horses. unfamiliar remnants ofan earlier century. passing street traders and fur-clad
Russian women selling gold jewellery beneath the advertising banners strung up over the cobbled streets — Krakow’s first real taste of a commercial Christmas.
As the procession wound its way out ofthe Old Town. I realised that we were headed for the cemetery that I had visited earlier out of a mildly morbid sense ofcuriosity. Then. business had been brisk and unsentimental for the surly. uniformed grave diggers and their shattered truck. This time. the occasion merited a little less haste. After halfan hour in the tiny chapel. topped by a tannoy speaker relaying the service. the coffin emerged borne aloft by Cricot actors who gingerly made their way along the narrow muddy path to the grave. beside that of Kantor‘s mother. Speech followed speech as the crowd began to fray at the edgesin the sub-zero temperature and falling snow. I was unable to see over the mass of heads but I heard it said that someone climbed into the grave at the last minute for a final farewell.
Many lingered on. but by the time the spades j
were produced. we had already moved off. cold. hungry and in search of the warmth and consolation ofa late breakfast.
Today Is My Birthday (International Festival) Cricot2, Empire Theatre, 225 5 756, 23—27Aug, 7.30pm;27Aug, 2.30pm,
£5 .50—£ 1 0.
l The Kantor
' Experience. photographs by
- George ()liver will be
on show at Wines
From Paris, 4 Giles
Street, Leith, until
he death of Kantor during
the final rehearsal period ofhis final production with Cricot 2 has a melancholy sense of irony about it. The Polish artist-turned-director. whose work obsessively scoured his own mind and memory in order to confront the reality ofhistory and death. made his birth the central symbol of Today Is My Birthday. The death of the creator of The Theatre Of The Dead is as potent and meaningful as the stage action.
‘Kantor is himselfpart ofhistory now.‘ comments Janusz Marek. travelling cultural ambassador for Polish theatre. ‘He was working all the time on the level ofthe national consciousness— even subconsciousness. All his symbols. images. thoughts— they somehow question stereotypes of thinking. breaking one symbol against another. All the time. his work is in discourse with contemporary life: where we have come from and where we are going.’
Kantor‘s ability to speak directly to the soul of Poland is the source of his significance as a director: he developed a theatrical imagery drawn from his own life and experience to conduct an investigation ofthe individual in relation to society. ofdreams to reality. oflife to death.
He was born in Galicia in 1915 and Poland‘s traumatic history left its mark on him. The appalling ravages ofthe two world wars. and the post-war Communist struggle with the Church are key touchstones in Kantor‘s theatre. Weilopole. Weilopole. possibly his best known work. takes its name from the village where he grew up. It presents a series of nightmarish images. following the war and religion embedded in Polish consciousness. His fascination with death found expression in The Theatre ()fDeath Manifesto. written in 1975:
It is only the dead who become perceptible (for the living) thus winning, for this high est price
their separate status
His company is named after a Krakow Dadaist group ‘Cricot’. which. backwards. translates as ‘It is Circus‘. ‘Kantor was a visual artist.‘ says Marek. ‘all the time dreaming of live contact with his spectators. He did not want to wait until it was painted on the wall of a gallery — he wanted to be personally in touch. That's why he was always present on stage during the performance.‘
This is the tnost enduring image of Kantor— standing on a lectern in full view of his audience. intently scrutinising and directing the action. It is this element of personal involvement that sustains the often surreal and seemingly arbitrary acting. Kantor‘s death robs the performance ofits crucial player. ‘It will be very difficult without him.‘ says Marek. ‘because his presence. his strong personality made everything so powerful. But Cricot 2 are sure he would want them to present it. they will see it as their mission.
Kantor first came to Edinburgh in 1970. to the Demarco Gallery. Richard Demarco can claim most of the credit for bringing Kantor to the West. and simultaneously raising the status of Polish theatre. For those too young. or too cautious then. last year‘s visit by Wisniewski with ()lsnienie gave a flavour ofwhat to expect. Practically a Kantor acolyte. Wisniewski presented a nightmarish circus ring. in constant movement. where tiny melodramas would rise and melt like water. Kantor‘s canvases. on the other hand. contain a broader sweep. coupled with a more radical detailing ofexperience. altogether on a less generalised. more epic scale. Kantor was the last unchallengeable master ofthe theatre — to be present at his final work will be a privilege and an honour. (Andrew Pulvcr)
Above left: Tadeusz Kantor (on right) in discussion with his lriend and collaborator. Wieslaw Borowslti. during rehearsal of ‘The Water Hen' at Forrest Hill. Edinburgh. in 1972.
Below right: The Dead Class being performed in Edinburgh in 1976.
'l'he List 23 — 29 August 199113