based on Apuleius Metamorphoses or The Golden Ass
Metamorphoses or The Golden Ass according to Apuleius is a unique performance which revives the spirit of pre-Christian joy, and lightness, is a rediscovery, in the present tense, of the vital energy and the compelling dramaturgy of Ancient Greek theater: a theater in which the song, dance, and text are a natural execution of the extremes of human experience. All is passionately sung. Staniewski's work is known for its original singing which includes a synchronistic interweaving of text, gesture, and body movement. With METAMORPHOSES, "Gardzienice" surpasses itself. They sing ancient Greek songs and sounds in unique modalities which were reconstructed from papyrus remains and stone carvings from the 5th century BC to the 2nd century AD. After a period of study, Staniewski came to the conclusion that this pythagorean music was sung and danced vividly, dynamically, and passionately, in the way inherent to indigenous cultures. With thirteen singers/actors on stage, the characters in the performance include Lucius, transformed into a donkey and returning to the human shape, Psyche, Amor, and the dual role of Dionysus/Christ.
Director's note :
it has been our tradition for the past twenty years to present two performances in one evening: an older, "departing one", and a new "arriving one".
Today we are presenting only a new performance - "an arriving one". Just like it is the case with all our work (from the very beginning) this one originated in music. Music or - one should rather say - musicality constitutes the origins and essence of everything we create. For the first time in this work we changed our philosophy and learnt music not from living people, but from stones. Living stones.
Traces of this ancient Greek music - from the 5th c. B.C. to the 2nd c. A.D. - can be found only written in stones.
Singing from a stone is like singing out a stone, testifying that it is at least as alive as nature. What we invite you to hear is most of all contemporary voices singing
the ancient melodic lines in the ancient keys.
Everything has been slightly adjusted, e.g. tempo, rhythm, dynamics... And perhaps "not adjusted", perhaps put in agreement with The Spirit of Time organically, because no one can recreate the lifeline of rhythm. One can only follow one's intuition.
Those songs maintain the relationship with the book, the philosophy of which we referred to in our working process. This great book Metamorphoses or The Golden Ass entered the scene at a critical time when the Old Gods Dionysus and Apollo were leaving and Christ,the New God, was coming. The book was written by Apuleius of Madaura, who used to say about himself and his friends: "We, the Platonic family, know only what is festive, joyful, sacred, sublime, celestial..."
Apuleius, the 2nd c. A.D, was a Platonist. Therefore, our work refers to the Platonic essences: the nature of soul, the nature of love, and the mysteries of changes. It refers to everything Apuleius, the Platonist, presented allegorically in METAMORPHOSES.
What we will sing for you is - to use a painter's expression - priming of a canvas.
The form "it" has taken upon I call "a Theatrical Essay".
From a wide range of songs, which we have been rehearsing since last year - or perhaps longer - we choose for each evening a slightly different arrangement, testing the depth we want to reach and aiming at a direction we were destined
A couple of interesting details. In the past we approached Apuleius and the songs of stones several times, and kept abandoning the concept. However, as if in passing, several things resulted from our continuous attempts, for example a scenario written by a well-known English dramatist Howard Brenton. The scenario was an outcome of our collaboration with The Royal Shakespeare Company. These are the origins of a song entitled "You Are Broken", sung in English.
And one more story. About our singing - during late night rehearsals in "Gardzienice", in our barn, on the hill between the forests and the fields, in this "nowhere place", where melancholy and misery spin around; about this singing in Pythagorean scales, during autumn nights when it is difficult to take out your shoes from the mud, and when the black sky cuts down the spirit; on winter nights when the snow and the cold winds from the steppes of Euro -Asia kill every joy of life - on such nights the wild and hungry dogs would arrive.
They were the first participants of our expeditions back to the Ancient Times.
Their trust and tameness is once again the victory of Pythagoras who wished to tune the spirits
to be tamed and to heal with music.
(...) In 1997 "Gardzienice" entered a phase of work when Staniewski drew on a popular folk narrative, Apuleuis' The Golden Ass, to create METAMORPHOSES in which the hero is transformed into a donkey, eventually finding spiritual renewal through initiation into the Isis mysteries, before returning to his human form. At its premiere, Staniewski commented on the story's contemporary significance:
Now at the beginning of this millennium we know that we are still in the middle of a transformation, which is similar but possibly even more difficult than the one that took place 2000 years ago when the ancient gods were thrown away and one new god appeared.
METAMORPHOSES and ELEKTRA are the results of the research on forgotten techniques of ancient Greek theatre which in its’ assumption guides the company towards restoring tragedy from the spirit of music.
Fragments of ancient music were re-animated in relation to the irregular rhythms of speech, song and dance that the Company found in the Carpathian Mountains and the Ukraine.The texts, musical notation and images were not read but retrieved through "a forgotten line of life inside ourselves". "Gardzienice" have unfrozen static postures and fragments of music so that "figures are running, spinning, flying… Antiquity is dancing". Again, musicality is the catalyst, shaping the theatre’s language as ancient texts are excavated, danced and sung until they touch, reveal and provoke our contemporary selves through "Gardzienice’s" secret music of the body.
Alison Hodge, a director, actor trainer, author of Actor Training (Routledge, 2010),
prof. in Royal Holloway College, from the program to Barbican Centre, London, UK
Metamorphoses, or The Golden Ass according to Apuleius is a unique performance which revives the spirit of pre-Christian joy, and lightness, is a rediscovery, in the present tense, of the vital energy and the compelling dramaturgy of Ancient Greek theater: a theater in which the song, dance, and text are a natural execution of the extremes of human experience. All is passionately sung. Staniewski's work is known for its original singing which includes a synchronistic interweaving of text, gesture, and body movement. With METAMORPHOSES, "Gardzienice" surpasses itself. They sing ancient Greek songs and sounds in unique modalities which were reconstructed from papyrus remains and stone carvings from the 5th century BC to the 2nd century AD. After a period of study, Staniewski came to the conclusion that this pythagorean music was sung and danced vividly, dynamically, and passionately, in the way inherent to indigenous cultures. With thirteen singers/actors on stage, the characters in the performance include Lucius, transformed into a donkey and returning to the human shape, Psyche, Amor, and the dual role of Dionysus/Christ.
P. K. Gessner, State University of New York at Buffalo, USA
(…) In METAMORPHOSES Staniewski has accomplished a feat of anthropological theater that is arguably unprecedented. Based on text fragments in the original Greek, the play has recycled the hymns and discourses from these "living stones" and papyri into an almost indescribable melange of music, song and text, alternately spoken in English, Polish and Greek. The songs are sung in "Pythagorean scale," the dances inspired by the poses on ancient Greek vases, the acting as akin to the style of Thespis as can be hypothetically imagined.
If all this sounds turgid and academic, it's not. METAMORPHOSES is a whirling Dionysian revel, a hail and farewell to the flawed and humanistic Greek gods who, in Apuleius' time, were being swept away by the rising tide of Christianity.
As the actors chant, whirl and posture, broader themes emerge. At one point, a suffering Christ and a joyous Dionysus stand in perfectly balanced juxtaposition -- until Dionysus turns suddenly sorrowful, Christ joyful -- a piquant commentary on the fine line separating religious beliefs.
The performances are almost impossibly focused and fluid. This is not so much a cast as it is a living organism. (…)
Apuleius' quote, "know only that which is solemn, joyful, holy, sublime, heavenly," forms the philosophical core of the play. Note that contradictory "solemn" and "joyful." There's that fine line again, the line between life and death, sorrow and rapture, that is so richly drawn by Staniewski and his company of joyful bacchants, who lead us merrily into catharsis.
LOS ANGELES TIMES, METAMORPHOSES is a gift from Poland by F. Kathleen Foley, Los Angeles, USA, 10.03.2003
METAMORPHOSES by "Gardzienice" constitute a theatrical treaty on the unavoidable stretching of love between two opposites, and on man being bound to live in a conflict of contradictions.
However, this essay is mainly a theatre, an ecstatic performance which finishes definitely too quickly in the eyes of the audience. Wlodzimierz Staniewski, the founder of Gardzienice company and creator of their performances, says that 'Metamorphoses' words are of no significance. And that is only partly a joke. For words, show, lead and explain, of course.
However, in 'METAMORPHOSES they find their equivalents in situations on stage, live images, acting, dance, singing and music. The fact that you can understand the performance without understanding the words is proved by reactions of foreign audience, who without knowing Polish, is able to understand the performance and gets enchanted by it.
RZECZPOSPOLITA, by Bronisław Wildstein, Warsaw, Poland, 1.09.2002
For METAMORPHOSES Mr Staniewski has adapted the only Latin work of fiction to survive in its entirety The Golden Ass also known as METAMORPHOSES. But rather then the story of adventures a man temporarily turned into an ass, the directors’ real interest is in the parallels he sees between two eras of transition: Apuleius’s time – when pagan deities like Bacchus where abandoned for the new Christianity – and the present (…) Attempting to incarnate ancient Greek theatre’s energy, the company employs music and movement to explore extremes of human emotion. The result is, what Mr. Staniewski calls a "theatrical essay" on the mysteries of transformation, memory and spiritual crisis.
THE NEW YORK TIMES, by Julia Whitworth, New York, USA, 21.01. 2001
What a treat to have this magical troupe from the experimental Staniewski Center for Theatre Practices in "Gardzienice", Poland, come to play for us at the Getty. How sad it was for only one performance.
The Center's "theatrical essay" Metamorphoses or the Golden Ass, according to Lucius Apuleius, is a unique revival of the spirit of the pre-Christian era interpreted by (...) a 10-membergroup of world-class clown-dancer-acrobat-musicians, who recreate an amazing evening of ancient Greek theatre. lnterwoven with synchronistic music and movement so surreal one could almost feel as though he were transported back to the 2nd century A.D., the presentation is accompanied by cast members adept at such things as playing the cello while sounding vocally exactly like the instrument. They whirl and sweat with mesmerizing paganesque abandonment, bopping each other energetically on the head like a Three Stooges skit, bending one another over into complicated, sometimes erotic positions, singing songs that sound straight out of Fellini's Satyricon.
After the presentation, the troupe returned to the stage to join for a lecture led by the Center's founder and director Włodzimierz Staniewski, who explained what it is they try to accomplish-or, more to the point, recreate. They ran slides showing fragments of writing on Greek vases and jars which have been translated into their songs, then showed us with their own bodies how the angular two -dimensional movement of the human figures also depicted were transformed into the dances of their presentation. To say it was fascinating to observe and uplifting to the human spirit are both major understatements.
Staniewski compares their art to a quote from Nietzsche: "Theatre is like wolves raging within us". If the wolves raging in the Staniewski Center's METAMORPHOSES were any more fierce, the audience would have been running for the exits like reporters when King Kong broke through his chains. Seeing this amazing work is something l won't soon forget. Maybe we can all join together to bring these exceptionally talented and creatively unstoppable artists back to the Getty another time soon.
LA ENTERTEIMENT TODAY, by Travis Michael Holder, Los Angeles, USA, 28.03.2003
If you were to step out of your time machine into the Athenian fifth-century theatre, what you would experience is not what you see at the Barbican Pit in the Gardzienice Centre for Theatre Practices production of Metamorphoses &. Elektra. While the scientists are working on the machinery, however, this evening is probably as close as you can get to the sensation - the music, the words, and the confrontation of a wholly foreign world - that a time machine journey would produce.
THEATER REVIEW, by Natalie Bennett, Metamorphoses & Elektra at the Barbican, London, UK, 02.02.2006
Direction, text adaptation, dramaturgy of music: Włodzimierz Staniewski
Language: Polish, English, Ancient Greek
Adaptation of ancient Greek music: Maciej Rychły
Lights: Paweł Kieszko
Premiere Cast: Tomasz Rodowicz, Mariusz Gołaj, Marcin Mrowca, Mariana Sadowska, Elżbieta Rojek, Joanna Holcgreber, Britta Forslund, Martin Essen-Miller, Kathrin Forsmo
In subsequent casts performed, among others: Dorota Porowska, Grzegorz Podbiegłowski, Anna-Helena McLean, Joanna Wichowska, Benedict Hitchins, Martin O'Bian, Julia Bui-Ngoc, Karolina Cicha, Justyna Jary, Barbara Songin, Aleksandra Gronowska, Alicja Żmigrodzka, Maniucha Bikont, Esztella Levko, Emilia Śniegoska, Alexia Kokkali, James Brennan, graduates of Academy for Theatre Practices "Gardzienice".
Present cast: Mariusz Gołaj, Marcin Mrowca, Joanna Holcgreber, Anna Dąbrowska, Agnieszka Mendel, graduates of Academy for Theatre Practices "Gardzienice".
The first presentations: 1997, Gardzienice