„TERRY PRATCHETT. SOCIAL SCIENCE” – CONTEMPORARY OPERA

Production: Komuna// Warszawa

Guest appearances: Olga Mysłowska (soprano), Irad Mazliah (dance)

Premiere: 16 February 2014

Terry Pratchett, the author of the “Discworld” series and one of the most popular writers in the English language, sees the real world in a distorted mirror and provides amusing, ironic and accurate commentary on contemporary culture and politics. A similar strategy will be employed by komuna// warszawa – using dark humour, it will depict the European society in a state of unstable equilibrium, resulting from a meeting of individual and group interests, which aim to fulfil their needs without any regard to the consequences for the entire system. Using pop-cultural clichés, komuna// Warszawa wishes to draw attention to the complexity of social relations and instability of social structures, to the fragility of unstable equilibrium and to the difficulties faced by attempts at reform and introduction of new forms of organisation in the complex world.

Pratchett does not merely create a fantasy world – his writing observes the rules of meticulous bookkeeping: 98% of people form a shapeless mass in a state of permanent decomposition. The remaining 2% are divided roughly in half into those who want to bring the end forward and those who wish to prevent it. That does not, however, mean that the situation is in a balance – unless we accept the truth that equilibrium is achieved by constant swaying to and fro (dynamic equilibrium).

That is, magic.

What’s all that to do with social science?

Artists:

Irad Mazliah – Israeli dancer and choreographer, artistic director of Intimadance festival, has cooperated with many dance troupes in Poland and Europe.

Olga Mysłowska – singer, specialist in baroque music. She has studied with, among others, Paula Esswood, Olga Pasiecznik and Alison Pearce. Well-known vocalist on the alternative music scene, co-founder of Polpo Motel.

Project is co-financed by the Warsaw City Hall and the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.

szyld_herb_syr_pol
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Partners:

imit

isp-znak

Szpieg. Albo Człowiek, który słuchał

SPY. OR A MAN WHO LISTENED (2013)

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Premiere: 22.09.2013,  Ciało/Umysł festival

Multimedia music and theatre performance based on biography of Lew Theremin, the legendary creator of the first electronic instrument. Along that, compositions of DJ Lenar – one of the leading artists on Warsaw experimental music scene. Theremins spying analog device gives an inspiration to propose alternative mechanism of perception where movement interacts with sounds. This creates a musical signal to be read by the audience. Notions important for the composer hundred years ago, such as pressure and touch, movement and its patterns, are still fundamental in digital era and technological development while in the theatre these stress the relation between senses and presence of the performers.


Text: Grzegorz Laszuk, Michał Libera
Music: DJ Lenar
Technology: Tomasz i Marcin Ebert
Singing: Olga Mysłowska
Dancers: Ramona Nagabczyńska, Weronika Pelczyńska, Iza Szostak
Coproduction: Fundacja Ciało/Umysł, Open Latitudes
Supported by the European Union Culture Programme

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SIERAKOWSKI (2011)

Up to now komuna//warszawa has been telling about history and how people faced up to it in the past (Walter Gropius, Calel Perechodnik, Richard Buckminster Fuller, Baader-Meinhof).

We could comment on actions and choices, knowing the context and the final consequences of our protagonists’ negligence or strife.

Now we place ourselves in a position of an extraordinary observer. We’re telling the story of a real person – or rather we’re telling the future story of a real, living person.

It’s exciting – before our eyes the drama of the errors and triumphs of Sławomir Sierakowski (in our opinion one of the most important figures of Polish politics now and an even more important one in future) will unfold – k//w will weave the possible scenarios of his life and real life will verify the accuracy of our imaginations.

We allow ourselves coarse jokes and a cynic’s good advices – but all that in good faith, with sympathy and in all trust in the left of the future.

k//w plots tensions, faultiness and key points of Sierakowski’s personal and public life and his impact on social energies, subterranean oscillations of the history of the state and the world at a tipping point.

And there is one more reason for this tale – the tale itself – as a need to listen, watch, see, participate.

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Sławomir Sierakowski (b. 1979) – Polish intellectual, literature and theatre critic, publisher, occasionally dramatist. Founder and editor of the magazine “Krytyka Polityczna” and publishing house Wydawnictwo Krytyki Politycznej. He is the president of the Stanisław Brzozowski Association. He and „Krytyka Polityczna” serve as a focal point for a broad range of people: undergraduate and PhD students, journalists, critics, artists and social activists.

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Hero of our times?

„Sierakowski” at komuna//warszawa. By Łukasz Drewniak in Przekroj weekly.

As soon as the news spread that Grzegorz Laszuk and his colleagues at komuna//warszawa are working on a performance under the title “Sierakowski”, the right-wing media shook with rage. What – so young and already a theatre performance about him? Glorifying the editor of “Krytyka Polityczna”? (…) If they’d seen even one work of komuna//warszawa, they would sit quiet instead of courting ridicule for it was immediately obvious there was no way this would be an apotheosis of “Krytyka Polityczna”. Because komuna always thinks against the grain, doesn’t go in for herding behaviour.

Communards and anarchists

komuna//warszawa, formerly Komuna Otwock, has since the mid-1990s functioned as an excuse for our unwillingness to get politically involved. Its members were the token anarchists and activists. It was enough to know that they were being active, struggling, working organically, and we could get away with our decadence. Because the Komuna would work and think through all difficult matters for us. Its first performances, “Untitled” and “The First God Must Be Killed” explored the sense of all ideologies and generational choices. The following productions tested the awareness and place of an individual in the face of the absurdity of history („Perechodnik/ Bauman”), talked about the illusions of terrorism („The Future of the World”), questioned the right of philosophers to improve and explain the world („Mill/Maslow”, „The Books”). The communards were always more than merely a theatre and a group of friends – they tried to change reality, they educated the society, they participated in the life of local communities. (…) But for their twentieth anniversary they wrote a manifesto, in which they stated that artistic work has no (or negligible) influence on social life, that instead of stating ideas they prefer to tell stories. Such as the story of the editor of “Krytyka Polityczna”. “Sierakowski”, komuna//warszawa’s latest work, is a performance that launches a debate about the attitude of the New Left’s leaders, its methods of activity, its choice of presenting ideology in art.

Laszuk half-jokingly says that the origins of the performance “Sierakowski” was a month-long experiment: he locked the world himself out and read everything published by “Krytyka”, then he angrily threw the books against the wall. (…)

„Sierakowski” (…) is an imaginary reconstruction, its genre is biographical futurology. The rhythm of the performance is set by the dates from a chronicle of the Polish national history, in which Sławomir Sierakowski will have an assured place. Scene one – the year is 2017, Sierakowski has quit politics and become Buddhist. The actors dress up as Mickey Mouse clones and join in a chorus of squeaks, thanking the protagonist for always leaving them cheese that has gone off, just so. Scene two – year 2019, a Martian invasion. One of the actors, dressed in white is lit up with colourful diodes, Grzegorz Laszuk shouts into the microphone: “Sierakowski, back out, you’re surrounded”. The futurist Sierakowski replies: “We have no more ammunition, we’re holding the fort, to the last drop of blood…” In the third scene a daughter of Sierakowski has been born, the happy father takes a paternity leave and changes nappies, analyzing baby ca-ca with the help of Žižek, Lacan and Agamben. The fourth, branching off of the future, shows him in 2022 as the prime minister of a coalition government, reaching agreement with his political partners – the far right and the far Islamic left – on the legal limit on the height of minarets in Poland.

Jokes, mockery and low attacks (for the komuna’s performance is an anarchist-formalist farce) are merely to prepare the audience for serious challenges to Sierakowski and the entire “Krytyka Polityczna” formation.

Et tu, Brute?

(…) komuna//warszawa is not engaged in an ideological combat with “Krytyka”, for on many points they are in agreement, but in an argument over methods. The most important charge that komuna brings up is this: young friends, you shirk responsibility, you avoid politics, and yet one must not merely talk about politics, one must practice it for such are the realities of a democratic country. (…)

The second charge concerns the credibility and sustainability of rebellion. Laszuk states that radicalism of the young ideologues at “Krytyka” will disappear in the moment they enter an adult life and start families. Quotidian life will test ideas. Perhaps the curse of the left is that one grows out of it? – the komuna’s leader queries bitterly. He also dislikes the over-intellectual language, which “Krytyka” attempts to use to discuss the contemporary world. – Ideology that is not backed by practice gives rise to theoretical hallucinations. And all you do is write essays, philosophize and open debating societies, you are not socially active… – he seems to say. One can also read in this theatrical philippic dissatisfaction with the self-promotion in the media; after all, the communards have always remained in the shade, didn’t frequent popular television shows, didn’t seek publicity, but organic work. Perhaps komuna feels that Sierakowski’s way means in essence not a rejection of the system, but benefiting from it in exchange for an acceptable, intellectual critique of the liberal mainstream, which will not even bother to hit back. (…)

The New Left of Humour

The komuna//warszawa’s performance is not nice to watch. For aside from the absurdity and the polemic, there is also a somewhat ambiguous side in it. In the end the editor of “Krytyka Polityczna” is ridiculed. How can that formation respond, if it sees itself as a future think tank or an improved, more ideological version of “Gazeta Wyborcza”, not a regular movement or a political party? They won’t make an counter-performance. They can write a few manifestos and articles, but the firepower of the theatre will always be greater. Or maybe they will think that Laszuk is motivated by simple jealousy of their effectiveness, their ability to attract the young, their thinking of Polish affairs in a global context. After all, Grzegorz Laszuk has spent the last decade basing each komuna’s performance on the recognition “why there will be no revolution” – and now a generation is here that not only does believe in the revolution but its revolutionary fire is fuelled by the global economic conditions. (…) Certainly, however, they should take one suggestion of the komuna to heart: the call for a sense of humour. Stop talking only about the mission and the revolution, laugh at yourselves, when you err, for sometimes you err… It’s enough the right is deadly, and stupidly, serious.

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THE BOOKS (2009/2010)

The only intuition of “The Books” is to tell three stories. Komuna//warszawa has no pretensions to their interpretation. It is rather that we ourselves watch them unfold with interest.

1. “The Book of the Inventor” is devoted to Richard Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) – an American architect, inventor and visionary, one of the last Great Apostles of Progress and Technology, the author of the term, “spaceship Earth”, which describes our place in the universe and the need for an all-round view of our planet.
2. “The Book of the Arsonist” tells the story of Yongle (1360-1424) – an emperor of China of the Ming dynasty. He had built a huge fleet that could sail around and conquer the entire world. All he did was send gifts to the kings of India and Mogadishu. Afterwards he ordered all this ships burnt down.
3. “The Book of the Garden” is a search for a place of rest and peace after a job well done. It is a place “between”. But even there nothing is as it should be. It is, however, exclusively possible.
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The actors – labourers of ceremony, gymnast engineers – partly playing, patly learning the space and the matter. Repetition of mechanical actions creates symbols and metaphors. Rough,unpolished, mechanical. On occasion one gets the impression the performance is nothing but Kantor’s theatre translated into a modern idiom. Death is different here, God is different, the roles of memory and of the director-demiurge are different. But the deepest sense of human gesture remains the same.
Łukasz Drewniak, Dziennik, 2011
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Komuna. The Books. After Utopia

Tomasz Plata

Failed utopias – it seems the favourite subject for komuna//warszawa. In the past, under the name of Komuna Otwock, the ensemble traced carefully the path of the most significant utopias of modernity. It evoked Walter Gropius, who dreamt of a perfectly designed world, but in the end lost in a struggle against capital; it quoted Zygmunt Bauman’s theories that linked Holocaust with the modern ideal of order; it mocked the Red Army Faction members whose modern dream of equality led to extreme violence. In each komuna performance utopia showed its dark side, as it is put into question, turned inside out; each time, an ideal social project proves a failure when confronted with practice.

The point of departure for „The Books” is virtually identical. For the protagonist of the first part, the ensemble chooses Richard Buckminster Fuller, perhaps the last visionary of the modern era, an architect, philosopher, a believer in radical, permanent change. It was Fuller who used to say, “I’m not a noun, I’m a verb,” meaning, “I want to change just as the world changes around me, I want to be just as mutable, open to transformation, because process is always more interesting and important than its result.” In this Fuller fit perfectly into the mythology of modernity – for modernity, after all, the concept of change was a central, defining one. It is worth noting that over a year ago, when working on a book that was to be summary of Komuna Otwock’s first 20 years, we devoted the main chapter to change. One of the authors wrote at the time (recalling Marx): “All that is solid melts into thin air,” and, “all that is sacred is profaned” – from these two sentences all sensible theories of modernity can be derived.” In modernity, all that was solid was to be destroyed or transformed, undermined in the name of the bright future. Fuller was certainly one of the most dedicated prophets of this line of thinking.

Today komuna//warszawa takes him to account. The verdict may not be as harsh as in the case of Gropius or the RAF terrorists, but it is bitter, to say the least. For where is the world of technological bliss that Fuller promised? Is Spaceship Earth thanks to Fuller’s inventions really headed in the right direction? And what about costs of the whole brouhaha? What about the falling apart of the family? What with attempted suicides? Once again, as in performances on Gropius or J.S. Mill, komuna sets its protagonist’s theories against his life experience. And the confrontation does not look pretty. Utopia shakes in its foundations and collapses before our very eyes. Modernity once again fails to meet its promise, turns to disappointment.

But this time it is not just modernity. The second part of the performance is the story of the Chinese emperor, Yongle of the Ming Dynasty, who built a powerful navy capable of conquest of perhaps the entire world. Yongle could change everything and changed nothing. He did not wage war on anybody, his navy merely brought some gifts to foreign rulers and was quickly burnt down. “The utmost desire is to come to a halt and listen to as air giving up heat rubs against the walls of the Forbidden City,” as we are told in “The Books”. On some level it is the quintessence of what we might think about the pre-modern era – static, focused on upholding the status quo. Yongle wishes for history to come to an end. More than that – he believes himself a witness of that very end. Komuna does not blame him for this naïveté. The ensemble’s line of attack is directed at elsewhere: doubts about Yongle’s reticence, suggesting that it is nothing but escapism, unsustainable withdrawal from the world – yet another unrealisable utopia.

In other words: neither radical change nor radical rejection of change. Komuna looks on both these options with suspicion. And in the third part, instead of dwelling on utopias, it embarks on a sober diagnosis of its surroundings. We find ourselves in a beautiful garden, which however soon turns out to be more of a zoo with trained monkeys. It is sort of pleasant: you can read, you can enjoy the view. The only worrying detail is the constant presence of a trainer, suggesting there is no way out of the garden. Is this our world? A world of small pleasures, experienced under strict supervision? Komuna does not necessarily suggest these well-worn interpretations. For “The Books” end with a scene showing that the trainer’s eyes can be covered for at least a little while, allowing one to get on with obviously useful work. The oppressive garden thus turns into a place of genuine cultivation, independent work, maybe even of self-realisation.

“The Books”, sometimes in literal sense, have frequently turned up in komuna’s earlier works. They usually pointed to bookish knowledge, the theoretical kind, somehow empty and always contrasted with practice, action. This motif returns in “The Books”. The whole performance is, in stylistic terms, built on an identical contrast: between speech and action, between theory and practice (as in previous performances, the actors do one thing and say another, there is no clear relationship between these two spheres). However, the last scene seems to redefine this issue as well: actors plant crops in their field, taking leafs torn out of books as a sort of tool, a handy implement. The effect is one of theory supporting practice, of two opposites coming

 

MILL/ MASLOW (2007/2008)


When the analysis of the biography of the 19th century philosopher J.S Mill is confronted with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, what emerges is the truth about the destiny of human life. “Something must happen – because it is forced upon us by an internal force within us – the urge to be happy. Some things (even of the kind that are to do with the greatest needs and desires) will never stand a chance, because our body is the borderline of our being.” Mill’s case inspires optimism; in spite of the drastic drill he had undergone in his childhood and his nervous breakdown, all in all he was “luckier” – he found the woman of his life, but also self-fulfillment without having given up his predispositions or “calling”. Those who are not so lucky can still enjoy the pleasure of searching.
Music: Julia Kubica, Bartek Rączkowski


Review:

What fascinates me in the performances of the Otwock Commune is the rift between their outlook on the world and the laborious effort of forging their comprehensive, avant-garde theatrical form. This rift, or fissure, the non-adjustment of various elements, is what gives birth to the dynamics of their theatrical performances. (…) The hero of the spectacle – a combination, or hybrid of wise men’s theses – is a continuation of the characters from other performances by the Commune. It was paper and experience that produced Perechondik/Bauman as well as Baader/his children. With the help of these creations the Commune examines the idea of performing good deeds. It shifts its emphasis form “humanity” to “the person.”From the society to the individual. It is hard not to see the dirty melancholy of Mill/Maslow. The sweat of not believing in humanity. Those who are Otwock Commune fanatics will blame the performance for its excessive lucidity, will frown at the lack of the group’s former rapacity. But for me what is most important in the Commune’s performances is the brilliant breaking up of clichés – hence the literal beating against tables, against the floor. Bathing in the box on the stage cleanses the actors. Walking in water-filled containers brings to one’s mind the balls and chains of convicts. Ready-made formulas will always be like fetters to us. The Commune does not believe in recipes for life (it is through clenched teeth that the actors shout out empty statements about happiness) and, like always, opt for each individual’s own answer.
Łukasz Drewniak, the Dziennik, 2008