Sydney Festival: Chronicles - A Lamentation. Teatr Piesn Kozla (Poland) directed by Grzegorz Bral at The Playhouse, Sydney Opera Houseuntil January 25, 2006, 9.45pm and Riverside Theatre, Parramatta January 27-28 8pm.
This is a 45 minute example of intense ritualistic theatre, fascinating for its voice and movement work, but ultimately failing, in my view, to take the audience to new levels of understanding.
Bral and his co-founder of Teatr Piesn Kozla, Anna Zubrzycki, who is a central performer in Chronicles, have long taught and directed in the workshop tradition known best in this country through the Theatre Laboratory run by Jerzy Grotowski in the later decades of last century. They concentrate, always with high moral principle, on research into ancient and fading traditions and present their findings as re-created myth. In this case, they have taken the polyphonic harmonies and women's ululations of laments sung in Epiros, nowadays on the Greek - Albanian border, as their base. They have then used the ancient Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh to show a man's battle with the Great Goddess, and his search for immortality.
Rapidly spoken poetic language, almost continuous choral singing which sounded to me most like Polish - Russian style, highly choreographed mimetic movement which never quite becomes dance, all done with great skill and precision, still did not convey to me any clear idea of the purpose of the work. According to the program notes we are supposed to reach "the deep understanding which accompanies [the] acceptance" of "death, the ultimate finality in human life, the futility of escape." Because the work, however sincere in concept, does not have a strong dramatic structure, I found the point of the ending - where all 7 performers, for no apparent reason, singing, exited upstage left, continued singing for a minute or so off stage until their voices faded into nothing - escaped me.
If I hadn't seen the publicity I would never have known that Rafal Habel was Gilgamesh, Marcin Rudy his battle companion Enkidu, and Christopher Sivertsen a Shaman, or that Anne Zubrzycki was The Wild Cow - Mother of Gilgamesh, Anna Krotoska was the Goddess Ishtar, Maria Sendow was Death and Ian Morgan was The Immortal, Utnapishti. Crossing cultures is never easy - perhaps knowledge of Polish would have helped - but even after reading the program again following the performance I find it difficult to identify these characters. Even less could I identify with them. Unfortunately, moral principle is not enough to make great theatre.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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