Krzysztof Garbaczewski is a theatre director and set designer known for his elaborate sets and innovative adaptations. Born on the 24th of February, 1983, in Białystok in north-eastern Poland.
Theatre director and set designer known for his elaborate sets and innovative adaptations.
Krzysztof Garbaczewski is a graduate of the Drama Direction Department of Kraków’s Ludwik Solski State Theatre School. He studied under the guidance of director Krystian Lupa and assisted Lupa in 2008 as he developed Factory 2, his lauded production inspired by the life and work of Andy Warhol, at the Helena Modrzejewska National Stary Theatre in Kraków,
From Jelinek to Malinowski
Garbaczewski made his debut with his staging of Elfriede Jelinek’s Chór sportowy (Sports Choir ) that same year, at the Jan Kochanowski Theatre in Opole. Jelinek’s text is structured around a long monologue, which Garbaczewski distributed among seven characters whose parts made use of the oppressive nature of language and the subject’s imprisonment within gender roles. In subsequent productions, the young director has drawn on an innovative range of texts. His production adapted from Witold Gombrowicz's novel The Possessed was staged in 2008, at the Jerzy Szaniawski Dramatic Theatre in Wałbrzych. The director took up the criminal mystery motif in Gombrowicz’s text, creating a dense network of references and questioning the condition of contemporary humanity.
Other adaptations include the Tibetan Book of the Dead, utilized by Garbaczewski in a play titled Nirvana, and Homer’s The Odyssey. The controversial diaries of anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski were another source for the director, staged in cooperation with the writer and artist Marcin Cecko as Życie Seksualne Dzikich (The Sexual Life of Savages) (2011). Garbaczewski staged Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Biesy / Demons and a contemporary text by Marcin Cecko titled Gwiazda Śmierci (The Star of Death), in which the pop culture myth of the Star Wars film series is deconstructed.
He adapted Bardo Thodol in the play Nirvana at the Polish Theatre in Wrocław (2009), then Odyssey by Homer at the Jan Kochanowski Theatre in Opole (2009), and a famous anthropological work by Bronisław Malinowski together with his journals in The Sexual Life of Savages at the Nowy Theatre in Warsaw (2011). The play took part in the 21th National Competition for Polish Contemporary Play Staging / 21. Ogólnopolski Konkurs na Wystawienie Polskiej Sztuki. In an interview with Agnieszka Rataj, Cecko said:
Classical definitions of nature and culture are constantly changing. (…) The concept of nature separated from the civilization is beginning to crumble, instead we have this thought that everything we produce is in a way natural and is subjected to evolution cycle. (Życie Warszawy Daily, 15.04.2011)
Krzysztof Garbaczewski doesn’t address political issues. He uses the medium of theatre to touch upon existential issues and search for the limits of human experience. His production Nirvana (2009) deals with death and various forms of dying, and The Odyssey (2009) and Demons (2010) portray the condition of humans in a postmodern world.
In his review for Tygodnik Powszechny magazine, Marcin Kościelniak wrote:
Where most contemporary artists would withdraw to the position of a sceptical and distanced postmodernist, Garbaczewski persists, attacking head-on and with all seriousness – as if he really expected the world to hide some kind of fundamental truths and mysteries worth unravelling.
The director constructs non-linear structures, employing various media in building an illusory world of visual collage. The effect he is after is never a merely aesthetic one. His eclectic style and use of abundant video projections convey a contemporary sensitivity shaped by film, television and the Internet.
For The Sexual Life of Savages, the stage centre is a black pool of water, its edge marked by fluorescent lamps, while Czarna Wyspa (a mobile sculpted installation of black industrial fabric, designed for the production by the artist Aleksandra Wasilkowska) was suspended over the set. Actors perform offstage sequences which are transmitted live on screens, viewed by the audience in real time. Garbaczewski and the poet and writer Marcin Cecko interrogate the meanings that "savage" and "alien", explored by Malinowski in his vital anthropological work and in his posthumously published diaries, have in the contemporary world. The two artists also conducted a project titled The Savages at Warsaw’s Centre for Contemporary Art in 2011 as a complement to the theatre piece.
In 2012 at the Jan Kochanowski Drama Theatre in Opole, Garbaczewski retold Yvonne, Princess of Burgundy by Witold Gombrowicz. In the production, he used elements from horror films and live-edited videos recorded by several cameras placed in the whole labyrinth of paper walls where the actors performed. Marcin Cecko, widely recognized due to his collaborations with Garbaczewski, has composed the music used in the play. The creators were awarded for the visual effects and stage design at the Divine Comedy International Theatre Festival in Kraków; they were also granted the Grand Prix of the 38th Opole Theatre Confrontations „Polish Classics” / 38. Opolskich Konfrontacji Teatralnych „Klasyka Polska”. Agata Tomasiewicz wrote:
Krzysztof Garbaczewski and Marcin Cecko set a new perspective for Gombrowicz's drama. The creators make a different face of Yvonne – not a being reluctant in its indeterminancy but quite a specific woman dumped into the world of sexsual initiation. The character understood in a traditional way is a wedge stuck in the structure, leading to the character's decay with its presence. In this case it is the structure that imposes Yvonne's transformation, that will allow her to enter the adolescence mode.
The same year Krzysztof Garbaczewski and Marcin Cecko participated in the Soulographie project. As a part of the project, they directed Everyman Jack of You and Forgiveness by Erik Ehn at the La Mama Theatre in New York.
Cultural Revolutions in the Wielkopolska Region
Experiments on Słowacki
Garbaczewski took up Balladyna by Juliusz Słowacki, and at the instigation of Marcin Cecko, he transported the romantic characters into a genetic laboratory. This theatrical experiment on the classics of Polish Romanticism performed on the stage of the Polish Theatre in Poznań amused as well as outraged the critics and the audience. According to Witold Mrozek, it was the most feminist, political and cheeky performance by the Cecko / Garbaczewski duo.
The artists explained:
This is not just a story about a woman who kills – said Cecko in Gazeta Wyborcza – This is a drama about love that is red as blood, red like a flag. Such a love can free a man from torpor, but can also lead him to commit murder. It is quite a challenge to find something that would really affect us today in the quite old text, written in verse.
Garbaczewski himself emphasizes that Balladyna tempts with the possibility of entering a certain game. In an interview with Marta Kaźmierska the director revealed:
A few years ago, Maria Janion announced the death of the romantic paradigm. We are examining whether it holds true – revealed the director in an interview with Marta Kaźmierska.
Gallus Anonymus and the Governor-General or Polish Kings
Garbaczewski fought his theatrical battle over Polish memory at the Stary Theatre in Kraków. Poczet Królów Polskich (Gallery of Polish Kings) was the first production under Jan Klata’s artistic directorship of the legendary theatre in March 2013. His dissection of the history of the First Polish Republic and eight centuries of Polish monarchy also aroused strong emotions. It is the price one has to pay for risky time travel, admits the director. Garbaczewski in an interview for Rzeczpospolita said:
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We are not after a scandal by exhuming our kings. But it is true that the process of exhumation can be painful. Our past can also be terrifying. I myself am often surprised with what Poland is, or with the city of Kraków. What is still veiled in us and in our history.(...) History is like a fragment of a skull discovered on an old battlefield, through which we attempt to read the turn of events and the nature of the protagonists. We need to recognize a human being, when only scraps and pieces of the human remain. The point of departure for this piece was a series of royal portraits painted by Jan Matejko.
The script of Gallery of Polish Kings was co-authored by Marcin Cecko. It is based on historical sources, such as the 12th–century chronicles of Gallus Anonymus and the history of Wawel’s royal crypts. The starting point of the story of the Polish monarchs is the German occupation. The Wawel Castle became the residence of Hans Frank – the Governor-General of the German-occupied Polish territories. Frank considered himself the last ruler of Poland, and his wife Maria Brigitte Frank considered herself the queen. These facts had a strong affect on us, explained Cecko.
We wondered whether Frank, in some mystical way, could have tried to call in all the rulers in order to prove his royal lineage. Such is the initial situation on which the performance is based.
Apart from Justyna Wasilewska in the role of Mieszko I, the cast includes Blażej Peszek, Anna Radwan-Gancarczyk and Zygmunt Józefczak.
Stone Skies Instead of Stars
Kamienne niebo zamiast gwiazd / Stone Skies Instead of Stars is a contemporary theatre project which confronts the event-pertinent issue of apast historic event with a radical stage experiment. Garbaczewski and Cecko draw on the Kamienne niebo (Stone Sky) novel by Jerzy Krzysztoń, which tells the story of the Uprising from the perspective of hiding civilians, imprisoned in cellars and basements throughout the fighting. The young artists take on this theme in order to construct a world in which isolation, a sense of enclosure, and desperate attempts at survival become a universal metaphor which still functions today.
Rather than transporting the audience into a reconstructed historic reality, Garbaczewski and Cecko chose to follow traces of "postmemory". The concept was first used by author Marienne Hirsch in the early 1990s, when she wrote an article on Art Spiegelman’s iconic comic book Maus about the experience of the Holocaust.
Garbaczewski detonated a bomb – commented Witold Mrozek in Gazeta Wyborcza. – This performance is not designed to teach about the history and the Uprising. It is about us, not about them. It examines the reasons why half of today's Polish students believe that the Uprising ended in victory.
Garbaczewski versus Gombrowicz and Proust
In 2013, Garbaczewski staged the long-awaited literary premiere of Kronos at Polski Theatre in Wrocław. It is an intimate diary by Witold Gombrowicz, publicized as the literary event of the decade. "It is a difficult text for theatre. We did not re-write it as dialogue. It contains cracks which we filled up with our own biographies", explained the director. "Gombrowicz raises questions about being honest with oneself. Staging Kronos at the theatre is like posting someone’s profile on Twitter or Facebook. As a result, it enhances questions regarding the structure of our biography, about the importance of intimacy and honesty with oneself." Once again, Garbaczewski invited Alexandra Wasilkowska to collaborate on the stage design. The music was composed by Julia Marcell. Aneta Kyzioł commented in Polityka:
Actors recount, read or dictate their own intimate diaries. Adam Szczyszczaj is brilliant in the role of the alter-ego of the spectator of this boring, partially-screened, on-fire curtain, and partially played without the mediation of the camera, drama and protests against what he sees:" What the f…is this?! I will not sign up for this and be forced to explain myself to people!" He would like to participate in real art, real theatre. But today, Gombrowicz's dramas can not expect even a small percentage of the interest which his intimate journal enjoyed.
Garbaczewski’s three-piece, interdisciplinary project PROUST- PAMUK- MEMORY, created in collaboration with Turkish choreographer and director Emre Koyuncuoglu, premiered at the Festival Theatre in Istanbul on the occasion of the 600th anniversary of the establishment of Polish-Turkish diplomatic relations. The theatrical part of the project, inspired by Orhan Pamuk's novel The Museum of Innocence, was performed before the Turkish public in June 2013. The event was supported by Culture.pl. The Turkish director revealed that this was a very personal performance:
I juxtaposed my memories, my memory of Istanbul, its flavours, with the way of thinking of the Polish actors. In their hands, these memories became exhibits.
In 2014 roku at the Schauspiel in Stuttgart, Garbaczewski directed Albert Camus' Caligula. Later on he directed Sławomir Wojciechowski's Victory Over Sun and Marcin Stańczyk's Solarize at the Gand Theatre – The National Opera. Cecko wrote the libretto. The opera was created as a part of Project 'P' aimed to produce operas made by young, talented composers.
In 2015 a renowned duo Garbaczewski/Cecko created two successful experiments – they staged Shakespeare's dramas: The Tempest at the Polish Theatre in Wrocław and Hamlet at the Helena Modrzejewska National Old Theatre in Kraków.
Witold Mrozek wrote about Hamlet:
None of Polish directors has such an impressive visual imagination as Garbaczewski and Hamlet with stage design by Aleksandra Wasilkowska is yet another proof. (…) Garbaczewski's play in Marcin Cecko's adaptation splits Hamlet like a prism. Cecko replaces a pompous 'to be or not to be' with an open 'to be, or not: maybe'. That is why the subsequent scenes create several variants of the idea for Hamlet, separate thick worlds, rather neighbouring than resulting in one another.
HAMLET TRAILER from Spectribe on Vimeo.
In 2016 Garbaczewski made his debut on a prestigious stage in Berlin at the Volksbühne Theatre with his Locus Solus. The play was written by Marcin Cecko and based on Raymond Roussel's novel from 1914.
Welcome to Locus Solus, a park as strange and curious as its numerous attractions. Its owner, the scientist and inventor Doctor Martial Canterel, will receive visitors to exhibit his radical experiments and inventions. Should anyone in Europe have forgotten a phase at some stage of their life, Martial Cantarel is able to track down that moment and control it. (…) At Cantarel’s command they rise to reproduce key moments in their lives. Locus Solus is a place where the world has become utterly transparent, where the past and the future reveal all their secrets. (Volksbühne's materials)
In june 2016 Garbaczewski directed Robert Robur based on an unfinished novel by Mirosław Nahacz Robert Robur's Incredible Adventures, published two years after the author's death. Garbaczewski transfers dystopian reality, created by the writer to the world of media and virtual reality.
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Back to Gombrowicz
Three years after Kronos, Garbaczewski again turned to Witold Gombrowicz, this time to adapt his work Kosmos. The play, performed at Stary Theatre in Kraków (premiere: November 2016), turned out to be relatively consistent with the novel’s original text – which, in the case of Garbaczewski, may be considered rather surprising. The director, while keeping the plot mostly unchanged, managed to transcribe the literary work into his own language. For instance, a male character, Witold, was played by Jaśmina Polak, while the female ones, Mrs. Kulka and Katasia by Paweł Kruszelnicki and Maciej Charyton respectively. ‘Gender is changing in the texts of Gombrowicz,’ said Garbaczewski in an interview.
As usual, the performance was visually impressive – the sets were designed by Aleksandra Wasilikowska, who took the title literally and hung models of comets and planets above the audience. The play was held in an atmosphere of anxiety and disturbing eroticism which was complemented by music composed by Jan Duszyński and lighting by Bartosz Nalazka.
Sticking to the classics
The next literary direction for Garbaczewski was Liberation (Wyzwolenie) by Stanisław Wyspiański – another of the classics of Polish dramaturgy. It was staged in Studio Theatre and, according to art director Natalia Korczakowska, it was a return to the avant-garde. Hence, the play was promoted by emphasising the role of scenographer Aleksandra Wasilkowska, whose starting point for work on Liberation was space. However, Garbaczewski saw a modern playwright in Wyspiański. As he said in a pre-premiere interview:
Wyspianski thoroughly analysed certain concepts from the national dictionary, trying to solve the codes of the various forces that are constantly fighting over the Polish soul. At the same time, his approach is very modernist, because as a playwright, Wyspiański was a very innovative writer. Today, we would even say that he was post-dramatic.
Liberation, which was also inspired by Witkacy’s The New Deliverance, has received mixed reviews from critics. The ironic performance was not entirely ready for its premiere on 12 March 2017 and contained an almost one-hour-long monologue by Konrad (played by Anna Paruszyńska) from the famous mask scene.
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Encounter with Reymont
Garbaczewski’s intensive work meant audiences didn’t have to wait long for his next play, whose premiere took place in May 2017 in Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw. Garbaczewski undertook an individual adaptation of the monumental novel The Peasants written by Władysław Reymont, which resulted in a play strongly appreciated by critic Michał Centkowski. He described it as a bright fantasy about Reymont’s novel, sometimes chaotic, but thanks to the actors and the hypnotic music of Jan Duszyński, extremely captivating.
Actress Magdalena Koleśnik was awarded the main prize in the Young Artist category at the 4th Festival of New Theatre for her brilliant role of Jagna. She was also appreciated by the jury of the ‘Klasyka Żywa’ 43th Opole Theatre Confrontation. Furthermore, The Peasants ranked in the top 10 theatre events of 2017, published by Witold Mrozek in Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper.
In 2017, Garbaczewski engaged in Polski Theatre In The Underground, with which he directed three ephemeral plays: Tak Zwana Ludzkość w Obłędzie (So-Called Humanity In Madness) by Witkacy, Państwo (State) based on Platonic dialogue and Lady Macbeth – the first virtual reality theatre production in Poland. Thanks to VR technology, anyone connected to the internet could join the audience.
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Return to sources
In May 2017, Garbaczewski, fascinated with Jerzy Grotowski, created an exhibition titled Field Investigation (Badania Terenowe). It was curated by Patrycja Ryłko in Gdańsk City Gallery. Its theatrical form was a means through which he confronted the current tendency towards the organic interpenetration of theatre and artistic practices. What inspired Garbaczewski in Grotowski was his eco-philosophical activity:
The fieldwork exercises refer primarily to the ecological activities of Jerzy Grotowski, in which he concentrated on the relationship/dialogue between the actor and the viewer. Grotowski introduced the category of the ‘ecology of the interpersonal’, which focuses on organic work on oneself at the very source and a primary bond between the actor and the viewer in the context of their natural environment.
Garbaczewski returned to Plato in May 2018 when he directed the play Uczta, based on the philosopher’s Symposium. Performed in Nowy Teatr, it was an ironic and carefree fantasy about a meeting of philosophers drinking alcohol. In the play, a discussion on Eros gained a rhythmical structure consistent with the original text. The final monologue of Socrates (played by Jacek Poniedziałek) was an interpretation of the monumental Apology of Socrates and acted as a counterbalance to the previous mockery. The Symposium was further proof of Garbaczewski’s unconstrained imagination and of his capacity for performative variations of classical texts.
Garbaczewski is a member and founder of the Dream Adoption Society artistic collective, which focuses on virtual and augmented reality. The group has created many VR performances and installations, for instance Locus Solus – a VR installation based on Raymond Roussel‘s novel, which was a part of the exhibition Other Dances in Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art. During Genius Loci Festival in Kraków, they presented Courageous Heart, an interactive VR installation inspired by Tadeusz Kościuszko, a hero of the Enlightenment who inspired Cracovians to erect one of the most famous memorial mounds in Kraków. In June 2018, Dream Adoption Society created the performance New Territory, presented at Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw.
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Garbaczewki's next play, Nietota, premiered at Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw, in October 2018. The director decided to employ VR to stage a modernist novel by Tadeusz Miciński. The project was created by members of Dream Adoption Society, the actors and actresses of Powszechny Theatre and choreographer Iza Szostak. Anna Piniewska wrote in Teatr dla Wszystkich:
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I don't really know how to name what I saw (what I participated in?) in Powszechny Theatre. I don't know whether it was a play in the traditional, conservative sense. I'm dubious about the word ‘performance’, too – I can't tell if it's able to convey the character of this event. I know one thing: ‘Nietota’ […] was a new, electrifying experience for me.
NIETOTA | Teatr Powszechny | teaser
In March 2019, Garbaczewski directed Nothing at the Stary Theatre in Kraków – as we read on the poster, it was a ‘theatre meditation’ inspired by a long and diverse list of art: Black Square on a White Background by Kasimir Malevich, the poetry of Bolesław Leśmian, Janusz Palikot’s Nothing-Nothing, Cezary Wodziński’s Kairos, Mount Analogue by René Daumal and the work of U. G. Krishnamurti. As Garbaczewski said in an interview for Onet, poetry was the most crucial element of Nothing – the director emphasised that Leśmian was of particular importance to him (Leśmian is one of the greatest Polish poets of the 20th century, famous for the incredible musical value of his poetry as well as for creating numerous neologisms). As Dawid Dudko wrote for Onet:
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Endless words are uttered in the play, creating a melody that is not always pleasant for the ear. It may not be comprehensible, it may not be easy, it may not be possible to repeat. However, it is always possible to try to cherish it.
Garbaczewski and Aleksandra Wasilkowska represented Poland at the Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space in 2019, where they showed the project Aporia: The City Is the City, which consisted of a VR installation, an AR app and a traditional book.
In February 2020 Garbaczewski staged The Divine Comedy at the Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw. Once again the director called his project a ‘theatre meditation’. As he said in an interview for Onet:
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‘The Divine Comedy’ is something truly fascinating to explore, also as an algorithm… It consists of a 100 songs, divided into three parts – so 33 songs in each part, plus a prologue. This launches a crazy numerology that people have tried to unravel for 700 years.
yvonne princess of burgundy
the sexual life of savages
Award for The Possessed at the 4th National Competition for Staging Early Works of European Literature in Warsaw
Award for directing The Possessed by Witold Gombrowicz at the 34th "Polish Classics" Opole Theatre Confrontations
Award in the Theater category in a competition organized by Trójka’s Talents (Programme 3 of the Polish Radio) in Warsaw
Award for The Odyssey by Homer, at the 1st Koszalin Confrontations of Young Artists in 2010
Award for the best director and award for set design for The Odyssey by Homer at the 3rd "Divine Comedy" International Theatre Festival in Kraków.
Polityka magazine's Passport for The Sexual Life of Savages at the Nowy Theatre in Warsaw;
Special mention for the creators of The Sexual Life of Savages at the 18th National Competition for Polish Contemporary Play Staging / 18. Ogólnopolski Konkurs na Wystawienie Polskiej Sztuki;
an award for the best stage design for Yvonne, Princess of Burgundy at the Divine Comedy International Theatre Festival;
Grand Prix for the play Yvonne, Princess of Burgundy of the Kochanowski Theatre in Opole at the 38th Opole Theatre Confrontations
an award for the best experiment at the 18th White Tower International Theatre Festival
Author: Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora, czerwiec 2011; Update August 2019
Sources: Polityka, Rzeczpospolita, Gazeta Wyborcza, own materials, Polski Theatre in Wrocław