Article Open Access Open Access Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed 15567 view(s) 15567 view(s) 15567

Tadeusz Kantor in Spain


Tadeusz Kantor Cricot 2 Spanish theatre Spanish playwriting Wielopole, Wielopole Today is My Birthday Jerónimo López Mozo La infanta de Velázquez José Luis Alonso de Santos El album familiar La Zaranda Mariameneo, Mariameneo Vinagre de Jerez Perdonen la tristeza Marta Carrasco Aiguardent Blanc d’ombra Mira’m José Monleón Primer Acto Spanish Civil War posguerra Spanish Independent Theatre Diego Velázquez Las Meninas Sara Molina


María José Sánchez Montes is a tenured professor at the University of Granada, Spain, where she teaches Literary Theory and Theatre Studies. She obtained her PhD in 2001 with a dissertation later published as El cuerpo como signo. La transformación de la textualidad en el teatro contemporánea (The Body as Sign: The transformation of the text in contemporary theatre, 2004). Her current research interests include Federico García Lorcas Yerma in performance, the theatre director Sara Molina, and the presence and influence of Tadeusz Kantor in Spain. Since 2008 she has overseen the University of Granadas cultural programme, founding an international university theatre festival and overseeing more than 200 cultural events each year.

Jeronimo López Mozo, La infanta de Velázquez (1999)[1]

These are the final words of La infanta de Velázquez (Velázquez’s Infanta), a play by Jerónimo López Mozo – 1998 National Playwright Award laureate and one of Spain’s foremost living dramatists – in which Tadeusz Kantor appears as a principal character. Given Kantor’s ambiguous presence on the ‘threshold’ of his own haunting performances up until his death in 1990 (during rehearsals for the playfully titled Today Is My Birthday), it is perhaps surprising that he would have to wait almost a decade to be revived onstage – albeit as a figure in a fictionalised setting, ‘celebrating’ posthumously and acutely conscious of his own mortality. And this in a play written, though never performed, in Spanish. From today’s perspective, it could be considered a clear, if little remarked, example of the powerful influence that Kantor has exerted on many Spanish theatre practitioners during the past three decades, through his performances as well as his writings.

This essay explores for the first time the broader impact of Kantor’s thought and practice on Spanish playwrights, directors, and ensembles. After introducing the Spanish theatrical context that emerged in the post-Civil War period, I will offer an overview of Kantor’s performances there from 1981 to 1991, as well as an assessment of how his ideas – as published in Spanish-language periodicals and other publications – took root in Spain.[2] It is hoped that this effort will contribute to the twin tasks of recovering certain neglected aspects of Spanish stage history and, more specifically, of improving our overall understanding of the international impact made by Kantor’s oeuvre in a country rarely associated with his name and sphere of influence.

During the 1940s and ’50s, when the Festival d’Avignon, Piccolo Teatro, Berliner Ensemble, and Royal Shakespeare Company (then the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre) had come to be viewed as emblematic examples of theatre arts in their respective European countries, Madrid’s Lope de Vega Company began to set the tone for national theatre in Spain. Although the company’s work under the leadership of José Tamayo had many merits, its achievements were connected more with the enhancement of the zarzuela genre and innovations in scenic and lighting design than with modernising tendencies in acting and directing practice, much less with theoretical approaches to performance.[3] These differing points of focus serve to highlight a major contrast between developments on the Spanish stage and much of the experimental theatre practised elsewhere in Europe at the time. Franco’s near forty-year dictatorship isolated the country culturally from the larger European context and relegated much Spanish theatre to pre-war standards of commercialism and provincial populism. While the earlier attempts of Ramón María del Valle-Inclán and Federico García Lorca to renew the Spanish drama and theatre scene at the turn of the century cannot be overlooked, it is important to note that their successes were limited in scope and did not account for the reality of most theatre performed in Spain during the ensuing decades.

In order to begin tracing Kantor’s significance for Spanish practitioners, it is necessary to describe briefly the situation of Spanish theatre in the long aftermath of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), and especially during the transitional period that followed Franco’s death in 1975, which saw many emerging directors and authors becoming absorbed with Kantor’s theoretical and aesthetic proposals. The post-war years and period of dictatorship (1940-75) saw the majority of Spanish theatre focused on forms of popular and comedic performance that foregrounded the officially sanctioned, predominantly bourgeois values. However, it should be noted that this mostly conservative theatre coexisted with various attempts to undermine it. In particular, I refer to movements towards realist drama and experimental theatre, both of which emerged in Spain in the 1950s. Within the first group, we should emphasize Antonio Buero Vallejo and his play Historia de una escalera (Story of a Staircase, 1949), which occupies a similar role in the Spanish context to those of the late nineteenth-century naturalist theatre manifestos elsewhere in Western Europe.[4] Lauro Olmo, José Martín Recuerda, and Alfonso Sastre are other key figures who, continuing along the path forged by Vallejo, formed the core of the social-realist movement of the 1960s, which tasked itself with maintaining resistance to the official culture.

The Franco regime had made it tremendously difficult to place Spanish theatre in direct dialogue with the European avant-garde, by imposing official constraints on various cultural practices. Still, the dictatorship could never succeed fully in isolating Spaniards from productions that, despite or indeed because of the challenge they posed to the dominant tradition, would later come to be seen as integral to their stage heritage. Indeed, starting in the 1960s, and developing alongside theatre productions of an obviously traditional hue, Spanish audiences slowly began to gain access to new kinds of performances marked by engagement with ritual practices rather than by a focus on textual interpretation. Antonin Artaud, Jerzy Grotowski, Peter Brook, and Eugenio Barba were the names most commonly referenced by directors and ensembles interested in pushing the stage arts towards new frontiers of experimentalism. Spanish artists whose connections with these theorist-practitioners from abroad were particularly evident throughout their productions included Adolfo Marsillach, Víctor García, Salvador Távora, Francisco Nieva, Fabiá Pigserver, Lluís Pasqual, Miguel Romero Esteo, Luis Riaza, and the groups Tábano, Els Comediants, Esperpento, and Els Joglars. Any historical understanding of post-war innovations in Spanish theatre would be incomplete without considering, for example, Marsillach’s Marat/Sade (1968), García’s Las criadas (1969) or Yerma (1971), Távora’s Quejío (1971), Esperpento’s Farsa y licencia de la reina castiza (1969), Tábano’s Castañuela 70 (1970), or Comediants’ Non plus plis (1972). However, these productions all debuted prior to the inception of a democratic government in Spain, in conditions that severely limited the possibilities for international dialogue.

Without attempting to cover in these few paragraphs every aspect of the recent history of Spanish theatre – nor even of the period immediately following the dictatorship – we should note that these practitioners nonetheless represent a set of extraordinary efforts made to ‘catch up’ with the rest of the Europe, by diversifying the tastes of the Spanish theatregoing public. Their productions were evidently informed by practical investigations emergent elsewhere on the continent. Each departed from bourgeois models of representation, each engaged in dialogue with the aesthetics developed by peers around Europe, and each ultimately helped prepare the ground so that later, other international artists such as Kantor could be not only seen but also understood in Spain.

Although some had become familiar with Kantor’s work well before his productions arrived in Spain, it was not until the 1980s that Kantor was to make a significant, ‘direct’ impact in Spanish theatre circles. The reception of his performances and theories during Spain’s celebrated transición to democracy must be understood in the context of a wider theatrical ‘explosion’ that ushered in freedoms of expression for which Spaniards had long thirsted. A new openness regarding theatre management, censorship policies, project selection, and design practices took hold quickly and inexorably, and was shown most clearly in public theatre programming. Festivals were organized throughout the country during the 1980s, and many Spanish playwrights had their work performed for the first time after years of dictatorship, thus leading to an improved quality and range of repertoire and many visually stunning performances that continue to be studied and remarked by critics (Kantor’s notable among them).

A selection of Kantor’s writings was first published in Spanish in 1971 in Primer Acto, a theatre periodical driven by the indefatigable José Monleón, who has remained at the journal’s helm since 1957.[5] Monleón dedicated a special issue section to the work of Kantor and the Cricot 2 ensemble following their participation in that year’s World Theatre Festivalin Nancy.[6] On the group’s production of Witkacy’s The Water Hen, the issue included a glowingly positive review by Ángel Facio, theatre director and special correspondent to the Festival.[7] However, after this initial incursion of Kantor materials onto the Spanish theatre scene, another decade would pass before local audiences had the chance to witness the performances themselves. On the initiative of the Centro Dramático Nacional, 1981 saw the first staging of Kantor’s work in Spain, with Wielopole, Wielopole. The production was interpreted by Monleón as a cultural-political act par excellence. Indeed, the committed response of this seasoned critic on viewing the performance provides a key gauge of its impact, as evidenced in his bold claims that Wielopole, Wielopole constituted a ‘new kind of event’, and that all previous occasions or self-styled attempts to revolutionalize the Spanish theatre had been merely ‘incidental’ by comparison. According to Monleón, prior to Kantor’s arrival, a few groups of the calibre of Cricot 2 had made sporadic forays that held the potential to spark more widespread reforms in Spain, but never with the continuity or scope needed to prompt a genuine avant-garde movement. Or else not with the impact that Monleón considered might awaken in Spanish audiences a more expansive sensitivity to body, image, and composition onstage. Instead, the dramatic text and the spectacle had historically reasserted themselves as primary concerns across the spectrum of theatre arts and genres. As Monleón commented in the context of Kantor’s arrival: ‘[Spain is] a country where literature, the moral or political message, the “carpentry” of the dramatic action, the profile of the actors or the elaborateness of the production still tend to count for everything…’[8]

To this broad yet apt assessment of the Spanish theatre of the period, we may add some further observations concerning the particular legacy of Kantor, whose work would become seminal for many artists in the region over the ensuing decade. Firstly, the growing presence of Kantor and certain other experimental artists could not counter the widespread perception that theatre programming continued to have an incidental rather than essential relationship to local innovation. In this regard, the scholar José Antonio Sánchez, in his essay ‘Génesis y contexto de la creación escénica contemporánea en España’ (The Origins and Context of Theatrical Creativity in Spain), expresses his surprise that Kantor’s presence in Spain, while resonating widely in a relatively short period of time, did not prompt an enduring institutional shift. Situating Kantor’s work in the context of a general regress toward a more traditionalist state of affairs, Sánchez writes:

The ferment of those years, full of anxiety and hope on both the political and cultural levels, can be seen in the plurality of theatre programming [...] and, most strikingly from our current perspective, in the presentation of performances rooted in specific visual or corporeal dramas, such as Wielopole, Wielopole, by Tadeusz Kantor; Lindsay Kemp’s adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Laetius by Els Joglars; and Marcel Marceau. Evolución de las ‘Pantomimas de estilo’ (Marcel Marceau: Evolution of the Pantomimes de style), or Juan sin miedo y antología (Juan, Without Fear and Anthology) by La Claca.[9]

Considering the debilitated state of recent Spanish theatre – which Eduardo Pérez-Rasilla has aptly characterized for the most part (across both publicly and privately funded institutions) as politically, socially, and intellectually innocuous and ‘anodyne’ – I would add that Kantor’s arrival on the Spanish stage constituted an especially striking event that unfortunately has no parallel on the contemporary scene.[10] Nonetheless, as I attempt to demonstrate below, even that somewhat incidental and discontinuous presence allowed a handful of Spanish authors and directors to incorporate Kantor-inspired dramaturgies into their work. 

Followers of Kantor know well that 1976 was the year that brought international renown to Cricot 2 thanks to the touring performances of The Dead Class (1975). Yet it was not until 1981 that one of the company’s productions would be performed in Spain. Wielopole, Wielopole, for reasons we are now in a better position to examine, is still remembered as a watershed moment in Spanish theatre history. In connection with the touring performances of this production, Primer Acto would dedicate a whole issue to Kantor, naming issue 189 Kantor entre nosotros (Kantor Among Us) and publishing a full-page photograph of the director, followed by forty pages of coverage of the events programme associated with his visit. Aside from a Cricot 2 chronology prepared by Monleón, the special issue included an interview with Kantor by José Luis Alonso de Santos and Monleón, the already translated ‘¿Qué es el conjunto Cricot 2?’ (What is the Cricot 2 Ensemble?) by Kantor, along with his ‘El teatro de la muerte’ (The Theatre of Death), and a review of Wielopole, Wielopole.[11] Most of the articles had been re-compiled from Kantor-related materials linked to his performances that summer during the fifth Festival Internacional de Teatro de Caracas, where Kantor had staged the production now being received by Spanish audiences. Several prominent figures from Spanish theatre circles had duly made the trip to Venezuela, among them Monleón and the influential writer and theatre director Alonso de Santos.

Following the ‘event’ of Kantor’s theatre debut in Spain, his contact with the region progressed during several appearances by him and/or Cricot 2 during the course of the next decade. Aside from its inaugural performances at Madrid’s Teatro María Guerrero and at the Festival Internacional de Vitoria-Gasteiz (October 1981), Wielopole, Wielopole was presented later in Valencia and Mallorca (March 1983), and in Barcelona and Santander (March and July 1987). Audiences had the chance to see The Dead Class in Barcelona (March 1983), then in Murcia, Las Palmas, Seville, and Madrid (March to April 1984), and finally in Pamplona and Zaragoza (April 1991). The Spanish premiere of Let the Artists Die took place in Madrid’s Sala Olimpia (March 1986), with subsequent performances in Barcelona (March 1987) and Bilbao (May 1987). I Shall Never Return was performed in Mallorca (October 1988) and in Barcelona and Madrid (March to April 1989). Finally, Today Is My Birthday came to Spain during the Eighth Festival de Otoño in 1991, a year after Kantor’s death. Indeed, this final production by Kantor closed the cycle of Cricot 2’s productions in Spain.

In assessing this series’ impact among local theatre practitioners, it is important to consider the many differences in their respective profiles and in the ways in which Kantor’s influence manifested itself in their work. Prominent among those who took direct inspiration from Kantor and Cricot 2 were authors and directors who, though early in their careers, were already well-established artists. Here I refer to two such figures already mentioned above: Alonso de Santos, whose El album familiar (The Family Album, 1981) appeared shortly after he met Kantor and saw Wielopole, Wielopole; and López Mozo, who also met Kantor in the early 1980s but experienced a longer gestation period with his ideas, displaying his influence almost two decades later with La infanta de Velázquez.

The name Alonso de Santos is intimately linked to the Independent Theatre movement during the period of the Francoist dictatorship and to the directorship of Madrid’s Compañía Nacional de Teatro Clásico (National Classical Theatre Company) from 2000 to 2004.[12] Among the more than twenty dramas written by Alonso de Santos, many of which he also personally directed, we can make special mention of La estanquera de Vallecas (The Tobacconist of Vallecas) and Bajarse al moro (officially translated as Going Down in Morocco). Following his initial exposure to Kantor’s writings and debut within the Spanish-language theatre context, Alonso de Santos wrote and directed El album familiar, which premiered on 26 October 1982 at the Centro Dramático Nacional, Teatro María Guerrero, in Madrid.[13] The play had been written in the summer of 1981 during the Caracas festival, where Alonso de Santos had the opportunity to see Kantor’s Wielopole, Wielopole ahead of its tour to Spain. The original manuscript is located in the author’s personal archive and begins with the following words:

In the manner of Proust, Bergman in Wild Strawberries, or Tadeusz Kantor, to enter or better to leave, opening the door of the nursery, latent images of my past, not as they were (which is impossible!), but as they are stored in different places in my mind. It is not a confession, it is a search for a true foundation (not what I have fabricated with my artificial remembrances).[14]

It is notable that although Wielopole, Wielopole triggered the writing of El album familiar, this particular family album awakens in its young protagonist memories of a past left behind in a manner that also echoes Kantor’s inspiration for another of his productions, The Dead Class.[15]

El album familiar could be considered an exercise in cultural remembering emerging from the Francoist posguerra (post-war period). A family photo album given to the protagonist before he begins a journey away from his family and his past becomes the starting point for a journey through time, through diachronic modalities of memory. Alonso de Santos uses the stage not only as a site for personal remembrance but as a cultural witnessing to the impact of war and destruction. Several features common to Kantor’s work are also interwoven in Alonso de Santos’ play: explorations of the temporalities of remembering, staging memory as a historiographical practice, and the dead inhabiting the stage; all set against the background of the Spanish Civil War. In El album familiar, the dead assist in reconstructing the past and in shifting the protagonist's self-understanding. But while this play shares certain fundamental aspects of Kantor’s poetics, unlike Kantor’s own ‘texts’ – which were prepared according to the logic of musical partytury (scores) – Alonso de Santos’ work more closely resembles a conventional dramatic script. As Michal Kobialka indicates, for Kantor – perhaps due to his visual arts background – ‘the process of staging a drama did not signify [...] the process of interpreting the text or finding its stage equivalent’.[16] Despite the influence of Kantor’s thematic and aesthetic concerns during the writing process, Alonso de Santos remains largely within his familiar genre. It is interesting to speculate whether this text would maintain the same Kantorian connections if staged by another director. Nonetheless, most critics, with the exception of Monleón, did not explore the Kantorian connections when the play premiered, and this feature was downplayed in the majority of reviews.

López Mozo’s link to Kantor first materialized directly in La infanta de Velázquez: a play written in 1999, recognised with an award in 2000, and published in 2001, though not yet staged. The text is clearly a self-styled homage to Kantor, especially to the trajectory of his central theatrical ideas and performances, all of which have a prominent place in López Mozo’s narratives. The action is drawn from Kantor’s visit to the Prado Museum on his first visit to Spain, and specifically from the profound impact that Diego Velázquez’s paintings had on him. Indeed, the title of López Mozo’s play directly echoes a set of paintings by Kantor on the theme of Velázquez’s Infanta, housed at Kraków’s National Museum.[17] Throughout his text, López Mozo ranges across some 300 years of European history, with Kantor and other Cricot 2 members as characters/facilitators who serve to actualize the simultaneity of various pasts. The play opens with Kantor visiting the Prado and inviting the Infanta Margarita, a prominent figure in the foreground of Velázquez’s masterpiece Las Meninas, to visit him in Kraków. The seventeenth-century Infanta promptly takes up Kantor’s invitation and journeys with him to late twentieth-century Kraków. The story integrates a diverse series of historical moments: the act of painting Las Meninas and the later evacuation of Velázquez’s work from the Prado during the Spanish Civil War (both of which are represented onstage before the Infanta’s trip to Kraków); the Spanish War of Independence; the Second World War and the deployment of the División Azul (Blue Division) at the Russian Front; and Margarita’s relationship with Emperor Leopold I (her mother’s brother, whom she eventually married).[18] The text also leads the characters and audience across the Iron Curtain; within the Francoist dictatorship (to Franco himself); to the events of May 1968; and to other episodes of recent history. As in the cases of Kantor and Alonso de Santos, López Mozo refers extensively to the experience of war, here approaching European conflicts involving Spain as a starting point for dealing with time, memory, and cultural traumas.

La Zaranda, Futuros difuntos (2008). Photograph courtesy of La Zaranda.

La Zaranda, Futuros difuntos (2008). Photograph courtesy of La Zaranda.

Kantor’s influence has extended beyond playwriting to companies and directors whose performance aesthetics have evidently developed in ways close to his own. La Zaranda and Marta Carrasco, respectively, provide two such examples.[19] La Zaranda (Lower Andalusian Unstable Company) a theatre group formed during the 1970s whose origins are in the Spanish Independent Theatre, are widely considered the outstanding ‘respondents’ in Spain to Kantor’s aesthetics. Kantorian motifs ‘haunt’ their repertoire. One of their early performances, Mariameneo, Mariameneo (1985), tells the story of an old Andalusian woman alone with her memories, who keeps her dead alive by recounting episodes from the pasts they shared. Vinagre de Jerez (Jerez Vinegar, 1989) takes us from the garden patio to an Andalusian tavern, where scattered barrels and carafes bear witness to three lives spent in failure and inaction. The three protagonists – a guitar player, a flamenco singer, and a flamenco dancer – watch their lives pass them by, both figuratively and literally, as they witness their own corpses walk past at the end. A similar realization strikes the characters of Obra Postuma (Posthumous Work, 1995), who discover they are dead during the course of the performance, as they encounter their unfulfilled and irrecoverable pasts, whereas in Ni sombra de lo que fuimos (A Shadow of our Former Selves, 2002), a merry-go-round signals the circular repetition and inertia from which its characters cannot escape.

Like Kantor’s productions, La Zaranda’s work is notable for building layered, self-reflexive, ‘poor’ performance spaces. Perdonen la tristeza (Pardon the Sadness, 1992), set within a theatre building, uses the motif of a street carnival to reflect on the perceived crisis of contemporary theatre while posing questions about the status of its own performance. Cuando la vida eterna se acabe (When Eternal Life Comes to an End, 1997) presents an old mattress as the main object of a space that seems to exist only in the memory of the four protagonists, while Homenaje a los malditos (Tribute to the Damned, 2004) gathers a few old chairs and tables around which a groups pays homage to their maestro, who is transformed into an inanimate puppet before the audience. La puerta estrecha (The Narrow Door, 2000) frames a debate on questions of access and immigration using a series of closed doorways. In Los que rien los últimos (Those Who Laugh Last, 2006), a wandering troupe of ragamuffin street artists use the ‘vehicle’ of an antique tricycle-cart to transport actors about the stage as they raise existential questions about who and where they are. Finally, in Futuros difuntos (Defunct/Deceased Futures, 2008), a group of asylum inmates are abandoned and struggle for control until, overcome by anxiety at the absence of any higher authority, they give themselves up to chance and to death.

La Zaranda, Los Que Ríen los Últimos (2006). Photograph courtesy of the company.

La Zaranda, Los Que Ríen los Últimos (2006). Photograph courtesy of the company.

La Zaranda, Nadie lo quiere creer (2010). Photograph courtesy of the company.

La Zaranda, Nadie lo quiere creer (2010). Photograph courtesy of the company.

La Zaranda’s productions combine living and dead characters and the remnants of their pasts, with old objects often prompting the flow of memories that drive the action. Although profoundly rooted in the baroque traditions of Andalusia, where Semana Santa (Holy Week) processionals remain integrally tied to popular culture, the company’s visually intense performances – full of penumbra, evocative objects, and revenant figures – clearly call to mind many diverse elements of Kantor’s theatre.

Marta Carrasco’s Blanc d’ombra (1997). Photograph courtesy of the artist’s archive.

Marta Carrasco’s Blanc d’ombra (1997). Photograph courtesy of the artist’s archive.

Marta Carrasco is a dancer whose work combines theatre, dance, and artes plásticas (visual arts). Kantor’s influence is noteworthy in her performances Aiguardent (Firewater, 1995), Blanc d’ombra (Recordant Camille Claudel) (White of Shadow (Remembering Camille Claudel), 1997), and Mira’m (Look at Me, 2000). In Jose Antonio Sánchez’s terms, these three works are similar insofar as they are ‘situated in a space “between”: of memory or of death’, where the stage functions as a kind of Kantorian ‘memory machine’.[20] Aiguardent deals with alcoholism and its attendant anguish and solitude, foregrounding its protagonist-dancer’s moments of lucidity as well as her fogs of confusion on a stage littered with pitchers of ‘firewater’ alongside a trunk full of memories, a wedding dress, a chair, and a table with wheels.[21] Blanc d’ombra concerns the sculptor-lover of Rodin; in the performance, Carrasco unveils what lies behind various canvasses onstage: a series of objects through which the audience is able to trace the protagonist’s past. Rodin himself appears only as a kind of cloth-covered mannequin, which Carrasco, as Claudel, appears to seduce with her movements, until ultimately she inhabits him. Mira’m – in which Carrasco does not perform – is replete with intertextual references to The Dead Class and Wielopole, Wielopole, with ‘characters’ crossing the stage in the form of actors and mannequins. A large closet full of furniture and old objects fulfils the role of ‘memory machine’.

Scene from Marta Carrasco’s Mira’m (2000). Photograph courtesy of the artist’s archive.

Scene from Marta Carrasco’s Mira’m (2000). Photograph courtesy of the artist’s archive.

Scene from Mira’m. Photograph courtesy of Carrasco’s archive.

Scene from Mira’m. Photograph courtesy of Carrasco’s archive.

Throughout this article, I have sought to sketch out the history of Kantor’s presence in Spain, highlighting the ongoing impact of both his theoretical and artistic practice. Following Wielopole, Wielopole, the Spanish theatregoing public enjoyed relatively broad access to Kantor’s performances: mainly in Barcelona and Madrid, but also – significantly – in smaller and less internationally renowned locations. Through Kantor’s ensuing influence on, for example, the central practitioners mentioned above, I suggest that he has contributed to significant openings in Spain’s often-insular theatre tradition – even if I would also argue that further work is required to explore the potential of his ideas to invigorate the contemporary Spanish theatre scene. The homogeneity and tameness to which Pérez-Rasilla alludes above is a reminder that – despite a political climate in which Spain can claim to be a mature democracy engaged in the project of a borderless Europe – inspirational leadership is still required in order to push the arts beyond unreflective traditionalism. I would even venture that if Kantor’s theatre were to make its Spanish debut in 2014 rather than 1981, it would be considered just as radical and innovative today. His influence thus constitutes a strange and somewhat problematic heritage, though Kantor himself would no doubt have savoured the irony that his work has been able to remain fresh and challenging over time, unlike certain other cases of modernist innovation in the arts.

Nonetheless, the four principal examples I focus on in this article – spanning playwrights, directors, and performers – establish beyond doubt that there is an important Kantor legacy in Spain. Indeed, I would argue that the work of several of Spain’s leading theatre practitioners could not be fully understood or appreciated without reference to Kantor. Given this unmistakeable imprint, perhaps one way of understanding Kantor’s promise that he ‘shall never return’ is simply to acknowledge that – when it comes to the Spanish theatre scene – he never left.



  1. ^ Jerónimo López Mozo, La infanta de Velázquez (Madrid: Primer Acto, 2006, p. 162). Unless otherwise noted, all citations appear in my own translation.
  2. ^ Today is My Birthday was staged in Spain following Kantor’s death, in October 1991 at Teatro María Guerrero.
  3. ^ Zarzuela refers to a genre of popular musical stage performance in which actors alternate between speaking and singing, whose predominance on the Spanish stage has been intermittent since it first emerged during the seventeenth century. The name of the genre derives from the place where it was first performed, the Zarzuela Palace, which was one of the residences of Spain’s royal family in El Pardo, near Madrid. See Manuel Gómez García, Diccionario Akal de Teatro (The Akal Dictionary of Theatre) (Madrid: Akal, 2007), p. 904.
  4. ^ See Antonio Sánchez Trigueros, Teatro y escena. La poética del silencio y otros ensayos (The Theatre and the Stage: The Poetics of Silence and Other Essays) (Granada: Alhulia, 2008), p. 41. As Trigueros comments, ‘Spanish society of the late 1940s – or at least a crucial part of it, its critical conscience – despite the strictures of censorship and the threat of surveillance by the authorities, also became animated by a powerful need to search for truth’ (p. 42).
  5. ^ José Monleón has been a central figure in the writing of Spanish theatre history, in theory and in practice, throughout the past half-century.
  6. ^ Under the general title ‘Los seis grupos destacados de Nancy. 2: Cricot 2, Polonia’ (The Six Outstanding Groups at Nancy. Part 2: Cricot 2, Poland) the following texts by Kantor were published in Primer Acto, 132 (1971): ‘La condición del actor’ (The Situation of an Artist), ‘Método del arte de ser actor’ (The Acting Method), ‘Pre-existencia escénica’ (Scenic Preexistence), ‘Qué es el conjunto Cricot 2’ (The Cricot 2 Ensemble), and ‘La recuperación del Arte’ (The Recovery of Art). ‘The Situation of the Artist’ is published in English in Kantor, A Journey Through Other Spaces: Essays and Manifestos, 1944-1990, ed. and trans. by Kobialka (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), pp. 129-31; this and the other texts have also been published in French and Italian.
  7. ^ Ángel Facio, ‘Demasiadas contradicciones’ (Too Many Contradictions), Primer Acto, 132 (1971), 10-16 (p. 14).
  8. ^ José Monleón, ‘Introducción a una cronología. Kantor’ (Introduction to a Chronology: Kantor), Primer Acto, 189 (1981), 6-7 (p. 6).
  9. ^ José Antonio Sánchez, ‘Génesis y contexto de la creación escénica contemporánea en España’, in Artes de la escena y de la acción en España: 1978-2002 (Theatre and Activist Arts in Spain: 1978-2002) (Cuenca: Ediciones de la Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha, 2006), p. 17.
  10. ^ Eduardo Pérez-Rasilla, ‘Un siglo de teatro en España. Notas para un balance del teatro del siglo XX’ (A Century of Theatre in Spain: Notes Towards a Report on Twentieth Century Theatre), Monteagudo 3.6 (2001), 19-44 (p. 39).
  11. ^ ‘¿Qué es el conjunto Cricot 2?’ is published in English as ‘Cricot 2 Theatre’, trans. by Michal Kobialka, in Kobialka, Further On, Nothing... Tadeusz Kantor’s Theatre (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), pp. 110-15. Kantor’s ‘The Theatre of Death’ was also translated and published in this volume, pp. 230-39.
  12. ^ The Independent Theatre is among the most original and influential cultural phenomena through which to understand Spain’s transition from dictatorship to democracy. The movement, which developed primarily between the 1960s and ’70s, was indeed ‘independent’, since it remained wholly detached from the economic, political, and artistic establishment in Spain. Its principal achievement was to have established the foundations of contemporary alternative theatre aesthetics, including for many innovative practices still discernible in Spain today. Characterised by a bohemian and collectivist spirit of adventure, the movement experimented extensively with performance, space, and dramaturgy, including: modes of rehearsal, approaches to acting, and engagement with European and North American performance theory; the use of ritual and play; farce as a legitimate mode of political commentary; and the adoption of certain popular performative and festive practices. On the subject of the Independent Theatre, see José Luis Alonso de Santos, ‘Principio y fin del teatro independiente’ (Beginning and End of the Independent Theatre), Campus, 31 (1989) [available online at, accessed 23 March 2014]), and Pérez-Rasilla, ‘Un siglo de teatro en España’, p. 35.
  13. ^ The impression that this performance made on Alonso de Santos is recounted by Margarita Piñero in her book La creación teatral en José Luis Alonso de Santos (Theatrical Creation in the Work of José Luis Alonso de Santos) (Madrid: Fundamentos, 2005).
  14. ^ From the author’s personal archive.
  15. ^ In a documentary produced by Polish Television (TVP), Kantor referred to his own experience in 1971 when he was living in a little coastal town ‘with little houses and a poor abandoned old school which had just one class. I could look through the dirty windows. I stuck my face to the window and looked inside my mind. In my mind, I was a little boy again sitting down in a poor little town class. His desk was marked by knives and he was wetting his tiny dirty fingers to pass the pages of his notebook […] the class has white walls and the lime was falling off. There was a black cross on the wall. Now I know that I made an important discovery by that window: I realized the existence of memory’. See Kantor, dir. by Andrzej Sapija (Kraków: Telewizja Polska, 1985), published on DVD by Cricoteka (Kraków, 2006).
  16. ^ Kobialka, Further On, Nothing, p. 38.
  17. ^ See Pewnej nocy weszła do mego pokoju Infantka Velázqueza/Pewnego wieczoru weszła do mojego pokoju Infantka Velázquez’a (One Night/Evening Velázquez’s Infanta Came to My Room, 1988) and Pewnej nocy po raz drugi weszła do mojego pokoju Infantka Velázqueza (One Night Velázquez’s Infanta Came to My Room for a Second Time, 1990).
  18. ^ La División Azul (1941-44) refers to the regular units of Spanish war ‘volunteers’, 5000 of whom (out of a total of 50,000) lost their lives at the Russian Front fighting on the side of the Wehrmacht.
  19. ^ Rodrigo García, Sara Molina, and Francisco Valcarce (director of La Tartana) make up another group of directors evidently fascinated by Kantor’s performances, though less directly influenced by him. For reasons of space, it is not possible to trace comprehensively Kantor’s presence in their performances or plays; however, it is important to mention them here in the wider context of Spanish practitioners who have engaged with Kantor’s aesthetics.
  20. ^ See Sanchez, ‘Génesis y contexto de la creación escénica contemporánea en España’, p. 276. See also Krzysztof Pleśniarowicz, The Dead Memory Machine: Tadeusz Kantor’s Theatre of Death, trans. by William Brandt (Aberystwyth: Black Mountain Press, 2004).
  21. ^ Agua ardiente (‘firewater’) is a generic term for strong alcoholic, often home-brewed drinks, usually made from grains (such as barley, millet, or rice), which are widely considered the preferred morning libation of Spanish construction workers.