(A)pollonia is Krzystof Warlikowski's outstanding show based on texts by Aeschylus, Euripides, Hanna Krall, and J. M. Coetzee, in which the director addresses the subjects of unresolved war trauma and questions the purpose of sacrifice.
(A)pollonia was coproduced with theatres in Paris, Brussels, Liège, and Geneva, as well as the Avignon Festival and Wiener Festwochen. Its cast features the stars of the Nowy Theatre in Warsaw: Magdalena Cielecka, Maciej Stuhr, and Maja Ostaszewska. The main protagonists of this worldwide acclaimed performance are three women: Iphigenia, Alcestis, and Apolonia, who are forced or voluntary victims of destiny, wars, and fate. Krzysztof Warlikowski debunks the myths of sacrifice and invites the viewers to a staged journey across the massive shambles which is the history of humanity. What do we do if one victim spawns more victims? Do we have the right to make decisions about somebody else's life? – the director asks, whilst juggling with styles and genres, intertwining the dramatic themes in the performance with Renate Jett's Rock songs, mixes antiquity with reportage, and literature with new media and film.
(...) Alcestis married a Greek man and as a wedding gift, Apollo made a promise that when her husband is dying, he can help him out, under the condition that her husband will find someone else who will die instead of him. His death came in a very inappropriate moment of his life, when he already had children and was very happy. His wife agreed to die in lieu of him. This is the first story, which I don't wish to finish. The second one happened in real life. During the occupation, Apolonia Marczyńska was hiding Jews. When the Germans found her out, the woman had to escape together with her father and children. She was captured. She admitted to it under interrogation. The Germans gave her the ultimatum: if her father says that it was him hiding the Jews, Apolonia will survive. The man did not respond to that.
Paulina Sygnatowicz, interview with Krzysztof Warlikowski, 24th October, 2008
The raw, memorable set constructed out of metal, Plexiglas, and concrete was designed by Małgorzata Szczęśniak, Warlikowski's long-time collaborator. She transformed the post-industrial interior of the Koneser Vodka Factory in Warsaw's Praga district into a space resembling a bath, or an abattoir. There is also a mobile room on the stage, while the actors' faces are blown up and followed by cameras. The performance was extremely well received by Polish and international critics and audiences alike. 'Warlikowski slayed!', Jacek Wakar wrote in Dziennik. According to the critic, the director expanded the horizons of his theatre with the bodacious (A)pollonia.
It is a theatre of questions with no answers. The director unfolds the space of the myth of victim and death from antiquity to contemporary times. Is it possible to justify the sacrifice made by Iphigenia (Magdalena Popławska), who never grew up to be an adult? And how should we understand Alcestis' (Magdalena Cielecka) gesture to save Admet's (Jacek Poniedziałek) life? And Agamemnon (Maciej Stuhr)? He was eager to kill in the war and now he represents a harrowing balance of death. Warlikowski talks about the spiral of killing which humanity was not able to stop for millenniums. The second contemporary part of the performance is opened by Elizabeth Costello's (Anna Radwan-Gancarczyk) lecture from Coetzee's book. The woman screams the conclusion to our faces. The Holocaust is renewed each day, we get away with every crime. There is no punishment. All that remains is Sławek's (Marek Kalita) sorrow, because his mother, Apolonia (Magdalena Cielecka), chose to save Jews instead of living with him. Now he collects the Polish Righteous Among the Nations medal for her from the hands of Heracles (Andrzej Chyra), a showman modeled after the Joker from Batman. But this will not bring him righteousness. The world of (A)pollonia is ruled solely by the logic of doom.
Joanna Derkaczew notes in Gazeta Wyborcza that Warlikowski introduces himself in (A)pollonia as a philosopher rather than an artist.
The protagonists of Aeschylus' and Euripides' drama and those of contemporary prose all desperately seek form they could give to their stories. From puppet theatre, fable, and parable, they move to the convention of the interview, talk show, public speech, lecture, web chat, interrogation, video conference, and recorded confession. All of these attempts at communication fail. What these people want to convey cannot be heard and understood. How are we to take Agamemnon's pronouncement, when he returns from the war as a criminal, very much like Adolf Eichmann (from Hannah Arendt's book on the banality of evil), when he says that 'you would also have killed had you been in my place; only you were lucky not to be confronted with such a decision'?*
The Polish premiere of the performance took place on 16th May, 2008, in Warsaw, while two months later, on 16th July, 2009, it was staged in the courtyard of the Pope's Palace in Avignon during the international theatre event. As one Le Monde's theatre critic wrote, the Polish show provoked 'an aesthetic and mental shock.' among the French public. 'In (A)pollonia, Krzysztof Warlikowski continues his reflection on the tragic History with an growing formal artfulness' – noted the author of the article, Fabienne Darge. Another newspaper, Le Figaro, declared (A)pollonia one of the best performances at the festival. The show was also well received in Russia, which (A)pollonia left in 2011 with an award for the Best Foreign Production at the prestigious Golden Mask festival. The show received a lot of attention from the Russian media.
In my opinion this is in fact one of the best productions of the past decade. First of all, it offers a completely modern dramatic language. The dialogues are so well-knit and exhilarating that the five hours pass in a single breath.
– Elena Kovalskaya wrote in Afisha, a biweekly released in major cities in Russia.
The music was written by Paweł Mykietyn, songs by Renate Jett, while Piotr Gruszczyński was responsible for the dramaturgy.
Cast: Magdalena Cielecka, Ewa Dałkowska, Renate Jett, Małgorzata Hajewska - Krzysztofik / Danuta Stenka, Anna Radwan-Gancarczyk / Monika Niemczyk / Aleksandra Konieczna, Maja Ostaszewska / Anna Radwan-Gancarczyk, Magdalena Popławska, Andrzej Chyra, Wojciech Kalarus, Marek Kalita, Zygmunt Malanowicz, Adam Nawojczyk / Bartosz Gelner, Jacek Poniedziałek, Maciej Stuhr, Tomasz Tyndyk (TR Warsaw actor)/ Piotr Polak.
* translation sourced from the Nowy Theatre website.
Sources: Nowy Theatre, Polityka, Gazeta Wyborcza, Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, Culture.pl, ed. AL, transl. AM, February 2016