Performing Poland by Dariusz Kosiński is a fascinating synthesis of the history of Polish theatre from the tenth century to the present day. In a lavishly illustrated book, the author not only takes a look at theatrical texts and works, but also describes a culture of the performative that includes ritual, ceremony and public manifestation.
In five parallel stories the book celebrates a colourful and multi-faceted depiction of Polish national culture and identity: ‘The Theatre of Festivities’ describes folk, religious and contemporary public holidays that are inscribed into the lives of individuals and society; ‘A Theatre of Fundamental Questions’ reconstructs the special Polish tradition of ‘sacred theatre’; ‘National Theatre’ recounts the story of national identity, which in Poland is strongly influenced by theatre; the relationship between theatre, politics and power is discussed in ‘Political Theatre: Between ceremony and protest’; and the conclusion, ‘The Theatre of the Cultural Metropolis’, comprises urban scenes and the history of artistic theatre from the ‘salon culture’ of the nineteenth century to the present ‘theatre of crisis’.
The English translation, which follows those from Polish into German, Chinese and Russian, is based on texts newly revised and updated by the author. The English version is a co-production between Performance Research Books and Instytut Teatralny im. Zbigniewa Raszewskiego.
Professor Kosiński’s comprehensive book is a remarkable achievement that brings the multiple histories of Polish theatre alive with a very contemporary and innovative perspective. This vital text for non-Polish speakers ranges from street demonstrations to theatre events, giving insights into why performance in Poland has stood firmly centre stage, across the world and not just in Europe.
—Professor Paul Allain, University of Kent
(Author Dariusz Kosiński) illuminates the nuances and secrets of the theatrical nature of Poland with great skill. He does not fall into abstract language nor allow himself to be bound by dogmas. His book is a masterpiece about Polish political theatre. An intellectually pleasurable read.
This wonderful, richly illustrated book by the Polish theatre scholar Dariusz Koziński gives a broad, but by no means vague, view of theatre and society.
—Die Deutsche Bühne
Dariusz Kosiński is a Professor in the Performance Studies Department of the Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland. His early career focused on research into the theory and history of nineteenth-century acting, leading to two publications. His focus shifted to the tradition he called the Polish ‘theatre of transformation’, developed by the most important Polish artists from Adam Mickiewicz to Jerzy Grotowski. His main publications in the field are: Polski teatr przemiany (Polish Theatre of Transformation) (Wrocław, 2007) and Grotowski. Przewodnik (Grotowski. A guide) (Wrocław, 2009).
After publishing the original Polish version of Performing Poland (Teatra polskie. Historie) (Warsaw, 2010) he developed the research into social and political performances in a book that explores the ceremonies and manifestations that took place after the catastrophe involving the Polish presidential plane in Smolensk in 2010—Teatra polskie. Rok katastrofy, (Performing Poland. The year of the catastrophe) (Warsaw, 2013).
From 2010 to 2013 he was Research Director of the Grotowski Institute, Wrocław where he initiated and co-created the website grotowski.net and an online magazine, Performer. He has published two monographs of Grotowski’s early performances: Grotowski. Profanacje (Grotowski. Profanations) (Wrocław, 2015) and Farces-misteries (Wrocław, 2018).
From 2014 to 2018 he was Research Director of the Raszewski Theatre Institute in Warsaw, developing both artistic and research programmes (on Polish scenography and avant-garde theatre in East-Central Europe).
He has recently published a collection of essays on performance studies—Performatyka. W(y)prowadzenia) (Performatics. In(ex)troductions) (Kraków, 2016)—and on Stanisław Wyspiański—Uciec z Wesela (Escape from the Wedding) (Kraków, 2019).
Kosiński’s innovative approach significantly expands the scope of the subject matter explored in the book. The work encompasses almost all significant cultural performances, phenomena that the author terms ‘theatre’. This is something that has yet to be achieved in scholarship on the history of Polish theatre, at least not on the scale practiced by Kosiński. He presents five different histories: the history of holidays and celebrations, the theatre of transformation, national theatre, the theatre of power and the theatre of the cultural metropolis. He has written an impressive cultural history that offers a wide-ranging synthesis that brings together, for the first time, these various elements of the history of what is broadly conceived as theatre. He has regrouped the source material, giving it a fresh profile. In doing so, he demonstrates the role that diverse cultural performances have played in the life of Polish society. What in standard works of theatre history was located, at best, at the margins, turns out to have played an original and often leading role in Polish culture. This is what Kosiński places centre-stage in his study. Is this not the reason why we continue to write—and rewrite—history?
—Professor Leszek Kolankiewicz