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Tadeusz Kantor Cricot 2 Polish theatre



Tadeusz Kantor’s Memory: Other pasts, other futures

Michal Kobialka and Natalia Zarzecka

Tadeusz Kantor (1915–1990), Polish visual artist and theatre director, can be placed among a select group of the twentieth century’s most influential theatre practitioners. His work with the Cricot 2 company and his theories of theatre have not only challenged, but also expanded the boundaries of traditional and nontraditional theatre forms.

Kantor was a painter, theatre director, stage designer, actor, writer, and theoretician. His experiments with painterly techniques were continued by him on stage and vice versa; his stage designs from the 1950s contained many of his ideas about the attributes of space which he had presented on his canvases; and his notes about a production were not only a record of the events on stage, but also provided a theoretical background for the understanding of the shifts in his theories of theatre.

Kantor’s work is positioned within the avant-garde movements of the twentieth century. He started to paint and stage plays during the modernist revolution which had been instigated by the first-wave Avant-garde in France, the Soviet Union, and Poland in the 1920s and 1930s. His experiments with Informel Art, Emballages, and Happenings took place in the 1950s and 1960s; that is, the time of the post-war European and American second-wave Avant-garde. His most widely known productions, outside of Poland, The Dead Class (1975), Wielopole, Wielopole (1980), Let the Artists Die (1985), I Shall Never Return (1988), and Today Is My Birthday (1990–91) co-existed with diverse forms of postmodern art and theatre.

To celebrate the work of Tadeusz Kantor and to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Kantor’s death, Polish Theatre Perspectives asked us to co-edit a special collection that would present readers with a critical reappraisal of Kantor’s work. To accomplish this goal, we decided to divide the volume into three parts, which, like a palimpsest, are to provide the reader with a nuanced and critical understanding of Kantor’s practice as a visual artist and theatre personality.

Part I is a collection of essays written by academics and practitioners from Brazil, Greece, Poland, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States, who bring new critical and theoretical approaches to reappraising Kantor’s work. Part II consists of articles written by academics and critics who participated in the Kantor conference, Tadeusz Kantor: Today, held in Kraków on 7–11 December 2010. Part III, ‘A Tribute to Tadeusz Kantor’, both complements the testimonies from the special supplement of the Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism (Fall 1995) that Michal Kobialka edited to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Kantor’s death, and presents a mnemonic collage of our material encounters with Kantor. Today, this visual and narrative collage offered by the photographers, the actors, the scholars, the critics, other theatre practitioners and visual artists, sheds light on the impact Kantor’s thinking about theatre and visual arts has had on traditional and nontraditional artistic practices. Accordingly, to account for the wide spectrum of voices, the formats of these contributions include reflective pieces, artists’ pages, critiques, and photographic essays/documents, in addition to more traditional articles. The collection concludes with an epilogue, ‘Tadeusz Kantor’s Personal Confession: Notes on Late Style’, that focuses on Kantor’s personal confessions — his notes on late style — visualized onstage as an anamnesis that elaborates initial forgetting, a heterotopia that reveals a landscape as well as the traces of the movement of thought that formed it, and a catachresis that shows hollowed-out objects staging a protest by exposing history and politics caught in the act of inventing forms of presentation. Indeed, the editors of this volume hope that the materials published here — as well as a companion DVD edition (forthcoming) published with Jacquie and Denis Bablet’s unique multifocal recording of I Shall Never Return — will provide the readers with the opportunity to experience Tadeusz Kantor anew; this Kantor who always insisted that:

Theatre is an activity that occurs if life is pushed to its final limits where all categories and concepts lose their meaning and right to exist;
madness, fever, hysteria, and hallucinations are the last barricades of life before the approaching TROUPES OF DEATH and death’s GRAND THEATRE. (‘Theatrical Place’)

Michal Kobialka
, Professor of Theatre Arts in the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance at the University of Minnesota, USA

Natalia Zarzecka, Director of CRICOTEKA, Centre for the Documentation of the Art of Tadeusz Kantor, in Kraków, Poland

Editorial Notes and Acknowledgements

The Editors, Series Editors, and Publishers wish to express special thanks to all the contributors to this volume, for their insightful work; for their diligent responses to reviews and translation queries and iterations; and for their patience and goodwill while support for the publication was sought and awarded from the European Capital of Culture Wrocław 2016. We are also extremely grateful to colleagues who collaborated with the editorial team in various parts of the scholarly, translation, and legal review processes, including the anonymous peer reviewers and Katarzyna Fazan, Will Daddario, Tim Heitman, Ludmiła Ryba, Jarosław Furmaniak, Maciej Adamski, Magda Butkiewicz, and the legal specialists at Artquest.

The inclusion of many archival and visual materials in the book would not have been possible without the help and dedication of the late Anna Halczak, Małgorzata Paluch-Cybulska, and their colleagues at Cricoteka archives. Our thanks and appreciation go to the following rights-holders who kindly gave permission for images to be reproduced either at reduced rates or free of charge: Patrick Argirakis, Jacquie Bablet, Jerzy Borowski, Marta Carrasco, Changpa Theatre Company, Wyatt Conlon, Stephan Consemüller, Elizabeth and Andreas Dalman, Emma Dante, Guy Delahaye, Wiesław Dyląg, Jan Krzysztof Fiołek, FLORE, the Gagosian Gallery, Klaus Grünberg, Witold Jurkiewicz, Anselm Kiefer, Günther Kühnel, Klaus Lefebvre, Peter Manninger, Romano Martinis, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Muzeum Narodowe in Warsaw, Kira Perov, Janusz Podlecki, the Ronald Grant Archive, Ewa Sapka-Pawliczak, the Scala Archives, the late Maciej Sochor, Fulvio Spada, Jacek Maria Stokłosa, Jacek Szmuc, Krzysztof Szpil, Gerald Thomas, Bruno Wagner, Nenagh Watson, Andrzej Wełmiński, Jemima Yong, and La Zaranda.

The chapters by Klaus Dermutz, Grzegorz Niziołek, Jaromir Jedliński, Andrzej Turowski, Katarzyna Fazan, Amos Fergombé, Zbigniew Osiński, Renato Palazzi, and Loriano Della Rocca were previously published in differently edited and translated versions, along with Michal Kobialka’s epilogue, in the volume of conference proceedings that followed the 2010 anniversary event in Kraków, Tadeusz Kantor Today: Metamorphoses of Death, Memory and Presence, ed. by Katarzyna Fazan, Anna R. Burzyńska, and Marta Bryś (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2014).

We regret that it was not possible for the Publishers to obtain from the Kantor Estate permission to reproduce certain images of Tadeusz Kantor’s artworks, nor for the inclusion of new translations of select materials written by Kantor about his journey toward the Theatre of Death, his understanding of the function of theatre, his commentaries about art and freedom, as well as his intimate commentaries about theatre practice, which were to complement the present three parts of this book. We greatly appreciate the efforts of those who worked towards publishing these materials, and hope that these valuable primary sources will be able to reach their audience in the near future.

We gratefully acknowledge generous financial support for this book from the European Capital of Culture Wrocław 2016 and our publishing partners at Impart in Wrocław.


The 1940s… 50s… 60s… 70s… have passed.
Artistic ideas have been breaking the surface,
however, all the time, as if from far beyond, maybe, it was my inner voice, I have been perceiving warning signals that ordered me and dictated that I choose one action over the other
— Tadeusz Kantor, ‘The Milano Lessons: Lesson 12’

The Editors and Publishers dedicate this volume to the Actors of the Cricot 2 and to the Photographers who materialized the imprints of Kantor’s immemorial past and art.