Asian Theatre Journal 18.1 (2001) 113-115
[Access article in PDF]
Eugenio Barba, theorist, founder of the International School of Theatre Anthropology (ISTA), and director of the Odin Teatret, based in Holstebro, Denmark, has published a new book, the fourth of his works to have been translated into English. But despite what many of his followers might have hoped for, the work offers no new methodology or theory from the man who became famous for his manifesto of "Third Theatre" and for coining the concept of "Theatre Anthropology."
Instead the book consists of an essay, "Land of Ashes and Diamonds," and twenty-six previously unpublished letters to Barba from the late Jerzy Grotowski, author of Towards a Poor Theatre and one of the most innovative directors of the twentieth century. The letters date from the 1960s when Grotowski--who eventually abandoned directing for academia and what he called "paratheatrical" research--was still doing public performances. The first letter in the collection is dated Opole, July 10, 1963, and was sent to Barba while he was in India; the last letter is dated Calcutta, August 10, 1969, and was sent by Grotowski during his own first trip to India. The responding letters from Barba to Grotowski were held in the files of the Teatr-Laboratorium in Wroclaw, Poland, but were lost when it was closed in 1984. The book is written from a distance of more than thirty years and it appears as though Barba's intention is to counter the mystification of this early period of Grotowski's work.
The book does offer insight into the early years of Grotowski's and Barba's theatre work. It provides a new perspective on two of the great masters [End Page 113] who contributed substantially to the formation of late-twentieth-century Western theatre. But readers hoping to find unknown details, new theories, or exciting surprises will be disappointed. However, the essay and letters demonstrate the closeness of these two men during the early years of their relationship, from the date of the earliest letter when Grotowski was twenty-nine and Barba twenty-six. And the letters also reveal the influence of Asian culture on their work. As Barba states in the preamble: "India was for us a point of encounter . . . its culture, its paradoxes, its close remoteness established a bond of thought and a common language" (p. 9). Background information to the events mentioned in the letters is provided in the essay.
The letters, translated from Polish into English and originating in the period when Grotowski began to garner fame, are especially interesting. Written in a personal style, they give evidence of the warmth of the master/pupil (almost father/son) relationship between these two men. Grotowski describes himself as "Lama" and Barba as being "as close as a son" to him (p. 118). The metaphorical nature of many of Grotowski's letters anticipates Barba's adoption of a metaphorical writing style in such later works as The Paper Canoe (1995). The letters deal with personal matters and frequently address business issues such as the organization of speeches and performances abroad or the publication of Barba's first book about Grotowski, In Search of a Lost Theatre, which helped make Grotowski known outside of Poland.
The collection highlights the influence of Indian theatre techniques on Grotowski's work--evident in his use of Sanskrit expressions to describe his own work and ideas. He relates his thoughts to Indian ascetics and philosophers, such as Ramana Maharishi and Auribindo Ghose, and refers to the locations of his Teatr-Laboratorium in Opole and Wroclaw as "Ashram." Of his epochal production of The Constant Prince, Grotowski, on April 26, 1965, writes: "This production represents an attempt to do research on the frontier between tantra and theatre" (p. 145). In the last of the published letters, written by Grotowski on a trip to Calcutta, he talks...