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Reviewed by:
  • The World as a Place of Truth
  • Daniel Larlham
The World as a Place of Truth. The Grotowski Institute, Wrocław, Poland. 15–30 June 2009.

“The world should be a place of truth.” So asserted Jerzy Grotowski, the protean spiritual-seeker and tireless researcher into the art of the performer, in a public speech given in Moscow in 1976. This statement of utopian conviction provided the titular rationale for the international theatre festival hosted by Wrocław’s Grotowski Institute during the last two weeks of June 2009. The festival served as Poland’s marquee event within the 2009 UNESCO “Year of Grotowski,” designated in recognition of the tenth anniversary of Grotowski’s death and the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the company that would eventually evolve into the renowned Polish Laboratory Theatre. The year saw Grotowski-themed conferences, seminars, and performances in Wrocław, Krakow, Warsaw, New York, Canterbury, Paris, and Rome, among other cities across the globe.

The official festival program audaciously proclaimed that the Wrocław event would bring together for a fortnight the “greatest masters of contemporary theatre”: Roberto Bacci, Eugenio Barba, Pina Bausch, Peter Brook, Krystian Lupa, Richard Schechner, Tadashi Suzuki, Theodoros Terzopoulos, Krzystof Warlikowski, and Anatoly Vasiliev. The notable omissions and debatable inclusions within this theatrical pantheon did not diminish the extraordinary opportunity to see the work of so many theatrical luminaries over such a short timespan—and, moreover, to hear them discuss their approaches to artistic practice in a series of public meetings accompanying the performances. In addition, the festival provided a forum for lesser-known companies from the “Eastern Line” of Grotowski’s influence—including groups from Poland, Ukraine, Serbia, Austria, and Kurdistan—to present their work to an international audience.

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Kamila Klamut (seated) and Ditte Berkeley (prone) in Caesarean Section: Essays on Suicide. (Photo: Lukasz Giza.)

The invocation of Grotowski’s name and legacy as the pretext for a meeting of such a diverse set of performance practitioners invited reflection on the relation of the participants’ work to Grotowski’s own search for truth, first within the theatre, and later on the wider terrain of paratheatrical encounter and ritual practice. Some of the festival participants knew Grotowski intimately (Barba, Brook, Schechner), some had met or worked with him briefly and felt a strong artistic kinship (Suzuki, Bacci), but others clearly were present because of their artistic reputation taken on its own terms (Vasiliev, Bausch, Lupa, Warlikowksi). Grotowski, in his writings and public statements, always emphasized that an artist must find his or her own way, but within this should develop true craftsmanship and artisanal technical expertise. Perhaps, then, in assessing whether certain works “belonged” at a festival taking place under Grotowski’s long shadow, we ought not to ask how they compare in artistic aim or aesthetic manifestation with those of the Polish master (who, after all, left behind the “Theatre of Productions” in the early 1970s), but rather to measure them against the practical ethics of rigorous discipline, incisive self-awareness, and ceaseless, self-transforming aspiration [End Page 98] laid down by Grotowski as a lasting challenge to all subsequent theatre-makers.

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From left: Adam Szczyszczaj, Krzesislawa Dubiolówna, Ewa Skibińska, and Mariusz Kiljan in The Temptation of Quiet Veronica. (Photo: Francesco Galli.)

Appropriately, the festival opened with a performance orchestrated by Eugenio Barba, whose practical work as the director of the Denmark-based ensemble Odin Teatret as well as his prolific theoretical writings are indebted to his “apprenticeship” (Barba’s term) with Grotowski from 1962 to 1964. Barba had also participated in the famous Theatre of Nations festival held in Wrocław in 1975, during which Grotowski and his Laboratory performers, along with luminaries of the time like Jean-Louis Barrault, Joseph Chaikin, André Gregory, Peter Brook, and Barba himself, conducted the “University of Research,” a series of public meetings, work sessions, and other events in which over 4,500 attendees took part. Odin Teatret’s offering at the 2009 festival was Ur-Hamlet (inspired by the Vita Amlethi of Saxo Grammaticus), a boisterously syncretic spectacle staged in the huge...


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