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Golden Lions for lifetime achievement for Krzysztof Warlikowski. His own visual language of theater created with set designer Małgorzata Szczęśniak

09 of February '21

The Board of Directors of the Venice Biennale has awarded Krzysztof Warlikowski a lifetime achievement award in theater. The Golden Lions will go to the director in the summer at a gala event. The Council's justification refers to the visual concepts of his performances. Who is behind the space in Warlikowski's theater? And what is his "shared space" with the set designer?

A few days ago it was announced that Krzysztof Warlikowski, theater and opera director and artistic director of the New Theater in Warsaw, will be awarded a lifetime achievement award at the 49th Venice International Theater Festival. This prestigious award will be given at the request of Stefan Ricci and Gianni Forte, who head the theatrical part of the festival.

For more than twenty years, Krzysztof Warlikowski has championed a profound renewal of European theatrical language. Using references to cinematography, making original use of video and inventing new forms of spectac le, he wants to restore the bond between performance and audience," reads the justification for the decision of the Board of Directors of the Venice Biennale.

new forms, or scenography

Warlikowski's theater needs no introduction to anyone. His plays penetratingly describe the modern world and human nature, while touching on the most important, but sometimes also the most sensitive social problems. His work evokes strong emotions. He smuggles pain, love, passion, rejection and loneliness onto the stage... The man of his stage is full of passion and determination. But he does not remain naked on stage. One can't help but get the impression that the Council, while emphasizing new forms of performance, attaches great importance precisely to the scenic solutions in Warlikowski's plays. Who is behind the costumes and set design of his performances?

The visual concept in Warlikowski, and the role of the set designer

Krzysztof Warlikowski has been working with the same artists for years. Among them with his wife, Małgorzata Szczęśniak, who is responsible for the set design. The director resorts to the modern language of theater not only in the textual layer by modernizing, among other things, Shakespeare's greatest dramas, but also in the stage space. With such a strong power in the man Warlikowski creates on stage, the visual concept cannot remain "lukewarm."

Médée | Christophe Rousset & Krzysztof Warlikowski | La Monnaie 2011

Poland is such a strange country that there is no understanding here at all of who a stage designer is. All theater awards are given to actors, sometimes to directors or composers. But generally the actor is the god." - about the role of the stage designer in Polish theater, said the set designer in an interview with Gazeta Wyborcza a few years ago.
But what should I do? Argue and explain how important the set design is?

Scenography, not decoration!

What is the difference between theatrical decoration and Małgorzata Szczęśniak's stage design? When strong characters appear on stage, shaped by Warlikowski, problems move the audience, sometimes shock, surprise, the space can not be left behind and predictable. It is not enough to have a decoration that stands next to it, thus creating only a background for the actors. Warlikowski's productions require a space that provokes, co-creates a coherent vision and brings the viewer into the world of theater.

I don't create decorative sets, rather conceptual ones, and I don't see why I should surprise every time. This is a foreign way of thinking to me. When I did "A Streetcar Named Desire," a critic wrote that he expected beautiful Louisiana streets on stage. When I did my first opera, "Don Carlos," a kind gentleman, a great singer, said to me: "You know, when Don Carlos sings in the library, there must be an armchair and books, without that this aria is not there." Such is the thinking about stage design in the Polish theater: it is supposed to complement, to describe, to be a decoration. It's not for me.

Małgorzata Szczęśniak / Malta Festival Poznań |YouTube talks about Romeo Castellucci.

"the most stagecrafted performance".

We recently had the opportunity to attend the spectacle "We are leaving", thanks to the theatrical streaming of Teatr Nowy. In addition to following the repertoire, you can find several archived Warlikowski performances online. On the Ninateka portal, you will see "The Tempest" and "(A)pollonie." It is "(A) pollonie" that has been ranked by critics as one of the most important contemporary plays of the last twenty years. Małgorzata Szczęśniak's set design is remembered as an absolutely groundbreaking stage arrangement. The French Union of Theater, Music and Dance Critics awarded Malgorzata Szczęśniak the prize for best set design in the 2009/10 season for the play "(A)pollonia."

New Theater | YouTube

Let's start with the fact that "(A)poll onia" did not take place in a classical theater space. In Warsaw's Koneser Vodka Factory, a stage was installed, where the stage designer arranged two transparent containers. They housed the apartments of Clitajmestra and Alkestis along with a bathroom next to a dining room and a small concert arena.

Classical theater is interspersed with a rock concert by Renate Jett and her band, speeches by the characters (Stuhr's war criminal Agamemnon using a passage fromLittel's "The Kindly Ones" convinces us that no one is born an executioner, it's the circumstances that make him one), lectures (Anna Radwan-Gancarczyk, in the words of fanatical animal rights activist Elizabeth Costello from Coetzee's novella, compares animal slaughterhouses to Nazi concentration camps), an Internet chat room, a TV quiz show. On the back wall we see close-ups of the characters' faces from the camera following them. All this makes "(A)pollonia" the most staged production of Warlikowski's team. - writes Aneta Kyzioł in Polityka.

Krzysztof Warlikowski about the play 2011 | YouTube

common cosmos

Of course, the director is the most important, he has the vision, he is responsible for the whole. Everyone else is a partner. We with Krzysiek did all the performances together, from the first to the last. We created a certain world of our own, the visual language of our theater. I used to work with other directors, but I discovered that this work does not give me satisfaction.
Because when you work, you create a cosmos that begins to function. You give the structure of a certain vision, and if the director does not understand it, does not co-create it, you can only make a set design for him as a decoration. - says Malgorzata Szczęśniak.

The role of the set designer in Poland has evolved over the years. Many directors choose to create stage design concepts on their own. Some even find it difficult to allow another artist on their stage, besides themselves. However, the collaboration of Krzysztof Warlikowski and Malgorzata Szczęśniak proves that the vision of two artists can be consistent and even perfectly complement each other. Together they create a "cosmos" that works.

Marta Kowalska

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