening: Courage and Regeneration | Originality vs. Sources
From its very beginning, the group has worked at the Winda Artistic Centre, which is part of the Cultural Archipelago in Gdańsk. It is actively involved in various artistic activities and appears at numerous national and European festivals. The Amareya Theatre has performed in the Museum Gustavianum in Uppsala, Sweden and the Taseralik Sisimiut Cultural Centre in Greenland, as well as in like-minded Japan, as part of the 2014 Theatre X International Dance and Theatre Festival IDTF in Tokyo, among others.
The artistic searches of the group's members has led to the development of their own methods of creative and educational dancer/actor work, rooted in the traditions of butoh dance, physical theatre, contemporary dance, Martha Graham’s techniques, African dance, singing, yoga and psychosomatic relaxation practices, body art, workshop theatre and contemporary critical theory. The artists’ activities are characterised by the natural yet conscious presence of current social, political and cultural contexts, both from a formal and ideological point of view.
In a lively and unusually mature way, the dancers react to the problems pervading society, associated with being lost in the contemporary Western civilisation, the sense of identity loss, and the degradation of values. This humanistic overtone stems from the fact that the principal and overarching theme of the theatre’s performances and artistic activities is man in all his psycho-physical-spiritual unity, the fragility of human existence, and the strength of the human spirit inseparable from the material body. The body – which is man and in which man is clothed – is the basic building block and topic of Agnieszka Kamińska, Katarzyna Julia Pastuszak and Aleksandra Śliwińska’s work. They use it as a tool of criticism and as a medium.
The problems and pains of women are particularly close to the artists, yet their performances do not constitute journalistic feminist manifestos nor propaganda, but an in-depth and wise study of the life of contemporary women, which is full of paradoxes. Serious topics tend to be explored in the form of a parody or a grotesque; the dancers do not avoid exaggeration, and even provocation. After a few years of work in a closed group, they have recently become open to cooperation with artists from different fields: actors, musicians, performers.
It could be said that after 10 years the Amareya Theatre has moved from uncritical, youthful admiration for the butoh aesthetic to a mature and original artistic proposition, drawing on both Eastern and Western practices of body work and acting techniques, at the same time maintaining the youthful courage to experiment, which is quite rare in Polish dance performances.
How did it all begin? Coincidence, the right moment, wise supervisors and the contacts established by Katarzyna Julia Pastuszak with Japanese butoh dancers (as she mentions in her text My Dear Butoh) led her to organise the first Mini Festival of Butoh Dance with Barbara Świąder-Puchowska in 2003. During the first edition of this festival, in March 2003, Itto Morita and Mika Takeuchi presented the moving performance Amareya....
Thus one of the main sources of inspiration for the group became (and remains) the Japanese butoh dance regarded both as an aesthetic, a certain philosophy of life, and, perhaps especially, as a specific bodily workout. This is why the Amareya Theatre dancers put so much emphasis on learning the art of dancing, which is at the heart of this art form, with the help of some of the masters of Japanese butoh dance, such as Yukio Waguri, Itto Morita, Mika Takeuchi, Minako Seki, Yumiko Yoshioka, Atsushi Takenouchi, Yuri Nagaoka, Seisaku, Kayo Mikami, Ko Murobushi, Daisuke Yoshimoto, Joan Laage, and others.
Under the influence of the Gekidan Kaitaisha group, the Amareya Theatre company became interested in the ‘body-in-crisis’, a concept that refers to the body as a tool of criticism. These artistic searches and experiments served as the basis for future shows: Xenos in 2005, which was their first butoh performance, then a project carried out in 2007 with Joan Laage, an American dancer and butoh researcher, and the show Anatomical Theatre – the Mystery of Life and Death, which premiered in a real 16th-century anatomical theatre (Museum Gustavianum) in Uppsala, Sweden on 13th May 2006.
Maturity resulted in variety. In addition to regular solo and group theatre productions, which have included the participation of guest artists, especially in recent years (Amareya & Guests), the Amareya Theatre artists are also involved in performances, educational activities, social projects and cultural animation (Amareya Art Association), as well as lectures, publications and psycho-physical, dance-theatre and vocal workshops (Gdańsk School of Butoh). The group still makes references to the tradition of butoh dance, but it also uses elements of modern dance, African dance, singing, yoga, and somatic techniques. The artists claim that their interests lie ‘in the common ground between dance and theatre’.
The dramaturgy in Amareya’s performances is built using the instruments of theatre; the artists do not distance themselves from the theatrical tradition, in contrast to many contemporary dancers. Elements such as costumes, make-up, props, and set design create an additional dramatic layer, while the symbolic lighting and music, as well as other kinds of sound effects, including spoken words, are constantly present in the current performances by Amareya, although varying in intensity and importance. The basic creative material and theme nevertheless remains the body. Through its exposed presence and movement, the body becomes subject to an almost real transformation into a human unity of matter and spirit.
The artists do not distance themselves from literature either; each show is build around a clearly defined topic. The Dream of Icarus (2004) is about the confrontation between myth and reality, and explores the theme of the oversensitive individual; Haiku for Three Bodies (2005) is a poetic vision inspired by the Japanese tradition of calligraphy and shadow theatre, in the play Xenos (2005) we accompany the dancers in the tedious process of releasing the body from embarrassing and stereotypical gestures of violence. In turn, the performance Anatomical Theatre. The Mystery of Life and Death, created in 2006, refers to the tradition of the seventeenth-century theatrum anatomicum, which not only preceded anatomy as practised today, but also strongly influenced European ideas of the human body; through dance and film sequences the artists confront historical concepts with the ethical questions of contemporary medicine. In Exit (2008) the dancers cover their faces, and the problem of corporeality this time concerns the theme of sex; in her solo performance Tribute to J.S. (2008) Agnieszka Kamińska explores the confrontation with family history of the Second World War, and by means of body language she attempts to convey the feeling of bondage, fear, loss, but also the desire to live and to dream of freedom. In the solo theatre production Faceless (2009) by Katarzyna Pastuszak, the masked face of the performer seems to carry the responsibility of expressing individuality to the ‘lower’ body, considered to be that part of our humanity, which is devoid of personality.
In their shows the Amareya dancers, like many other performance artists, create clear tension between the different images of the body which exist in our culture – in other words, their representations – the external norms, functions and behaviour resulting from them, and the constantly threatening (Lacanian) reality and regression of the body to its original undifferentiated and chaotic condition. It is not just about subjecting the body to decomposition and fragmentation, as usually done by physical (and postdramatic) theatre artists, although this also takes place.
Postdramatic theories and the theoretical foundations of butoh, as Julia Hoczyk writes for Fischer-Lichte, are similar in their recognition that:
The human body is a living organism that is still in the process of becoming and permanent transformation. It can never be said that ‘it is’. Its existence is always in the making, it is a process leading to change. Every blink, every breathe, every movement, recreates, renews and reincarnates the body. This is why it ultimately remains impossible to grasp. The existence of a body, which is in the making, is contrary to any idea of the work. [...] Amareya’s performances also contain this similarity, referred to by the Fischer-Lichte, between Grotowski’s theatre practice and Merleau-Ponty’s late philosophy, in whose idea of ‘flesh’ we are dealing with a wide-ranging project of uniting body and soul, the sensory and the extrasensory in a non-dualistic and non-transcendental way. Relationships within both of these dichotomies are not symmetrical. That which is carnal and sensory, is favoured. The body is always connected to the world through the ‘flesh’. Each appearance of man in the world has a bodily nature. Due to its physicality, the body cannot be reduced to instrumental and semiotic functions.
The Butoh Dance Festival (2003-2007; eight editions), which took place in the Żak club in Gdańsk, was not just a series of interesting performances and an opportunity to see the best Japanese avant-garde dance and theatre artists, but it also included meetings with artists on stage, which turn into conversations, lectures about the culture and art of Japan, video screenings, photo exhibitions and dance workshops.
The Gdańsk School of Butoh (2010–present) is a sort of continuation of the Butoh Dance Festival, which stopped after eight editions. Its aim is to promote theoretical and practical knowledge about butoh, and the art and culture of Japan. The school offers butoh workshops led by Polish and foreign dancers, classes on body awareness, lectures combined with video screenings, meetings with researchers and performance presentations. K.J. Pastuszak’s doctoral dissertation titled Tatsumi Hijikata’s Ankoku Butoh – Theatre of the Body-In-Crisis and published in 2014 turned out to be a kind of summary of a significant thread of theoretical research.
The last few years have been a very creative period for the group, which has prepared diverse, mature and bold projects:
- Rescued. On the Edge of Heaven (premiered 23th June, 2010 in the Żak Club), created and performed by Agnieszka Kamińska. This is a dramatic study of loneliness and abandonment, but at the same time a study of the strategy of secret survival, and the human desire to save one's own life and inner universe at all cost.
Everything from start to finish is characterised by precision. Masterly movement. (...) The excellent lighting design, which Agnieszka Kamińska developed with Grzegorz Ruta, leaves no one indifferent. The world, initially locked in a square of light, transforms and grows like a man, intertwining his fate with that of others. In addition, Kamińska’s performance could not be deprived of her wonderful voice. The mix of lyrics – own and foreign, Polish and English, spoken, whispered and sung – complete the whole, which is contemplated with extreme attention. All this means that we are dealing with a performance of the highest international standard. [Justyna Mazurkiewicz]
- Another show of the Amareya Theatre entitled Inscriptions (January 2010, Gdańsk City Gallery) was created in relation to the exhibition Epilogue by Katarzyna Józefowicz. It was inspired by the artist’s works, both the material from which they were made (old newspapers and magazines), and their topic concerning information overload and ways of processing information. Associations with the body were in turn prompted by Elizabeth A. Grosz’s book on the theory of body inscriptions. In a symbolic way the artists show that the information society which we now live in has an impact on our body.
- Nocturnes (2011) is a subsequent performance combining theatre, dance, music and film. The show and the film Open Body directed by Barbara Świąder-Puchowska with the participation of the Amareya Theatre was presented as part of the project. Nocturnes was treated as a metaphor for a structure made of carefully selected tones and contrasts. Nocturnes is a question about the existence of invisible order, of clear and safe place within us.
- The Blind Lady at the Salons (premiered at the Gdańsk Dance Festival 2012), created and performed by Aleksandra Sliwińska, is an the attempt to answer the question of what makes us judge someone as normal/abnormal and how this (ab)normality can limit us and lead to isolation and loneliness.
- Empty Home (2012), created and directed by Agnieszka Kamińska, choreography and performance by Kararzyna Pastuszak and Agnieszka Kamińska.
This story is about the impaired relationship between two people – regardless of gender – who are in search of support, a sense of security and love outside the place called home. (...) The performance leaves much unsaid, the ambition of its authors is not to moralise. They created a multifaceted picture of internal and external fragmentation, of degradation of all that unites and builds, of emptiness. They did not gather the scattered blocks. Thus everyone has to do this alone in their own home, body, mind and heart. [Magdalena Hajdysz, Gazeta Wyborcza Tricity]
- Nomadic Woman (premiered on 11th December, 2012 in Żak Club, Gdańsk), created and directed by Katarzyna Pastuszak – this is one of the most interesting Polish dance performances of the recent years, which has also been appreciated abroad. As the critics write:
That is a Polish-Norwegian parable about wandering women (...). Nomadic Woman is an enjoyable and readable project made up of multiple components, which do not obscure the image, but saturate and position it. This is an artistic research project, almost a laboratory full of wandering women. (...) The consistency of the method, image and rhythm in the performance places it high among alternative proposals of that kind. Pastuszak approached the narrative ambitiously, introducing eight characters on stage, but she also gave the viewer time to ‘tame’ the space, to get familiar with the stage time. [Katarzyna Wysocka, portkultury.pl, 14.12.2012]
Nomadic Woman has a hybrid structure, with accurately elaborated props, decoration, costumes and film recordings; it takes up the topic of the eternal mobility of women. It considers it on multiple levels: mythical-ritual, biological, existential, geographical... Seven female characters of different ages and at different stages in their lives (from a 10-year-old girl to an old grey woman, who could be seen as one person with a certain time shift or as a link in the chain of generations) orbit the stage space following their own trajectories and with their highly individual movements delineate a set of paths and roads that intersect, sometimes intertwine, or run parallel. The show combines spoken text, elements of performance art, theatre movements and dance episodes, film recordings, musical instruments and singing. Joanna Duda’s music is improvised in real time. The artists managed to build multilayered and circular time and space, they opened paths in parallel worlds through which they take the viewers patiently, as befits Nomadic Women. [Jadwiga Majewska for the Polish Dance Platform 2014]
Texts by William Shakespeare and Heiner Müller were the starting point of the artistic and interpretive searches of the three artists – Dorota Androsz, Anna Kalwajtys and Katarzyna Pastuszak. These searches were initiated with the project Experimental Performance Art / OPHELIA, which premiered on 30th July, 2012, at the 16th Shakespeare Festival in the Okno Theatre, and ended with the project Ophelia_3., which was first shown on 13th September, 2013, in Marseille. Eventually the performance was presented three more times during the Redplexus Festival – Préavis de Désordre Urbain in Marseille, France, on 14th and 17th September 2013 in public spaces. This international festival of performance art, organised for seven years, has already been critically acclaimed. Careful analysis of the texts of the two writers allowed for the female characters to be taken out of them in such a way as to present the place of women in today’s world by universalising the problem; this is another attempt by the Amareya artists to sketch an image of the woman in today’s society and another conscious voice in the discussion on the identity, role and place of women.
33_33_33 (2013) Concept and execution: Katarzyna Julia Pastuszak, performative walk, start: 16th August, 2013. The project 33_33_33 began on 16th August, 2013, which was Pastuszak’s 33rd birthday. That day the artist went for a few-hours-long performative walk (action 33_33_01), during which she presented 33 dances to 33 random people she met. The walk as such has an open structure; the process of walking, moving and spontaneous interaction with the environment is treated here as an experiment in the making. It started at 6:50 a.m. at the hospital on Kliniczna Str. in Gdańsk, where Pastuszak was born. The route was determined by 33 randomly drawn lines. The project 33_33_33 included 33 performances and artistic events, planned for 365 days, and it was based on a certain dialogue with artists, with whom Pastuszak had not had an opportunity to work with, as well as artists who she had cooperated with for years and with whom she had created a sort of language of movement. The project, as the author describes it:
is about turns, returns, nonlinearity of time and its paradoxical regularity, about what is written on the skin, which is born and dies, born and dies day after day. It is a project about remembering and forgetting.
Pastuszak’s personal anniversary merged with the tenth anniversary of the Amareya Theatre in 2013. Three new productions were launched on this occasion: the show 2 performed by Katarzyna Pastuszak with live music by Joanna Duda, with-in performed by Agnieszka Kamińska and the group performance fetish.wtf directed by Dorota Androsz with live music by Joanna Duda (premiere: 4th December, 2013, Żak Club, Gdańsk, concept, execution, script: Dorota Androsz, Agnieszka Kamińska, Katarzyna Pastuszak, Aleksandra Śliwińska, music, video camera: Joanna Duda).
The fetish.wtf project is an attempt to deal with the concept of fetishes as things with a peculiar power that is rich in primary qualities, and possesses energy of action and attachment; it is a manifestation of the need and desire to have a relationship with the subject secretly or not, it is also an attempt to touch on the topic of fetishisation and the objectification of the body resulting from it. The body as a fetish, but treated with reserve and a sense of humour. This performance provides a good artistic solution with excellent, live musical layer by Joanna Duda.
The project entitled 2 (premiere: 25th October, 2013, Żak Club, Gdańsk, concept, execution, video: Katarzyna Pastuszak. Solo performance by Katarzyna Pastuszak with live music by Joanna Duda) studies the existential need for dialogue, explores the process of becoming other, the state of being between one and the other, of being simultaneously both. With-in. INSIDE (premiere: 24th November, 2013, Winda Club – GAK). The individual performance by Agnieszka Kamińska tells the story of the phenomenon of birth in every meaning of the word.
Amareya Theatre also organised joint projects with butoh dancers from different countries: with Atsushi Takenouchi (Mandala of Life and Death, 2005) and Daisuke Yoshimoto (Eros and Thanatos and Ten ku Youran, 2005 and 2006) from Japan, with Joan Laage (Anatomical Theatre Project: Viewer as Voyeur – the Body Beyond) from America and with the Japanese group Gekidam Kataisha.
The project Dream Regime (2004, 2007 and 2008; 2011 Amareya in Tokyo), launched in 2004 by the Gekidan Kaitaisha Theatre of Tokyo, has had seven editions so far, each of which consisted of workshops, discussions, lectures, presentations and performances. The main idea of the project is to critically reflect on the status of the body in the era of globalisation. The first Dream Regime project was carried out by the Gekidan Kaitaisha theatre in 2004 in collaboration with the Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff (Wales). In 2007 and 2008 the Amareya Theatre created an extensive project together with Kaitaisha called Dream Regime – Community Theatre funded by the Żak Club and the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. Dream Regime included butoh workshops for members of MONAR Gdańsk and MONAR Egoriewsk (Russia), as well as drama training, which resulted in the play Dream Regime 2007 and Dream Regime 2008 under the direction of Shimizu Shinjin. It was performed by members of MONAR, actors from Gekidan Kaitaisha, the Amareya Theatre group and Joanna Czajkowska from the Okazjonalny Theatre. They took part in workshops organised by Gekidan Kaitaisha. The show was presented in the Żak Club in Gdańsk and other places in Poland, such as MONAR Gdańsk, Katarzyna Szumska (Cinema Theatre), the Jelenia Góra Cultural Centre, the Złotoryjski Centre of Culture and Recreation, and the Academic Centre for Artistic Initiatives in Łódź.
All these activities naturally broadened the aesthetic, forms and themes of the performances and their creators. Amareya began to invite artists from different fields of art and cultural circles. The group acquired new members and a somehow open structure. Its name was thus changed to Amareya Theatre & Guests. It was joined by Magda Jędra, Dorota Androsz, Joanna Duda, Louise Fountain and Anna Kalwajtys.
The year 2014 proved to be very fruitful for Amareya: five performances and performative acts, as well as international presentations of earlier performances: VHS No. 33 – HOLIDAYS 1983 (Katarzyna Pastuszak, Joanna Duda – premiered at the Streetwaves Festival in 2014), Mushi no Hoko (K. Pastuszak, J. Duda, A. Śliwińska – premiere at the Festival of Asian Culture MADE IN ASIA, 12th Baltic Festival of Science), Fragile (K. Pastuszak, D. Androsz, J. Duda, A. Kamińska, A. Śliwińska – premiered at the International Festival Sound Around Kaliningrad BBNCCA (Baltic Branch of the National Centre for Contemporary Arts), Kaliningrad, Russia 2014), Rescued (performative poetry reading by T. Różewicz in Polish and Japanese – premiered at the 11th International Dance and Theatre Festival in the Theatre X in Tokyo), Forandring (premiered at the Villkvinneseminar in Mosjoen, Norway, with the participation of K. Pastuszak and Louise Fontain).
Summing up her reflections on the work of the Amareya Theatre, Julia Hoczyk highlights that:
The use of physicality by the Amareya artists is typical of the postdramatic theatre, the creation of dramaturgy of the body, the focus on the phenomenal bodies of the performers, at the same time emphasising the corporeality of being-in-the-world – which is a sine qua non for existence; the human condition nevertheless oscillates between being a body and possessing a body, or turning it into an obedient tool, material, object or mechanism, sanctioned by the duality of body/mind; this is why the artists also show the involvement of the body in a multilayered process of objectification, yet lean towards an essentialist vision of autonomy and coherence of the individual body.
Amareya’s first Eastern inspirations led to the development of a phenomenon called Polish butoh – an original aesthetic, combining Japanese influences with the Polish avant-garde tradition in the field of theatre. It could be said that the dramatic theatre actor translates body experience into signs, while the butoh actor / dancer makes this experience visible – the conflict takes place within the body. In the case of Europe, and Poland in particular, the butoh tradition is an attempt to use the body as such for artistic activities, with the dancer becoming both an agent of action and its subject; by working on his own body he allows the viewer to witness these activities. If we look at Polish butoh in this way, it is easy to notice that it deals with similar themes as the so-called body art (Dudziński) and alternative theatre; the language we use to describe this phenomenon is after all the language of Grotowski.
Grotowski and like-minded individuals are interested not so much in the physical as in the meta-physical body, trapped in the problems of Western (and even essentially Polish) civilisation, as Ziołkowski or Dariusz Kosiński have famously written. When describing the so-called Polish butoh it would very often be enough to just avoid this foreign word and it would seem that we are dealing with a description of Polish alternative art of the 60s and 70s. These activities in the field of theatre did not leave a lasting mark; Polish mainstream theatre of the last twenty years seems to draw inspiration from a completely different perspective. Surprisingly, however, the topic of the performer as both a creator and scenic art material, and the problems of the body linked to it appears in contemporary dance. The Amareya Theatre is an excellent, mature and wise example.
Author: Jadwiga Majewska, March 2015, transl. Bozhana Nikolova