"Shakuntalā", Opole 1960a performance by the Theatre of 13 Rows directed by Jerzy Grotowski and based on a Classical Sanskrit dramatic text (from the fifth century AD) by Kālidāsa (premiere 13 December 1960). According to the poster for the performance, the co-creators of the work’s aesthetics were ‘children at the Opole Art School (Wincenty Maszkowski’s class)’, who designed the costumes. The stage design was by Jerzy Gurawski, while the assistant directors were Rena Mirecka and Antoni Jahołkowski. Cast: Rena Mirecka (Shakuntalā), Zygmunt Molik (King Dushyanta), Antoni Jahołkowski (as the Clown and the Fisherman), Barbara Barska (Anasuya), Ewa Lubowiecka (Priyamvada), Andrzej Bielski (Yogi I) and Adam Kurczyna (Yogi II). The love story between Shakuntalā and Dushyanta, which takes the form of a certain archetypal narrative on overcoming the vanities of the world and instead trusting divine wisdom, was subjected by Grotowski – in accordance with his artistic philosophy of the time – to trial by contrast and derision. The idyllic romantic beauty of the epic love poem (particularly evident in reading Stanisław Schayer’s Polish translation) was confronted with examples of both the legal and customary rules which defined social norms (citations from the Book of the Laws of Manu) and also with texts and images of an evidently sexual nature (citations from The Kama Sutra, phallic constructions as fundamental elements of the stage space), with children’s play (the parodic costumes) and with mockery of stereotypical images of the Orient (the artificial, pseudo-Oriental symbols used by the actors). Taken as a whole, the piece was perceived as a form of erotic-exotic play whose object was – for the first time ever on such scale – the audience members and their reactions, stereotypical notions and prejudices. The work on Shakuntalā was the first collaboration between Grotowski and set designer Jerzy Gurawski in designing the performance space. Gurawski proposed a design which abandoned completely accepted Western forms of theatre spaces, since he combined the stage with the audience, while managing to maintain what was typical for Grotowski’s theatre at the time, namely an ordering of sites on stage to suggest particular significance. The performance was played out on and around a centrally-positioned construction resembling, in simplified form, a giant phallus. The audience sat at either side of the main performance space with the thrones of the two Yogis – who acted as commentators – positioned behind them. The audience podiums were illuminated in certain scenes, thus signifying that these spaces had become particular sites of action, while the audience members sitting on them had become participants in the action (taking the role, for example, of a group of courtiers). As a preserved copy of the script of the performance seems to suggest, before the start of the performance the audience was instructed by the Director (sadly, we do not know who played this role) on the rules of behaviour that apply during the performance, with particular stress placed on the fact that various comments would be issued from behind the audience and these comments are ‘to be listened to rather than watched’, thus there is no need to turn around. The performance has been interpreted primarily as a multi-layered game and a lesson in distancing oneself from one’s stereotypical notions and prejudices, particularly those of an erotic nature. If we take into account the fact that this performance about an exotic passion and love, featuring citations from the Kama Sutra and played out on an unambiguously phallic construction, was made in 1960 (and so before what is known as the sexual revolution) and, what is more, in a prudish communist country, then we can quite easily understand the embarrassment and awkwardness that a portion of the audience felt (not to mention some of the actors, too), as well as the reasons behind both the accusations of pornography levelled against the performance and also its relatively high popularity. An important stage in preparing the premiere of Shakuntalā was workshop training on the actors’ means of expression, particularly their subtle gestures and vocal symbolisation, with this experience providing the foundations of the group’s laboratory-style experimentation. Shakuntalā was accompanied by an important text by Grotowski, ‘Gra w Sziwę (przypisek do praktyki)’ [Playing Shiva: a postscript to practice]. This text develops and supplements the concepts outlined in ‘Farsa – Misterium’ (‘Farce – Mystery’, see Mystery Bouffe) on a fundamental mythological image – the Hindu image of Shiva as Nataraja – the divine dancer who at the same time also creates and destroys the world that results from his performance. Grotowski considered his work in the theatre as something analogous to this, playing the Dance of Shiva on stage and thus playing out in the microcosm of the theatre space the macrocosmic experience which brings about the essentially redemptive experience of the material world’s relativity and death’s deceptive nature. Shakuntalā was performed 43 times, including eighteen guest performances in Kraków (8 and 10–15 January 1961), Łódź (21–22 January 1961) and Wrocław (16–-19 March 1961), and also at theatre galas in Kędzierzyn (9 April 1961), the Opole Housing Construction Company (6 May 1961) and Błotnica (9 May 1961).


Maria Krzysztof Byrski: Grotowski a tradycja indyjska, „Dialog” 1969 nr 8, s. 86–91.

Ludwik Flaszen: „Siakuntala”. Regulamin patrzenia dla widzów, a szczególnie recenzentów, [w:] Misterium zgrozy i urzeczenia. Przedstawienia Jerzego Grotowskiego i Teatru Laboratorium, pod redakcją Janusza Deglera i Grzegorza Ziółkowskiego, Wrocław 2006, s. 38–40.

Jerzy Grotowski: Gra w Sziwę (przypisek do praktyki), [w:] Zbigniew Osiński: Grotowski wytycza trasy. Studia i szkice, Warszawa 1993, s. 122–123 (ze skrótami).

Olgierd Jędrzejczyk: Opolska „Siakuntala”, „Gazeta Krakowska” 1960 nr 307 z 27 listopada 1960, s. 6.

Tadeusz Kudliński: Siakuntala - biomechaniczna, „Dziennik Polski” 1961 nr 15 z 18 stycznia, s. 4; przedruk [w:] Misterium zgrozy i urzeczenia… , s. 136–138.

M[agda] L[eja]: Cudzoziemka w Opolu, „Sztandar Młodych” 1961 nr 5 z 6 stycznia, s. 2.

Zbigniew Osiński: Polskie kontakty teatralne z Orientem w XX wieku. Część druga: Studia, Gdańsk 2008, s. 165–250.

Zbigniew Osiński: „Siakuntala” według Kalidasy, [w:] Tadeusz Burzyński, Zbigniew Osiński: Laboratorium Grotowskiego, Warszawa 1978.

Ryszard [Zbyszko Bednorz]: „Siakuntala” czyli cyrk z regulaminem, „Tygodnik Powszechny” 1961 nr 1 z 1 stycznia, s. 6; przedruk [w:] Misterium zgrozy i urzeczenia…, s. 134–135.

Agnieszka Wójtowicz: Od „Orfeusza” do „Studium o Hamlecie”. Teatr 13 Rzędów w Opolu (1959-1964), Wrocław 2004, s. 49–54.