"...a mesmerizing and unique adaptation of this ancient Greek tragedy by Euripides"
By Fred Backus, NYTheatre.com
"It’s a powerful moment, a revealing combination of performance, stagecraft and text."
The New York Times
In a highly-unusual occurrence, this European-created IPHIGENIA AT AULIS by Gardzienice Theatre -- which makes its home in the small village of Gardzienice near Lublin in eastern Poland and tours widely on the international theatre festival circuit, where it is a favorite of the avant-garde -- will be given its world-premiere in the U.S. during this fall engagement at LaMaMa.
One of the top theatre companies in the world, Gardzienice created IPHIGENIA AT AULIS, as it does all it works, over a period of several years with periodic work-in-progress presentations, eventually incorporating the company's trademark use of classic texts, rural folk traditions of Central and Eastern Europe, dance and music into a singular evening of theatre.
IPHIGENIA AT AULIS -- featuring original music by Zygmunt Konieczny, recognized as one of the most outstanding living film and theatre composers in Poland today -- is a visual spectacle that examines how lives are affected by sacrifices made in the name of religion, politics and love. The production is performed in English, Polish and Ancient Greek, with scenes built on shadow and light, movement, gesture, and music to tell Euripides' classic story of betrayal, deception, and sacrifice in a time of war.
Founded by Wlodzimierz Staniewski, The Staniewski Centre for Theatre Practices -- better known as Gardzienice Theatre -- has enjoyed an international reputation for its extraordinary theatre performances since 1978 and over the years has provoked extravagant praise from eminent theatre scholars and practitioners such as Richard Schechner, Andre Gregory and the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Productions are based on collaborative research, rural folk traditions of Central and Eastern Europe and classic texts, and feature dance and an original musical score due to artistic director Staniewski's deeply held belief that music is "a key which opens the heart and soul." Gardzienice has been credited with creating a unique genre of theatrical culture based on musicality, theatrical dynamism, and gesture. Staniewski's work is known for its synchronistic interweaving of text, gesture, and body movement. Musicality in the works of Gardzienice replaces verbal discourse and its works are best viewed as living creations.
The cast of IPHIGENIA AT AULIS, led by Mariusz Golaj and Joanna Holcgreber, includes Maniucha Bikont, Charlie Cattrall, Karolina Cicha, Anna Dąbrowska, Benedict Hotchins, Justyna Jary, Tanushka Marah, Agnieszka Mendel, Marcin Mrowca, Jacek Timingeriu, and Barbara Wesolowska.
In addition to original music by Zygmunt Konieczny, the production team features Grzegorz Podbieglowski (light operator); Maciej Znamierowski (sound operator); Monika Onoszko (costumes); and Julia Bui-Ngoc (choreography).
Gardzienice has performed to critical acclaim around the world in countries including Great Britian, Sweden, Germany, Japan, Egypt, Brazil, Russia, Spain, and the United States -- making its New York debut at La MaMa in 2001 with METAMORPHOSES which New York Theatre Wire proclaimed an "exhilarating display of history and art."
The NY-based Polish Cultural Institute is dedicated to nurturing and promoting and nurturing cultural ties between the US and Poland, both through American exposure to Poland's cultural achievements, and through exposure of Polish artists and scholars to American trends, institutions, and professional counterparts. The Polish Cultural Institute's productions have grown in scope from the 50-seat Knitting Factory to the 2000-seat Carnegie Hall. It has collaborated with cultural institutions including La MaMa, Art at St. Ann's, Lincoln Center, BAM, Lincoln Center, MoMA and many more. Previous productions include Scena Plastyczna KUL's ODCHODZI (PASSING AWAY), created and directed by the highly acclaimed visual theatre artist Leszek Madzik from text by famed author Tadeusz Rozewicz; SAINT OEDIPUS, a critically acclaimed adaptation of Gombrowicz's satirical novel FERDYDURKE; Slawomir Mrozek's OUT AT SEA & STRIPTEASE; and SERENADE & PHILOSOPHER FOX; two productions by Krzysztof Warlikowski at BAM Next Wave Festival: DYBUK (2004) and KRUM (2007); RISK EVERYTHING directed by Grzegorz Jarzyna at Art at St. Ann's; and THREE SISTERS directed by Krystian Lupa at the American Repertory Theatre (Cambridge, MA); plus a spectacular four-night performance under the Brooklyn Bridge of the street-theatre classic CARMEN FUNEBRE.
Interpreting the Rhythms of Euripides
October 12, 2007
by Rachel Saltz
The Gardzienice Theater’s vivid if frustrating “Iphigenia at Aulis” at the La MaMa Annex comes at you in a rush. At only 45 minutes, it’s not exactly the play that Euripides wrote but an impressionistic meditation on it, what this Polish company calls a “theater essay.”
The stage pictures stay with you: The chorus members, drums between their legs, pounding in unison and chanting. Iphigenia curled fetally on a chair, a sacrificial lamb in white. Agamemnon, arms raised, sharpening knives with barely contained violence. Iphigenia standing motionless, a long red scarf dragged across her throat, the sacrifice complete.
Wlodzimierz Staniewski, the Gardzienice’s artistic director, worked with the avant-garde director and guru Jerzy Grotowski before founding this company, and it shows in his emphasis on movement, music and rhythm. He adapted Euripides’ play — Agamemnon must sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, so the Greek armies can sail to Troy and wage war — and directs here. His disciplined performers, bodies as expressive as faces, seem at times more like dancers than traditional actors.
Chunks of the play are delivered in Polish, mostly at breakneck speed (and without supertitles). There are also segments in ancient Greek and English. Words aren’t primary here, just one more element of sound and rhythm. Still, those who don’t have a good working knowledge of the story (or Polish) may not glean much about “Iphigenia” from this production beyond its general atmosphere of tragedy.
That’s too bad because Mr. Staniewski has found ways to physicalize resonant themes in Euripides’ play. He makes the chorus central, foregrounding the communal will that can operate in terrible ways. (Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter because he’s afraid of the massed armies; Achilles fears he’ll be stoned to death if he tries to prevent it.)
In this production Iphigenia’s mother, Klytamnestra, separated from the chorus by a circle of light, asks, “Does no one speak against this?” It’s a powerful moment, a revealing combination of performance, stagecraft and text.
October 5, 2007
By Fred Backus
With an exciting combination of movement, music, and text on display, La MaMa brings to New York the acclaimed Polish avant-garde company Gardzienice's version of Iphigenia at Aulis, a mesmerizing and unique adaptation of this ancient Greek tragedy by Euripides.
Before attending, however, it might be wise to brush up on the story, which here switches from English to Polish to ancient Greek at a rapid pace and can be hard to follow at times. In short, Agamemnon—the commander of the Greek army getting ready to launch its attack on Troy—must sacrifice his eldest daughter Iphigenia to the goddess Artemis in order to calm the storms that are preventing the fleet from setting sail. To accomplish this, Agamemnon dupes both his wife Clytemnestra and Iphigenia herself, who believes she is being brought to the fleet at Aulis in order to marry the Great Greek Hope, Achilles.
Helmed by director Wlodzimierz Staniewski, himself a former artistic collaborator with the near-legendary Polish theatre artist Jerzy Grotowski, Gardzienice's body of work is the result of an evolutionary process developed over many years and several productions that explores modern, classical, and folk traditions, and the result of such long-term and artistic exploration is striking. Gardzienice's ensemble is as tight and intuitively cohesive as any I've seen, and their physical work—a unique and skilled combination of dance and gesture—is particularly marvelous.
Zygmunt Konieczny's original music, which is sung by the ensemble in several captivating numbers, is a beautiful display of folk and choral traditions, and includes a wide range of vocal styles and sounds that evoke a tribal and primitive soundscape. Iphigenia at Aulis is also ripe with stunning stage pictures centered on a simple and effective set of moveable blocks and platforms, and the staging overall conjures up a feeling of a lonely tribe perched on a cliff, exposed and vulnerable to the gods and to nature around them. It is here that Agamemnon presides like a samurai warrior over an undulating chorus of drum-playing women with his wife, Clytemnestra. They are attended by a shrieking servant, his oily brother Menelaus, a sinewy and hot-tempered Achilles, and his naïve and trusting daughter, all of whom display their own unique physical and vocal characterizations.
But what makes this company even more exciting is the way text, movement, and music are used and combined. There are many multi-disciplinary companies that can bring these elements together in interesting ways, but with Gardzienice it's as though they were working on a more primal level: as though the disciplines were a seamless unity from the very beginning. Here the advantages of the company's extensive development process is in full display, with the cast seeming like a single theatrical organism that shares a richly textured and deeply layered theatrical language of movement and sound.
The piece is less successful at integrating its three languages into a satisfying whole, and Staniewski's text—which can be difficult to understand even when it's in English—is delivered so fast at times that it seems as if the performers can't wait to be rid of it. With the piece clocking in at less than an hour, such frenzied delivery doesn't entirely seem necessary. Where the piece also fails to land is when it makes its infrequent but direct jabs at contemporary political relevance, tying Agamemnon's royal power to that of the United States.
Such detached commentary sticks out strangely at odds with the overall concept and tone of this piece, which to me already evokes a deeper and unique resonance. There is something fascinatingly primordial about this production and this company's work, no doubt a result of its extensive research and exploration of its own culture's folk traditions. Most modern retellings of the ancient Greek tragedies draw parallels between their morals and mores and our own. Here, instead, one feels almost like an anthropologist traveling back in time to witness our own cultural origins, with the only link between them and us being the primitive reptilian brain of Western society that still exists in us somewhere underneath our more civilized and evolved cultural trappings. Iphigenia in Aulis is, after all, a tale of ritualized human sacrifice in the shadow of gods and natural forces that humanity cannot reason with or fully understand, and in many ways this production feels fittingly more like it could be the ancient pre-historic source material for Euripides's play, rather than an adaptation of his work written 2,500 years after his death.
October 09, 2007
By Andy Propst
The myth of Agamemnon's sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia at the onset of the Trojan War has a terrific resonance for our times, as it depicts a country going to war under morally questionable circumstances. Following Charles Mee's theatrical collage Iphigenia 2.0, which made the tale's meaning today blatantly apparent, comes Wiodzimierz Staniewski's adaptation and flamboyant ceremonial staging of Euripides' Iphigenia at Aulis, created for his theatre company Gardzienice in Poland.
There are only two pointed references to the current war in Iraq in this Iphigenia, and they both uncomfortably jar theatregoers out of the rich, exotic visual and aural world of the production. Monika Onoszko provides brightly colored Kabuki-style robes for the company, and the production unfurls on three levels of moving platforms inlaid with shimmering gold, emerald, and rust fabric. Throughout, Zygmunt Konieczny's eclectic score (recorded by the Beethoven Academy Orchestra) pulsates under the text, which is delivered in Polish, Greek, and English.
As Iphigenia moves from its expository opening (which in the various languages will leave those unfamiliar with the tale at a bit of a loss), it explodes as the company takes to the platforms, delivering a choral ode while beating drums with an almost convulsive intensity. Staniewski's production never reaches similar heights after this, but throughout there are moments of great beauty and passion. Dressed only in white, Iphigenia (luminescent and delicate Karolina Cicha) arrives in a wheelchair and is seemingly healed by meeting Achilles, whom Charlie Cattrall curiously plays like a British gangsta. The two perform an intricate and haunting pas de deux at odds with the warmongering surrounding them. This moment — like the entire production — is only enhanced by Grzegorz Podbieglowski's sensitive lighting design.
At the center of this Iphigenia is Mariusz Golaj, who gives a majestic and imposing performance as Agamemnon; the man who leaves for Troy with blood already on his hands.