A lecture, introduction and artist talk accompanied Marta Górnicka’s production Magnificat: with Agata Łuksza, Julia Ostwald and Silke Bake on Thursday, 14th June at Sommerszene 2018
In a lecture and introduction Agata Łuksza and Julia Ostwald accompanied Marta Gornicka’s work by contributions which reflected on the appropriation of movement and the power of feminist choral theatre in contemporary Poland. A talk with the artists and Silke Bake after the performance provided a space for an augmentative discussion.
Extract of the lecture by Agata Łuksza:
Magnificat and This is the Chorus Speaking are performed by women only, thus the "choral theatre" becomes a tool for reclaiming the female voice which for centuries has been silenced in patriarchal societies as well as the Western theatre itself. Both also tackle the questions of female subjectivity, identity and community, both deconstruct and probe the expectations and representations of women in our culture.
Marta Górnicka not only infuses feminist elements into her production, but she also seeks a radical reform of theatre as a cultural institution from a feminist position. And yet her work – shamelessly political, radical in form and content, drawing at the same time on the thought of the second and third waves of feminism – somehow has managed to avoid ghettoization as "for feminists only".
Recognizing the oppressive power of language, Górnicka seizes it and blows it away by counterpointing words and mashing up heterogeneous quotes: the libretto for This Is the Chorus Speaking combines, among other items, a traditional 19th-century recipe, advertising slogans, excerpts from Sophocles’ Antigone and quotes from French poststructuralist Roland Barthes, while Magnificat brings together the texts of Euripides' The Bacchae and biblical The Song of Solomon, cooking tips from Nigella Lawson and phrases drawn from Catholic liturgy. However, it is not only what the Chorus says that is of importance but, more crucially, how the Chorus says it: the Chorus hisses, screams, gasps, whispers, sighs, sings operatic arias and pop standards, it repeats and loops phrases, delivers them quietly or cuts them off unexpectedly. Górnicka plays with language at the intersection of text, body and voice, where the musicality and materiality of language reveal themselves.
The Chorus of Women, constituted in-between such categories as voice and logos, individuality and collectivity, medium and message, authority and emancipation, becomes not so much a self-affirming subject but rather a subject in crisis. This polyphonic community of women is intrinsically ambivalent – in searching for a ‘we’, it treats the very notion of a ‘we’ with suspicion – and fully aware of its own ambivalence as it constantly struggles with what to say and how to say it.
Read the the article on Choruses of Women here:
The gender and theatre researcher Agata Łuksza from Warsaw is concerned with the effects of the choral works of Marta Górnicka. The theatre chorus that in Ancient Greece was reserved exclusively for men is often cast with women in her pieces. Łuksza analyses features including this recasting against the background of the current demonstrations about abortion in Poland.
Extract of the introduction by Julia Ostwald:
“Movement plays a big role in my productions and it is always linked to the voice. In a way the body is also a voice. I do not treat the body and voice separately and that shows in my pieces. On stage I call them the ‘body/voice’.” 1
It is this way in which language is set in motion by the voice-body that characterizes the director’s musical-choreographic choral theatre. By extending, exceeding and infiltrating the meaning of the words with the rhythmic emotion of voice and body – in short, the choreography – Górnicka accentuates the theatrical-performative side of the chorus. For this reason she works together on many of her productions including Magnificat with the choreographer Anna Godowska. Godowska creates changing geometric patterns that establish different relationships between individuals and groups. This tension between the unity and plurality of the chorus also determines the choreography of their movements, gestures and mimicry: while it is largely performed in unison and employs stereotyped, automated and repeated actions, at the same time the great individuality of the individual bodies and voices contradict any kind of uniformity.
One key arena for the choreography is the faces of the performers. The link Górnicka mentioned of voice/body is clearly evident here in stereotyped smiles, gaping mouths and facial features distorted into grimaces. And it is the open mouth in particular to which the director is referring when she says “For the choir, a significant means of expression is the silent scream. The moment when we try to say something, but our voice gets trapped in our throat, unable to escape.” The theatre researcher Lorenz Aggermann describes the open mouth as the fundamental embodiment of the pathos that is linked to tragedy, to what happens to us from outside that initially defies rational understanding. According to Aggermann, the open mouth creates a concrete and metaphorical “blank space” which is “too intense in perception and at the same time insufficiently significant to be represented or articulated.”
Between the devout, disembodied Mary and Euripides’ bloodthirsty-ecstatic Agave, between gentle smiles and archaic screams, Górnicka’s chorus members defy the unambiguous attribution of meaning. If on the one hand it is the very specific individual roughness (Roland Barthes) of the voices of these women that generates the polyphony of their songs of praise, lament and accusations, yet their voices, gestures and mimicry cannot be confused with individual expression. Rather they reflect or resonate the manifold qualities culture ascribes to femininity and throw these stereotypes back at us in the audience at full volume and with considerable physical force.
In cooperation with the dance studies department of Salzburg’s Paris Lodron University, the dance scientist and doctorate student Julia Ostwald gained deeper insights into the production, talked about the dance and cultural science implications and analysed the piece.
Julia Ostwald studied dance education in the Netherlands and dance studies in Berlin. Currently she is based at the dance studies department of Salzburg’s Paris Lodron University and at the Doctoral College „gender transcultural“. The topic of her research is the „voice in the dance of the modern and present age“.
1 Marta Górnicka interviewed by Dawid Kasprowicz and Peter Ortmann, Keine Bewegung ohne Stimme, www.trailer-ruhr.de/keine-bewegung-ohne-stimme, 2012.
2 Marta Górnicka quoted by Anna Legierska, https://culture.pl/en/artist/marta-gornicka, 2013.
3 Lorenz Aggermann, Der offene Mund. Über ein zentrales Phänomen des Pathischen, Berlin 2013, p.8.