Performance Schedule:
January 24 to 28, 2001
The Annex Theatre
Thursday - Sunday 7:30pm
Sunday Matinee at 2:30pm

The world renowned Polish theater company, Gardzienice Center for Theatre Practices, founded and led by Wlodzimierz Staniewski, makes its La MaMa debut January 24 to 28 as part of its fourth US tour. In the past ten years Gardzienice has conducted its work throughout the world, in Britain (including Stratford's Royal Shakespeare Company), Sweden, Germany, Japan (at Suzuki's Toga Festival), Egypt (where Staniewski was awarded Egypt's medal for outstanding contribution to world theatre), Brazil, and other countries. The company will perform its newest work, "Metamorphosis." The eminent troupe has been credited with creating a unique genre of theatrical culture based on musicality. "Metamorphosis," or The Golden Ass According to Lucius Apuleius, is a unique performance which revives the spirit of pre-Christian energy, joy, and lightness. The production is entirely and passionately sung. Staniewski's work is known for its synchronistic interweaving of text, gesture, and body movement. This production of "Metamorphosis" is a modern-day rediscovery of the vital energy and the compelling dramaturgy of Ancient Greek theater: a theater in which the song, dance, and text were a natural execution of the extremes of human experience and whose texts were sung in unique modalities.

"The Golden Ass" is the common alternative title of "Metamorphosis," a satirical romance by Apuleius (b. ca. 114 a.d.), called "golden" because of its excellence. It tells of the adventures of Lucan, a young man who, being accidentally metamorphosed into an ass while touring in Thessaly, falls into the hands of robbers, eunuchs, magistrates, etc. by whom he is ill-treated but ultimately recovers his human form. It contains the story of Cupid and Psyche, the latest-born of the myths. Staniewski explains that the sources are papyrus remains and stone carvings from the 5th century BC to the 2nd century AD. After a period of study, he came to the conclusion that Pythagorean music was sung and danced vividly, dynamically, and passionately, in a way we commonly associate with indigenous cultures. "This is a great time from the turning point when the Old God Dionysos and Apollo exited and the New God Christ entered," he writes. "Apuleius, from the 2nd century C.E. , was a Platonist, hence the essences from Plato in our work: about the nature of the soul, the nature of love, the mysteries of transformation; moreover, about everything of which Apuleius the Platonist speaks, using the language of allegory , in his Metamorphoses."Richard Schechner, Editor of The Drama Review and Professor of Performance Studies, Tisch School for the Arts, NYU has written, "Gardzienice [is] one of Poland's-and the world's-premiere experimental theatre companies...[they] constitute the very heart and essence of Polish experimental and anthropological performance." Richard Lanier, Director of The Trust for Mutual Understanding, adds, "For the past two decades, one of the brightest lights on the Polish theatrical scene has been Gardzienice, whose work has been of consistently outstanding quality and whose influence has spread to actors, performers, students, and the general public, East and West...a superb performing group as well as an excellent nurturer of theatrical talent." Polish theoretician Leszek Kolankiewicz described the genre of Gardzienice's work in the program of International Theater Meetings, Warsaw 1988, writing: "Here in Poland, drawing inspiration from folklore and the countryside is considered hopeless and sentimental. Probably, because it most often ends being a stylization. Primitive culture - with its ceremonial gatherings, its sensuousness, expressiveness and musicality, its belief in spirits and communion with them - make an ideal environment for theatre. Staniewski was able to perceive this.

"Gardzienice's performances have nothing to do with simple stylization. They are works in which the pattern of folk culture is transformed and organically united with the avant-garde one, thus forming a new, individual style. Staniewski's theatre is a truly original contribution to the stylistics of contemporary theatrical avant-garde. There, in the Centre of Theatre Practice, a new genre of visual arts has been born. It may be called ethno-oratorio, a phenomenon radically refreshing our image of musical theatre. The effect is astonishing and brings to mind associations with the middle age pageants. European theatre was born perhaps twice: in the ancient times and in the Middle Ages, both times from the spirit of music. And both times its true background was folk song. In Gardzienice Theatre we witness how a Mystery Play is born, yet again, out of the spirit of music. "In some deeper sense, it is a Mystery Play of the Polish culture. And that is why the leading motifs of Gardzienice's" performances - 'Gusla' ('Sorcery', 1981) and 'Zwyot protopopa Awwakuma' ('The Life of Archpriest Avvakum,' 1983) - were based on Polish Romanticism and on our greatest mystery play, 'Dziady' ('The Forefathers Eve'). The Romantic heritage was once more undertaken, but here presented in a modern way, and according to contemporary ethnologic concepts. Gardzienice's performances evoke spirits of the people who once inhabited this land, revive cultures flourishing here long before, so that their distant echoes speak in us." Musicality in the works of Gardzienice replaces verbal discourse and its works are best viewed as living creations. Founded in 1978, the troupe has created only five separate productions to-date, but it must be kept in mind that its work is evolutionary and therefore cannot be directly compared with conventional theater productions. The company's works do not have premieres because, just as in the case of any living organism, they never arrive at the point where one can say that they are ready or finished. This does not mean that they are lacking in structure, or that they are improvised. Their shapes, shades, sonorities change together with the people creating them, together with the time in which they live. And just like every living organism, at a certain moment they die, giving at the same time life to a new theatrical work.

Work began on "Metamorphosis" in January 1995. It was first performed the following year and has been produced in Poland, Germany and throughout Europe since mid-1997.Gardzienice's US work to-date has been produced by Double Edge Theater of MA. Gardzienice's previous US tours have included performances at the Theater of Nations Festival in Baltimore (1986) and performances at St. John the Divine, as part of the First NY International Festival of the Arts (1988). Its 1998 US tour focused on Universities, including Bennington College, University of Buffalo, and Connecticut State University, as a means of reaching younger audiences and students who would benefit from the unequaled experience of Gardzienice's work practices. Gardzienice has established an Academy in Lublin. It is hoped that the current tour will help to further introduce the mission of the Academy to prospective American students.

Gardzienice is named for the remote town in Poland which it calls home. Its revolutionary nature was evident when it began in 1978 and did not look for a place amongst government-subsidized theaters. Today, the name of Gardzienice is synonymous with its theatrical quest. Its alumni include Jan Bernad, the founder of the Music of the Border Regions association, Magorzata and Wolfgang Niklaus, the backbone of the Wgajty Village Theatre, Krzysztof Czyewski, founder of the Pogranicze Foundation, Piotr Borowski, head of Theatre Studio in Warsaw, and Jan Tabaka and Susanna Pilhofer, who lead the Tanto Theatre in Vienna.

"Metamorphosis" is performed by Tomasz Rodowicz, Mariusz Golaj, Mariana Sadowska, Marcin Mrowca, Joanna Holcgreber, Dorota Porowska, Joanna Wichowska, Grzegorz Podbieglowski, Anna-Helena McLean and Aleksandra Wroblewska. Music adaptation is by Maciej Rychly. Stage direction, text adaptation and Music Drama are by Wlodzimierz Staniewski.

2001 page