Tadeusz Kantor was born in the small town of Weilopole and lived through both World wars. He began his artistic career training primarily as a visual artist which may give an explanation as to why his theatrical work was so visually stimulating. Founder of the company Cricot 2, Kantor worked with actors who were not professionally trained giving him the ability to work with individuals that moved almost like mannequins, giving his work a very robotic and mechanical edge.
Kantor often worked directly with his actors using autobiographical techniques to devise work, much like the methods of Pina Bausch. He was often creating work that echoed his experiences during World-War-Two in which he witnessed the death of his uncle and the rape of his mother. His work has often been described as an ‘obsessive engagement with historical trauma, memory, and forgetting’ (Gluhovic, 2013: 102).
‘Weilopole,Weilopole’ sharing its name with Kantors’ hometown, most of the Jewish community in this town were deported and killed in the Holocaust and their Synagogues burnt down. This piece was set in what he called ‘The Room of Imagination’ in which pieces of furniture were invaded by crosses and recruits from the war. What Kantor experienced as a child during the war really impacted his life and work; many of his pieces were reminiscent of these memories.
This clip shows a wedding ceremony between a man and woman who seem to be absent-minded to the vows they were promising to each other, making a nonsensical sound as the priest reads out their vows. This was an example of how Kantor saw life being controlled by an external force and that you are never fully in control of your own life, in many ways, showing how a higher force was controlling society at the time of the World War.
When the bride falls into the soldiers arms at the end Kantor made a visual metaphor for the death of innocence as the cross is carried out in front of them, while the bride is carried lifelessly off stage.
‘This is a play (…) full of complex metaphors. This is also a proposition (…) in which all kinds of updates and clashes of stereotypes, myths and cultural imaginations are important. The combination of precision of form and greatness of content creates emotion. Emotion is the basis of true theatre.’(“Wielopole, Wielopole – Tadeusz Kantor | Performance W Culture.Pl”)
The Dead Class:
Described as ‘a masterpiece of visual theatre’ (Allain and Harvie, n.d.) ‘The Dead Class’ is one of Tadeusz Kantors most famous pieces of work. During this performance he experimented with the staging of his own childhood memories creating and autobiographical performance. This piece was based loosely around the a short story called ‘The Old Age Pensioner’ (1934) in which and old man who is dying returns to his school and gradually becomes a school boy again before he is taken into the sky by the wind and dissapears.
‘The Dead Class’ is a haunting piece which echoes Kantors message of once having lived your childhood you can never go back, the only way you can travel back to that time is through memory. Sometimes the actors would have mannequins strapped to their backs which represented their younger childlike selves. These mannequins would sometimes replace them, propped up at their desks, suggesting that they were shadows that could never be forgotten. The use of mannequins was also another method that Kantor used; called bio-objects
‘It is a performance that – in contrast with his others, which are typically quite impersonal, quite ‘cold’ – says much about the artist, about his approach to art, to the world, to life. It is also a kind of homage or epitaph to a world that has already disappeared, to a social milieu that no longer exists, to an epoch that belongs to the past. An epitaph that is poignant and magnificent.’(“On Tadeusz Kantor’s The Dead Class – Culture Hub”)
Allain, Paul, and Jen Harvie. The Routledge Companion To Theatre And Performance. Print.
“On Tadeusz Kantor’s The Dead Class – Culture Hub”. Culturehub.co. N.p., 2017. Web. 18 May 2017.
“Wielopole, Wielopole – Tadeusz Kantor | Performance W Culture.Pl”. Culture.pl. N.p., 2017. Web. 18 May 2017.
Gluhovic, Milija (2013) Performing European Memories. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.
“The Dead Class – Tadeusz Kantor | Performance, Photography & Visual Arts W Culture.Pl”. Culture.pl. N.p., 2017. Web. 18 May 2017.