European Theatre: Tadeusz Kantor

Tadeusz Kantor was born in 1915, and so his work slightly precedes that of Pina Bausch; she took influence from many of his works, also focusing on childhood memories as a stimulus, such as in her Cafe Mueller. Kantor’s work is remarkably bleak – he even created ‘the Theatre of Memory’ and ‘the Theatre of Death’. He experienced the tragedies of the Holocaust and the effects of the Second World War on Poland, first hand, and so “sought to represent and commemorate those staggering losses” (Gluhovic 2013: 102) in his work in order to spearhead the creation of a better future.

One prevalent element of his work is his presence onstage “playing simultaneously the role of silent witness and re-creator of the events represented” (Gluhovic 2013: 103). An example of this is during The Dead Class (1975) as Kantor watches his ‘childhood friends’ (or rather, actors playing them) that died during World War 2 carry wax dummies of their young selves on their backs. He remains detached from the action itself, but works rather as a sculptor of his own performances, adjusting actors where necessary.

He is also renowned for his use of ‘bio-objects’ – the idea that there lies a close mutual relationship between any actor and their given object, so much so that they become one. By this right, the actor must do all they can to ensure the object remains visible. Thus, the actor and his/her object are constantly conditioned by one another to behave a certain way or provoke a specific action i.e. soldiers and their weapons become one.

Image result for tadeusz kantor bio object

Something interesting to note is how Kantor represented ‘the father figure’ in his work. It was a particularly negative representation, as he was under the impression that his own father had abandoned him; “Marian [Kantor] never returned after leaving with the Second Division of the Polish Legion to fight in World War I” (Vido-Rzewuska 233-236). For instance, in Wielopole, Wielopole (1980), the father was emotionless and lacked any influence or presence in young Tadeusz Kantor’s life.

przedstawienie "Wielopole, Wielopole" Tadeusza Kantora

Wielopole was Kantor’s birth town, which was half catholic and half Jewish; the Jews were executed in the war; Kantor captures this political damage like a photograph in this macabre piece. The performers appear empty and soulless, allowing themselves to be controlled, just like the bride and groom as they say their vows.

Reference List

  • Gluhovic, Milija. Performing European Memories. 1st ed. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Print.
  • Vido-Rzewuska, Marie-Thérèse. “The Father Figure In Tadeusz Kantor’s Work”. Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 10.1 (1995): 233-236. Web. (Accessed: 27 Mar. 2017.)
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