Saturday 15 February 2020

Theatre Review: Rój. Sekretne życie społeczne (Teatr CHOREA)

Named for the Ancient Greek circular dance accompanied by singing, the Łódź-based CHOREA theatre company mobilises the bodies of its performers on stage in totally distinctive, explosive, unpredictable ways, creating dynamic shows that establish a deep connection with the audience as they awaken us freshly to the human body's expressive capabilities. 

Still, to call the company a "physical theatre" troupe seems reductive: rather, an important aspect of the group's work lies in its synthesis of classical models - the unity of singing, words and movement - with contemporary concerns and techniques derived from the experimental methods of Grotowski and beyond. As the company's Artistic Director, Tomasz Rodowicz, explains: "chorea is a kind of a model, which we try to partly recreate and, in a way, overcome, thus building a new chorea."

I first discovered the company thanks to last year's exciting Retroperspektywy Festival which presented the group's work alongside that of a wide range of international artists. A highlight of the Festival was Po Ptakach (After the Birds), a collaboration with the Welsh company Earthfall, which took off from Aristophanes's comedy to develop its own idiosyncratic take on community-building.

The influence of that show can be felt in the more recent piece Rój. Sekretne życie społeczne ("The Hive: Secret Social Life") which was presented yesterday as a festive Valentine's Day treat at the company's HQ of Art_Inkubator. The show uses movement, music, song and projections to explore the interactions of a species often employed by theorists and philosophers as a model for human society - and it comes with an urgent environmental message to boot. In short, having brought us "The Birds", CHOREA now brings us "The Bees."

Directed by Janusz Adam Biedrzycki from Wiktor Moraczewski's script, the show is in keeping with CHOREA's ethos of inclusivity in its appeal to kids and adults equally and isn't in any way dumbed down. Paweł Odorowicz's music, Jolanta Królicka's set, Karolina Burakowska's costumes, Tomasz Krukowski's lighting, Marcin Dobijański's sound design and Paweł Klepacz's projections synthesise to take us inside a beekeeper's dream and, from there, into a bees' nest. Here we're introduced first to the industrious workers, then to three sedentary drones philosophising in their "congregation zone" and, finally, to the Queen herself, sumptuously played by Dorota Porowska. 

With a startling array of movements and sounds, and then a sultry torch song, the brilliant Porowska stands out, but Rój is ultimately an ensemble enterprise in which the whole company - Joanna Chmielecka, Anna Chojnacka, Barbara Cieślewicz, Ewa Otomańska, Aleksandra Szałek, Aleksandra Ziomek, Antoni Kowarski, Odorowicz and Rodowicz - participates in rendering the bees' sophisticated "dance" language through the sophisticated language of Magdalena Paszkiewicz's choreography.

The notion of collective participation is, of course, a theme in itself, one that's apparent from the show's prologue in which Moraczewski appears with a large cardboard sheet containing an "ecological manifesto" for the assembled kids in the audience to sign - creating their own "swarm" as they do so. These opening moments connect with an ending which firmly confronts human responsibility for bees' decline due to industrial agriculture and climate change.

Some may find such preachiness problematic but it provides the show with an urgent edge - a necessary sting in the tale - and prevents the proceedings from becoming too cosy (as does an earlier scene of brutal "worker policing"). Seriousness of intent doesn't diminish the show's charm, and the didacticism dissolves in a gleeful coda celebrating nature's joys. Lyrical, playful, poignant and political, this pleasing show deserves to be widely seen.

Photos: HaWa

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