Teatr Zar

17th September 2011

‘An actor is a chord of sounds’

I first saw the work of Theatre Zar at The Barbican in September 2009 with their show, Gospels Of Childhood: The Triptych. I remember the three-part ritualistic show being a spiritual and sensual lamentation on birth, death, pleasure and pain, told through song, chanting and movement. The stirring harmonies and dissonance created powerful, mesmeric theatre. Back then, I was taking part in a two day intensive workshop at The Barbican investigating and extending notions of the Grotowskian actor drawing on the ideas from Grotowski’s key writings (notably Towards a Poor Theatre) as well as practices derived from his former collaborators and especially Gardzienice Theatre Association. We addressed the work of Theatre Zar, who were performing their Triptych show at the time. It was an extraordinary weekend of movement and vocal explorations, led by Paul Allain, Professor of Theatre and Performance and Head of Drama at the University of Kent, Canterbury.

So two years later I jumped at the rare opportunity to take a workshop and discover more about this celebrated Wroclaw company.

The work of Theatre Zar is an attempt to persuade that theatre is not only the Greek thea – seeing – but something that above all should be heard, and where from such ‘hearing’, deep images are born that would be impossible to create even by the means of the most modern theatre technology; where even the body of a singing actor shines and emanates with the energy of sound, of the singing that is within it. Zar’s founder and director, Jaroslaw Fret (who is also director of the Grotowksi Institute in Wroclaw), together with actress Kamila Klamut, carried out a three-year series of expeditions to Georgia, Armenia, Greece and Iran, conducting research into the oldest forms of religious music of Eastern Christianity, the essence of which are polyphonic songs of centuries-old traditions that have their roots in the beginning of our era and are probably the oldest forms of polyphony. These old songs are performed in a language which is no longer understood by Svans themselves and are the oldest form of polyphonic singing in Georgia and perhaps in the whole world.

We were shown how to practically prepare; loosening and stretching the spine, releasing tension and keeping the knees unlocked and slightly bent. We gently hummed which then led to the intriguing and strangely soothing chanting. We were taught to use our arms for guidance, moving them in sequence with the notes. Everything they learn is from observation and listening, nothing is written down. This progressed into using the body as a metronome marking out with our feet various notations. This allowed for the sound to move more freely through the body.

They have a passion for bringing the humanity back to the centre of theatre. Jaroslaw emphasized how everyone has a unique sound, that we are the water and through the vibrations of sound within us we make the waves; and from there to become like fish in the water. He referred to an actor being a chord of sounds. The variety, colour, mood and atmosphere within the sounds was utterly moving, emotive and beautiful. It was incredibly profound to be a part of it.

Jaroslaw Fret

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  1. Posted September 22, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Love that thought – the actor as a chord of sounds… beautiful implications for thinking about music

  2. Posted September 27, 2013 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    Great post.

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