12th Divine Comedy International Theatre Festival

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  • Thursday, December 5, 2019 - Monday, December 16, 2019

Time of Lead

It serves as testament of our time, relentlessly reminds us of human capabilities and amplifies voices of artists “in a world abandoned by gods”. The Divine Comedy Festival is here!

The 12th Divine Comedy International Theatre Festival (6-15 December) is held under the motto “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” – but fear not, there’s nothing Christmassy about it! “Why are so many people blinded by fake news, elevated to the rank of truths and used as foundations for a new order? Why do so many people remain silent in the face of hate speech, exclusion and division? What is the role of artists in this era which is becoming unbearably black-and-white? I think that spectacles featuring at this year’s festival will help us answer those questions,” promises Bartosz Szydłowski, director of Divine Comedy.

Umbrella march

During the 12th festival, we will see spectacles recommended by the selection committee; this year, they include theatre critics Jacek Wakar, Jacek Cieślak and Tomasz Domagała, film director Joanna Kos-Krauze and editor of the “Wysokie Obcasy” magazine Paulina Reiter.

Performances shortlisted for the Inferno Polish competition are assessed by an international jury including Stefanie Carp (director of the Ruhrtriennale), Dries Douibi (curator of the Belgian Kunstenfestivaldesarts), Qian Cheng (programme director of the Harbin Grand Theatre), Glyn Roberts (director of the Castlemaine State Festival), Kristina Savickienė (theatre producer from Lithuania) and Mark Yeoman (artistic director of the Noorderzon Festival in Groningen).

This year’s lineup is testament that women rule the stage – both as acclaimed directors and actresses – and the march of black umbrellas continues unabated in Polish theatre. The Trojans from the Gdańsk Wybrzeże Theatre follows the fates of the women of Troy led by the dethroned queen Hecuba and her daughters after their city has been sacked and their husbands killed. Directed by Jan Klata, it features outstanding performances by Dorota Kolak with her dramatic portrayal of the queen who has lost her husband and children, and Katarzyna Figura taking on an unexpectedly grotesque role as the beautiful Helen.

Women also fill the stage during the spectacle directed by Kornél Mundruczó (TR Warszawa). The narrative of Pieces of a Woman follows the reality show format, featuring intimate and shameful moments from women’s pasts, starring Justyna Wasilewska.

The narrative is turned upside-down in two Cracovian spectacles: The Maidens of Wilko directed by Agnieszka Glińska based on a story by Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, and Snow White and Russian Red directed by Paweł Świątek. It’s not Wiktor Rubin and Silny who are telling their stories; instead we are seeing the world through the eyes of women who mentally dissect them.

A radical feminist manifesto features in Iwona Kempa’s Women Explain the World to Me (Nowy Proxima Theatre), resounding with shouts and mutinous energy songs by punk icons performed by Cracovian actresses Katarzyna Galica, Martyna Krzysztofik, Alina Szczegielniak, Anna Tomaszewska and Katarzyna Zawiślak-Dolny.

During the festival we will encounter phenomenal actresses and acclaimed directors touching upon some of the most important issues affecting Poland’s society. Director Anna Smolar and dramatist Michał Buszewicz examine the condition of Polish schools and the shifting role of teachers in The Cowboys, bringing a theatrical Western to the stage: the staff room becomes a Wild West saloon and site of a constant struggle for students and against institutional violence.

Justyna Sobczyk’s Revolution That Never Was There was written in direct response to the recent protest of people with disabilities and their parents in the Polish parliament. Actors from 21 Theatre, some of whom have Down syndrome, provide a commentary on the protest which lasted two months, adding a cynical and bitter commentary. The play gives voice to people with disabilities and their families.

Katarzyna Szyngiera’s Lwów We Won’t Give Up focuses on Poland’s largest immigrant population – Ukrainians – with the script based on polls conducted by students from Rzeszów and Lviv. The complex relationship between the two nations, superiority complexes and contempt intertwine with historic trauma, carried by the theme of a Ukrainian actress (played by the charismatic Oksana Czerkaszyna) whose presence at the theatre causes tension among Polish colleagues.

Two competition performances, Grzegorz Jarzyna’s Other People and Michał Borczuch’s Cinema of Moral Anxiety, attempt to conduct a broad social analysis. Jarzyna, the director of the multi-award winning spectacle No Matter How Hard We Try, reaches for the latest novel by Dorota Masłowska to create a drastic image of a “young Warsaw” that covets sham brilliance and fast bucks, and those who can only dream of it. In turn, Borczuch’s play is reminiscent of Kieślowski’s cinema, only taking place forty years later in a world in which the young generation is experiencing bitter disappointment when their ideals are confronted with the hopeless reality.

Najmrodzki, or A Long Time Ago in Gliwice directed by Michał Siegoczyński explores the concept of freedom and the long, twisted paths we must often take to reach it. The drama tells the story and shaping the identity of Gliwice’s “little homeland” and its urban legend Zdzisław Najmrodzki in a manner that is paradoxical, grotesque, and far from obvious.

Here comes the youth!

The Paradiso section showcases theatre by young artists. We will see eleven performances, including two premieres from Łaźnia Nowa Theatre’s last season: Medea Material by Jakub Porcari and Flatland of Limp Muscles by Renata Piotrowska-Auffret, as well as Agata Koszulińska’s Opportunity and We Are the Future! by Jakub Skrzywanek from Nowy Proxima Theatre. We will also see plays by students and graduates Mira Mańka, Radek Stępień, Karol Klugowski and Radosław B. Maciąg from the National Academy of Theatre Arts in Kraków, whose theatrical inspirations on the theme of independence can be seen daily at the Narodowy Stary Theatre. The Tempest directed by Grzegorz Jarzyna is an intriguing interpretation of the classic Shakespearean work about dystopian parallel worlds, where the boundaries between utopia and dictatorship becomes increasingly blurred. Monika Strzępka is joined by fourth-year students at the the National Academy of Theatre Arts in Kraków to take the stage with a powerful theatrical diagnosis on the realities of the contemporary world with Saint Joan. The world of the first half of the 21st century stands on the verge of a political, ecological, and cultural catastrophe. The Notre Dame is on fire, as are the Siberian tundra and the rainforests of the Amazon. Joan, the girl who wanted to save her world, is burning as well… Don’t Eat That! It’s for Christmas! – the diploma production of the Łódź Film School directed by Mariusz Grzegorzek – is a veritable kaleidoscope of forms and stage personas, whose intriguing form conceals a sad tale of the breakdown of social and interpersonal relations.

Dance, dance, dance

Krystian Lupa’s masterpiece Capri – the Island of Fugitives from Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw will surely be the Purgatorio section’s high point. In the era of growing nationalist tensions, the director reaches for the mesmerising books by Curzio Malaparte who experienced a period of fascination with fascism. The beautiful isle of Capri is a meeting point of myriad historical figures – generals, criminals, artists, dreamers, philosophers – who confront one another and their visions of Europe and the world.

We will also see choreography-based performances from beyond Poland: Andrade by the up-and-coming Belgian choreographer Michiel Vandevelde about European colonialism in Brazil, and the powerful, provocative Put Your Heart Under Your Feet… and Walk! by the South African artist Steven Cohen. The acclaimed Dominika Knapik presents Weird Sister, based on texts by Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska, describing a world ruled by a woman dictator. Paweł Sakowicz reveals his fascination with Latino culture with his dance project Massacre, while Anna Nowicka explores the relationship between dreaming and dancing bodies with This Is the Real Thing. Song and dance are also important elements of Cezary Tomaszewski’s My Stay’s Almost Over and I’m Still Alone. A Sanatorium Operetta.

Cracovian spectacles presented as part of Divine Comedy also include The Debt by Nowy Proxima Theatre directed by Jan Klata, Angels in America by Małgorzata Bogajewska from the Ludowy Theatre and Gintaras VarnasLife Is a Dream by Bagatela Theatre. The Impro KRK group hosts laughter massage sessions during the busy festival week. There are also numerous meetings and discussions and workshops exploring the secrets of… Chinese cuisine.

***

“The time of lead places new challenges on artists, and their screams, heard upon the midnight clear of glitzy popular culture and inflammatory narratives striving to monopolise and objectify our humanity, are more important than ever. The measure of artistic talent is how theatre artists address this reality: whether they lose their spines, or instead persevere by using their own voices to tell stories about the world around them,” says Bartosz Szydłowski. Let’s discover the power of Polish theatre! (Justyna Skalska, “Karnet” magazine)

 

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