2012-03-15
2015-05-20

Kordian

Poster for "Kordian", 1962, design: Waldemar Krygiera performance based on Juliusz Słowacki’s drama, with a script and direction by Jerzy Grotowski. It was first performed publicly at The Theatre of 13 Rows on 14 February 1962 (with a closed premiere on 13 February). Set design: Jerzy Gurawski; costumes and props: Lidia Minticz and Jerzy Skarżyński; assistant director: Rena Mirecka. Cast: Zygmunt Molik (Doctor, Satan, Dozorca ogrodu [Gardener], Pope, Tsar, Stranger), Antoni Jahołkowski (Dozorca [Janitor], Prezes [Chairman]), Zbigniew Cynkutis (Kordian), Rena Mirecka (Witch, Laura), Maja Komorowska and Ewa Lubowiecka (Second Witch, Wioletta), Ryszard Cieślak (First Madman, Mephistopheles, Grzegorz, Priest, Imagination), Andrzej Bielski (Old Man, Fear), Aleksander Kopczewski (Second Madman, Grzegorz). The fundamental concept of the staging and dramaturgical reworking of the text involved situating Kordian’s entire history within one stage – the mental institution (scene 6, Act III in Słowacki’s text). The particular events forming the full action of the drama were played out as the nightmares, memories and fantasies of patients under the care of the rational yet diabolical Doctor. In accordance with this fundamental idea, Jerzy Gurawski created a uniform performance space accommodating both actors and audience members. The whole theatre space was filled will beds, most of them bunk-beds. Audience members sat on them or next to them, and were thus forced into very close contact with the actors while observing the action taking place in between the beds and on them from changing and occasionally surprising perspectives. From the very outset they were treated as patients of a mental institution (this is how the Doctor referred to them in his first conversation with Dozorca [Janitor]). The performance is filled with a series of scenes created by the mad men, the first of which is a ‘show’ by the pair, with one of them believing he is Christ’s Cross, the other that he is Atlas. Following this, a shortened version of ‘Przygotowanie’ (The Preparation) is performed as a sequence of hypnotic daydreams spoken by various patients visited in turn by the Doctor (during his ‘rounds’ he also occasionally showed an interest in spectator-patients). The final patient, considered to be the most troubling case, turned out to be Kordian. His diagnosis began with the protagonist issuing a series of raving fantasies which in the original formed his entire biography: the conversation with Grzegorz, whom the Doctor was becoming; the parodistic love scene with Laura which concluded with her suffering an attack of catalepsy; the highly eroticised London scene with the Doctor as the Gardener; the dialogue with Wioletta, in which the image of the horse gallop was constructed as a mime and dance study for actors; and, finally, the scene with the Pope, who was also the Doctor. This series of scenes culminated with the famous monologue on Mont Blanc, spoken by the sick Kordian during an attack of fury. It was accompanied by the procedure of letting blood which served as a bitterly ironic counterpoint, reducing the romantic sacrifice of life to a trivial operation. The following scene, which presented the coronation of the Tsar, took the form of a narrative divided between patients who were seated in various locations around the auditorium. It concluded with the song of the Stranger (who was also the Doctor), following which a significantly shortened scene presenting the conspiracy in Warsaw’s St John’s cathedral, with the Caretaker taking on the role of the Chairman. A further act of sacrifice by Kordian – when he swears the oath ‘Narodowi zapisuję, co mogę…’ (‘I give to the nation what I can’) – is juxtaposed by the sound of the sick patients gurgling in preparation for bed. The scene of the failed attempt on the Tsar’s life (also embodied by the Doctor) was played out in accordance with the mechanism of the ‘dialectic of derision and apotheosis’. Kordian, running nervously around the room, was caught by the nurses and forced into a straightjacket, which he wore when he was subsequently accompanied by Fear and Imagination as he went to attack the Doctor-Tsar who was sitting on a bed. Standing face-to-face with him, Kordian was subject to the ultimate and most difficult test – the argument with Doctor-Satan from scene 6, act III. In Grotowski’s version, however, this test did not end with the arrival of the Great Prince who would tear him free of Satan’s jaws. Instead, the parade of the pair of mad men returned, and they proved to be the most convincing argument, as they grasped Kordian as one of their own and led him from the room. The final words of the performance – ‘Śpijcie ludzie! Dobrej nocy!’ (‘Sleep well, people! Good night!’) – were spoken by the Doctor as he looked at the audience members. The leading theme, then, of Kordian was the question of sacrifice. Subordinating the entire performance to this question meant that it became a certain test of the audience. In treating the audience members as participants in the events, they were confronted as directly as possible with the sacrilegious profanation of the national myth of an individual redeeming sacrifice, which in turn challenged them to either reject or accept the myth. This confrontation was to turn the spectators into participants of this iconoclastic action and transform them into a ‘collective of vibration’. Generally, though, this is not what occurred, since audience members (despite their proximity) remained in the position of observers, merely intrigued by the ‘interesting experiment’. The attack on archetypes designed by Grotowski did not bring about the intended results, with part of the reason for this being also the insufficient reality of the actors’ actions. However, the radical approaches applied in Kordian did have some impact by generating a pointed polemical exchange involving the philologist and professor of Kraków’s Jagiellonian University, Wacław Kubacki who, in his review titled ‘Kordian na wariackich papierach’ (‘Kordian on the spur of the moment’ or, ‘Kordian has been certified’), strongly condemned such an unceremonious treatment of a national classic. Kubacki was in turn critiqued by Ludwik Flaszen in the text ‘Filolog w teatrze i inni’ (‘The philologist in the theatre and others’), where he successfully highlighted the different relationship to literature represented by the approach of the Theatre of 13 Rows. Outside Opole, Kordian was also performed in Kraków (27, 28, 30 March, 1, 3, 7, 8 April 1962) and as a visiting performance in Białystok (15–16 May 1962) and Wrocław (21–22 May 1962).

Bibliography: 

Jerzy Falkowski: Pretensje i laury, „Kalendarz Opolski na rok 1963”, Opole [1962], s. 252–257;

Ludwik Flaszen: Filolog w teatrze i inni, „Odra” 1965 nr 11, s. 79–81, przedruki [w:] tegoż: Cyrograf, Wyd. I, Kraków 1971, s. 14–19; oraz tegoż: Teatr skazany na magię. Przedmowa, wybór i opracowanie: Henryk Chłystowski, Kraków–Wrocław 1983, s. 343–349.

Ludwik Flaszen: „Kordian”. Komentarz do inscenizacji J. Grotowskiego, [w:] „Materiały – Dyskusje” 1962 nr 7 (luty); przedruk [w:] Misterium zgrozy i urzeczenia. Przedstawienia Jerzego Grotowskiego i Teatru Laboratorium, pod redakcją Janusza Deglera i Grzegorza Ziółkowskiego, Wrocław 2006, s. 49–50.

Dariusz Kosiński: Polskość jako szaleństwo, [w:] tegoż: Grotowski. Profanacje, Instytut im. Jerzego Grotowskiego, Wrocław 2015, s. 93–175.

Jerzy Kwiatkowski: Wewnątrz „Kordiana”, „Współczesność” 1962 nr 13, z 1–15 lipca, s. 4;

Wacław Kubacki: „Kordian” na wariackich papierach, „Kultura” 1963 nr 21, z 3 czerwca, s. 4, przedruk [w:] tegoż: W wyobraźni, Warszawa 1964, s. 137–138.

Michał Masłowski: Scenariusz Grotowskiego według „Kordiana” [w:] Słowacki/Grotowski. Rekontekstualizacje, pod redakcją Dariusza Kosińskiego i Wandy Świątkowskiej, Wrocław 2010, s. 77–89.

Zbigniew Osiński: „Kordian” według Słowackiego, w: Tadeusz Burzyński, Zbigniew Osiński, Laboratorium Grotowskiego, Warszawa 1978, s. 23–25.

Zbigniew Osiński: Grotowski i jego Laboratorium, Warszawa 1980, s. 99–103.

Marta Piwińska: „Kordian” w Teatrze 13 Rzędów, „Teatr” 1962 nr 8, z 16–30 kwietnia, s. 8–9;

Agnieszka Wójtowicz: Od „Orfeusza” do „Studium o Hamlecie”. Teatr 13 Rzędów w Opolu (1959–1964), Wrocław 2004, s. 69–86.