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Merilyn Jackson
United States
Philadelphia, PA

Uptown To Downtown, Poles Literarily Take Manhattan

by Merilyn Jackson
November 13, 2006
Philadelphia, PA
Two 20th century literary geniuses hold New York stages this week. Witold Gombrowicz found himself stranded in Argentina once Hitler invaded Poland and stayed there in a poverty-ridden self-imposed exile after the war. He died in France shortly after he was awarded the International Literary Prize in 1967. His work was not published in Poland until after the fall of communism. Bruno Schulz, whose Street of Crocodiles was published in New York in 1934, was gunned down in his village street by the Nazis in 1942. He was one of the best known of the many Jews who died in the Holocaust, perhaps for the prescience of his writing. The writers die, but their writing lives.

Their writing gives life to works by two Polish theater companies performing in New York this week. Both are co-presented by the Polish Cultural Institute in New York. Gombrowicz's work gives ground to dance from Gdansk by a company based there, Dada von Bzdulow. They have the stage at LaMaMa for two weekends beginning Thursday, November 16. Wroclawski Teatr Lalek opens with The Last Escape, on November 18-19 at the Jewish Community Center at 76th and Amsterdam.

Titled Several Witty Observations (a la Gombrowicz), Teatr Dada von Bzdulow's performance channels Gombrowicz's highly visceral, sometimes bitter and almost always funny writing into dance. Passages from his fiction, plays, journals and musings fairly leap from the page, often causing convulsive laughter in the reader. In his most famous work, Ferdydurke, one entire passage is devoted to a battle of devastating gestures. I can see how it informs movement in dance and physical theater and often am reminded of his passages when I see gestural material in dance.

Teatr Dada von Bzdulow, a Gdansk-based dance company founded by Leszek Bzdyl and Katarzyna Chmielewska in 1993, is one of several post-Communist era modern dance companies to emerge in Poland over the last 15 years. At the Contemporary Dance Festival in Bytom, Poland in 2001, their dark and brooding work suited its time. Cataclysmic and unrelentingly aggressive, fire and flood marked it for the metaphor of the end of tyranny that it was. Having said all that, they are now free to move on to other dramas, other dreams.

Gombrowicz's incessant theme of paradox intrigued Bzdyl and he promises a work by Chmielewksa, Rafal Dziemidok and himself of mischievously wry "alienation in search of human connection."

Teatr Dada von Bzdulow will also give a workshop in Philadelphia from Nov. 29 to Dec. 3 at the Jeanne Ruddy Dance studios.

Schulz' stories from Sanatorium under the Sign of the Hourglass and in particular, Father's Last Escape, gives flight to the Wroclaw Puppet Theater (Wroclawski Teatr Lalek.)

This is not child-friendly work. Its five physical-theater trained actors deliver a sidewinder of a punch in this hour-long show about a Jewish family's daily life in the years before the Holocaust. They speak in Polish with English supertitles. The life-size puppets in this production take a back-seat to the actors, appearing behind sheer curtains and unfolding in a hospital bed.

At its Swarthmore College premiere on October 29 in the Philadelphia area, director Aleksander Maksymiak said, "It depends on show, whether or not there is more puppetry or more actors. Here, I think, it is the right balance."

Wroclawski Teatr Lalek appeared the following week at Mum Puppet Theater in Philadelphia for five nights running. Robert Smythe, founder of Mum Puppet Theater, spent time with the troupe in Wroclaw last summer and helped bring them to the States for this tour. "You have to look at work like this as movement-based," Smythe said. Indeed, Wroclaw Puppet Theater blends outstanding puppetry with fast-paced physical theater. The show sold out on several nights.

Jolanta Goralczyk huskily sang some of the text. And Krzysztof Grebski, as Joseph, somatically, and with great sublety, interpreted puppet movement in his initial scenes, further blurring the lines between human and doll — which is, after all what "lalek" means, a term of endearment.

Teatr Dada von Bzdulow
Nov. 16-19 and 24-26
La MaMa, Annex Theater
74 E. 4th St.
212-475-7710 or www.lamama.org
Nov. 29 – Dec. 3
Jeanne Ruddy Dance
Performance Garage
1515 Brandywine St.
Phila., PA
215-676-1540 or

Wroclawski Teatr Lalek
The JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave. at 76th St
Sat, Nov 18, 8:00 PM, Sun, Nov 19,3:00 PM, 646.505.5708
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