There is a village in Poland - well, not even a village, more a forest settlement - where a theatre works. To Michalowice come friends of the theatre, of the mountains, of the Alaska Bar (closed for business of late). People come together here whom you would not associate with such remote places. They come here briefly, but regularly. Sometimes it seems as if everybody is in Michalowice, and that nobody is anywhere else.
But to see the theatre perform it is not enough to come here. For that you will need a passport, and maybe a visa, given the exotic places the theatre is invited to. At home they work on their productions, but to see the results you have to travel.
Cinema is a remarkable theatre - not high drama, nor pantomime; not dance show, nor musical. Yet at the same time it has something of all these theatrical forms - and several more besides, It is a theatrical form in its own right. It exploits a unique collection of forms of expression, from - if these are polar opposites - tragedy to cabaret, rhapsody to musical, no theatre to acrobatics. From tears to laughter - laughter through tears.
Before I saw the shows I had heard that Cinema was atheatre in the spirit of Kantor. In my experience, when faced with such individual phenomena as Cinema it is better to look at the differences than the inherited similarities. For me Billiards had associations with Marthaler. And I can even cite anecdotal evidence for the connection.
In 19981 went with Cinema to Sarajevo. As the plane taxied on the runway, the stewardess stood in the centre of the aisle and did the usual demonstration of how to use the life-jacket. Everybody who has ever seen this demonstration in any plane on any airline knows what a sadly grotesque, wonderfully bleak pantomime it is: full of gesture, but cruelly concrete: emphatic, but reduced to a bare minimum of movement. And somehow, independent of the fact that in my line of vision was the head of Zbyszek Szumski, I thought that this scene with the stewardess would serve as inspiration. I even felt as if I were already watching the play. A couple of years later I saw a rendering of precisely what had struck me as splendid material for Cinema-in the theatre of Marthaler (The Specialists).
So here are my first thoughts on this theatre, which deserves more than newspaper articles or academic treatments (there are some), but rather a full - blown monograph:
A concern for the secrets that exist within events that seem to have no secrets. Persistent pursuit ofthe essence of action, especially of everyday routine activity. An appreciation of its beauty, its riches. The recesses of our shared imagination - the corners where nobody, it seems, has looked before. The joy of movement, transformed into a precise means of expression. The last tangent of mind and gesture. Removal ofthe distance between the ascetism of immobility and the orgy of action, which changes imperceptibly into immobility. All in a wild but masterfully controlled procession of scenes, images, explosion and self - restraint.
Watching these scenes one understands the relative unimportance of the idea; everything depends on how it is realised. One immediately senses that the emphasis is on execution - the concept can be appreciated only after the thing happens. From the outset one participates in a kind of separate state of being: unaffectedly extraordinary, naturally unnatural. There is no "philosophical" excess baggage. One exists in space and time, but simultaneously outside them, and in many spheres at once. One watches a hand move on the leg of a chair, as in the scene with four actors in Tak.To.Tu. Who has not fingered a leg like this - achairleg, his own, someone else's? The discovery is how significatively perverse a movement can be.
Cinema's plays are a study in movement, attempting to reduce it to its essence, which is action: to the gesture, not intended to be dramatic, but only studious, exploratory, interested in its own nature. The effect results from the body existing without pantomimic "decorations". Corporal ity comes directly from the spirit or psyche (the same word in German). Theatre has always been about the qualrty of that transformation. This is where Cinema subscribes to the tradition of theatre worldwide, which it would be inappropriate to call "alternative". States ofthe imagination, extreme, yet somehow mundane, transformed into images that disturb, amuse and surprise. Until we recognize ourselves. Everything that seemed odd now reveals its naturalness. We feel that kind of joyful shame that comes from self - recognition. We leave the theatre with a greater knowledge of our darker sides and hidden follies. So why do we feel so happy?
This theatre is created by the director and the actors together. Kantor recognized no such partnership, whereas Marthaler stresses the collaborative nature of his work. The same productions, particularly when seen again after a period, have an effect which is mediated by the individuality ofthe actors. Each time they are different- not randomly so, but with forethought. This refusal to repeat themselves is something I ascribe to Cinema's seriousness about their art, and to their obvious talent. However, it is helped by the fact that Cinema is not one ofthose theatres tied into a murderous rhythm of nightly shows on the same stage. Just about every evening is somewhere different: in Sarajevo, Vienna, Bremen, Cairo, Warsaw, Grudziadz, and also in Wroclaw (occasionally), in Jelenia Gora (very occasionally) and in Michatowice (hardly ever). And God knows where else. The local newspaper once described Cinema as a theatre "known not only in Poland and the World". An unintended epigram: one should not lightly give up the cosmic dimensions of art, for art, wherever it comes from, comes from nowhere.
I do not speak of love concerns simply the issue of death - through poetry and images. Szumski understands that art narrates life engagingly only from the perspective of death. A circle of fatal signs, as in the Totentanz of church frescoes, translate into scenes pulsating with life. A whole procession of them, moving freely from the physical and tangible to the symbolic: A bum is of flesh, a chair is of wood, a tree from the earth, earth from the pit.
Billiards is a play I have seen many times over the years, and each time it has struck me as inspired. A drama of human co-existence begins first in a single vision, and then takes on a multidimensional form - a living reality on several planes, It is shown (movement), stated (the meaning of words) rendered in sound (music). The characters exist on the stage by themselves and in relation to each other. Their co-existence takes on a succession of forms: games and aggression, searching for ways of existing, at once in banalities and extremes. These games are both childish and deadly serious. Through the world these figures inhabit runs the dividing line of gender. It is the setting for the tense struggle, laden with meanings, in which they fight, love, multiply and destroy, taking everyday objects and trying to put them to use in the impromptu ceremonies that make up this co-existence. For example, the billiards ofthe title, with a bottle on a string used as the ball, birth, sliding on trays, riding on sleighs, dying.
Somebody said that ninety nine per cent of art is not art at all. One thing I am certain of is that Cinema's work puts them into that one per cent reserved by sceptics for true art. In the good company of Kantor and Mathaler.
Jerzy Lukosz Tłumaczenie dr. Neil F. Jones