Polish dramatist Wlodzimierz Staniewski is in India to experiment with Ibsen
Pioneering experimental dramatist Wlodzimierz Staniewski is in India for the professional edition of the Delhi Ibsen Festival in December. He will be directing Henrik Ibsen’s “The Master Builder”, performed by Kolkata’s Padatik theatre. Padatik’s success in combining dance and drama, along with the respected Polish iconoclast’s expertise in experimental and large scale presentations, promises a production to look forward too.
Staniewski says he will focus on two messages of the playwright. “One is the confrontation between the older and younger generations. The other idea, which is prominent today, is that everything is in a state of decay.” He adds, “There will be brave acting, a lot of energy. It’s a paradox as decay would imply an atmosphere of inertia. I want to do the opposite. By last minute developments in the plot, I want to project bursts of Luciferian energy.”
The major part of the play will be in English and the rest, in Hindi or Bengali. “The translation has retained the rhythmic dialogue of Ibsen. Our performance will be experimental. It will be like uh, how you say, rock and roll,” he reveals excitedly.
This isn’t his first tryst with Indian performing arts. “In the ’80s a Baul singer called Goul Capa was a part of our theatre, Gardzienice (in Lublin). We went for an artistic expedition across the villages on the Soviet border. There was no electricity, running water or roads. The only thing modern there were Russian soldiers on the watchtowers across the border. The villagers had not seen such a theatre troupe before. They couldn’t understand the Baul’s language but they loved his music.”
He is going to Kolkata with his wife and British dramatist Yana Sistovari to train with Padatik for five weeks. Staniewski is keen on learning about the traditional foundations of Indian theatre. He was influenced by the first wave of Indian culture in Eastern Europe, as a student in the ’70s. “A lot of what is considered original in European theatre has in one way or another come from India.”
Staniewski is among those directors in Poland who used experimental theatre as a subversive form of expression before the Solidarity uprising, which led to the end of post-war autocracy. “In the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, my cultural presentation was subtly anti Russian. It depicted the long hand of Moscow controlling everything. But nothing was expressed verbally.”
Tracing the modern evolution of Polish theatre, he explains: “Until Solidarity, Polish theatre was very metaphoric and allegorical. It was rich in form and we spoke in parables to avoid censorship.” Nowadays, it’s more like a newspaper or a press release. Earlier, money didn’t mean anything to us. Now after Solidarity has been transformed into a market like in western democracies, Money is God. What has transformed most significantly is human relations.”
He adds, “I still have hope because though some directors have turned stupid, the people haven’t. They still come for artistic theatre. What has also grown out of this is very smart public relations that strikes a balance between artistic and commercial theatre.”
Staniewski stresses on adopting what’s valuable in tradition. “I am in a creative and provocative polemic with Polish tradition. When dealing with fundamental roots of theatre, you are dealing with paganism. To maintain this discussion within a society with a popular tradition of Catholicism is a risky game. It makes me, in the Ibsenian sense, an Enemy of the People.”
Although a ferocious opponent of communism, Staniewski has gained new insights into the ideology in India. “Yana and I were walking down a beach in southern Kerala when some women invited us to their huts. They were grilling fish caught by their men folk. They told us that they wanted to start a co-operative for selling seafood and build a hotel with the profits.”
“When we asked how they would manage, they said that if they showed determination the local communist government would support them. I was amazed that an ideology which we hated so much could actually do something good for the poor... I wouldn’t mind joining a political rally or two in Kolkata,” he adds in jest.