Mime artist, choreographer, director, stage manager and the founder and director of the Wrocław Mime Theatre, as well as the scriptwriter for every performance. Born September 20, 1919, he died September 23, 2001.
Mime artist, choreographer, director, and stage manager/founder of the Wrocław Mime Theatre.
Follwing the Second World War, Tomaszewski began his studies in Kraków, in 1945, at Iwo Gall's Studio Dramatyczne and Feliks Parnello's dance theatre. In 1948, he became a soloist at the Wrocław Opera, where he appeared in memorable leading roles such as the Peacock in Tadeusz Szeligowski's Paw i dziewczyna / The Peacock and the Girl (1948), and the Devil in Pan Twardowski by Ludomir Różycki (1953). In addition, he was the Opera's choreographer for dramatic productions and developed several solo dances for the stage. For one of these, The Pianist, more mime than ballet, he won the silver medal at the World Youth Festival in Warsaw in 1955.
However, his roles in classical ballet did not fulfill Tomaszewski's artistic aspirations. "It seemed to me that through movement (...) one can express things and reach a certain sphere of human reality that eludes both ballet and theatre of the spoken word." ("To sie słowa nie uklada", "Odra", no 6/1975) In 1956, he founded his own centre called Studium Pantomimy; one year later, he and the Studium won a group prize and the gold medal at the World Youth Festival in Moscow for their mime drama of Nikolai Gogol's The Overcoat. In 1959, the group acquired the status of a professional theatre and began to gain international acclaim as the Wrocław Pantomime Theatre.
From the beginning, Tomaszewski's intent was to create a new kind of theatre based on group pantomime. Beginning with illustrative pantomime based on plots taken from literature, this path led to autonomous full-length productions. Their first productions were comprised of studies and sketches, including Gabinet osobliwości / The Curiosity Shop (1961), Wejście w labirynt / Entrance to the Labyrinth (1963) and Ogrod milosci / Garden of Love (1966). In 1970, Tomaszewski moved from these miniature forms to his first full-length pantomime production based on one single theme. This was Odejscie Fausta / Faust Departs based on Johann Wolfgang Goethe's work. Other important performances included Gilgamesh (1968), based on the Sumerian epic poem, which offered reflections on friendship, loyalty, resourcefulness and courage. In addition, there was also the character of Frank Wedekin in Menażeria Cesarzowej Filissy / Empress Filissa's Menagerie (1972), given a grotesque interpretation; Spor / The Dispute (1978), which transposed a philosophical and literary Rococo discourse into a pantomime image (the subject of the dispute, taken from the work of Pierre a Marivaux, is the age-old inconstancy of emotions in male-female relations); Hamlet - Ironia i żaloba / Hamlet - Irony and Mourning, based on themes from William Shakespeare (1979).
Henryk Tomaszewski shaped his group for forty-five years in a conscious and determined manner. He was the group's best actor, appearing on stage until 1963, as well as stage manager, author and choreographer. Together with the group, he created a unique pantomime theatre. He replaced words with movement, capturing thoughts and abstractions, embodying non-verbal dreams and imaginings. Creating modern body language, he drew on methods ranging from the ascetic to the Baroque, but in a communicative and precise way. He introduced the art of mime into the sphere of philosophy. In his theatre, concepts drove the on-stage action. He was inspired not only by the art of dance and movement, but also by literature and painting, and the great world myths, such as Faust, Orpheus, the Minotaur, Pan Twardowski, King Arthur, the Prodigal Son and Gilgamesh.
The task of pantomime, as Tomaszewski liked to stress, is the affirmation of humanity - the affirmation of life.
"Man is the most beautiful being in all creation, man is a reflection of the cosmos. In movement, man is manifested in his most pure form. His inner and spiritual life and movement comprise one whole. When man is in motion, he is striving towards something, and gets lost. It is that being lost which is the most beautiful and fascinating of all. The result is not as important as the time spent in motion, because we all know that Icarus fell. But how did this happen? That is what I am interested in." ("Ciekawość artysty", "Tygodnik Powszechny", no. 15/2000)
Tomaszewski was also a theatre director. His most important accomplishments included staging Stanisław Wyspiański's Protesilas i Laodamia / Protesilas and Laodamia at the Teatr Polski in Wrocław (1969) and the Norwid Theatre in Jelenia Gora (1979), and Legenda at the Teatr Dolnośląski in Jelenia Gora (1972), as well as a pre-première production of The Killing Game by Eugene Ionesco (1973) at Wrocław's Teatr Polski.
"Tomaszewski's art, in its philosophy, is deeply humanistic. It stands for life and joy, addresses the subject of injustice, and of people who are persecuted by a world of evil objects and powers, pushed to the very bottom. Above all, however, his art is one that speaks of love: ideal and sensual, tragic and joyful - love that is complete both when it is realised, as well as when it remains an unattainable dream." (Andrzej Hausbrandt)
Henryk Tomaszewski's last two productions were staged in 1999: Tragiczne gry, by Ferdinand Brückner - the story of a woman who harnesses all her energy to battle against the passing of time, unable to tend to her own humanity, and Traktat o marionetkach / On the Marionette Theatre, based on a work by Heinrich Kleist, a beautiful and wise essay on the subject of movement and its role in life.
Tomaszewski's great passion was collecting dolls. His collection contained dolls from all over the world, made of myriad materials: porcelain, paper, iron, wood, wax, clay, rubber and dough, dolls which were used both for play and for cult rituals, all of which were donated by the artist to the Doll Museum in Karpacz.
Most significant awards:
- 1962 - prize for his valuable artistic experimentation in the production Gabinet Osobliwosci, at the Festival of Polish Contemporary Art in Wrocław
- 1967 - prize for the staging and direction of Męczeństwo i śmierć Marata / Marat/Sade by Peter Weiss in Teatr Polski (Poznan), during the Kalisz Theatrical Encounters
- 1973 - prize for the direction, staging and choreography of Legenda by Stanislaw Wyspianski at the Teatr Dolnośląki Jelenia Góra at the Kalisz Theatrical Encounters
- 1975 - Grand Prize (Individual) for the production of Killing Game by Eugene Ionesco at the Teatr Polski (Wrocław) at the Kalisz Theatrical Encounters
- 1999 - Award of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage for lifetime achievement in the field of theatre
- 2000 - the Konrad Swinarski Award for lifetime achievement