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Tadeusz Kantor
Photo: Anna Halczak
The Jewish Presence and Absence in the Theater of Tadeusz Kantor
An Illustrated Lecture by David A. Goldfarb

Wednesday, September 30, 2015
6:30 pm

Mid-Manhattan Library, Sixth Floor
455 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY

Tadeusz Kantor (1915-90), visual artist and theater director, played a key role in bringing the spirit and ideas of Poland's interwar avant-garde into the postwar era. His works for the theater began with underground stagings of the works of Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, known as "Witkacy," and progressed toward international productions that would sell out New York's La Mama, E.T.C. during his own lifetime.

It is not clear to what extent Kantor identified as Jewish, but his works bear an overwhelming Jewish presence--from Purim groggers and Chasidic melodies, to a rabbi saying kaddish and Jews with arm bands facing annihilation. Kantor said of his own background, "I think that there were some Jewish family origins, which for me are not essential. What is essential in my opinion, is that Jewish culture has a colossal meaning for Polish culture."

Tadeusz Kantor had a great affinity for Bruno Schulz. Schulzian figures such as the maid and obscure object of desire, Adela, appear in The Dead Class, and one may argue that Schulz' s chimeric telescope-car lends form to the tanks that march through Today is My Birthday. When Kantor borrows and adapts material from Schulz or his contemporaries such as Witkiewicz or Witold Gombrowicz, it seems to be part of a dialogue among artists, and yet Kantor's work comes across as profoundly personal and autobiographical, transformed by the experience of the Second World War and the Holocaust. Even as his theater entered the world stage, it retained the atmosphere of an underground cellar.

In Kantor's work, as in his own biography, the Jews are both there and not there. In the cheder of The Dead Class, mannequins stand in for the pupils, and yet the living bodies of the students are not far behind these empty shells.

David A. Goldfarb (PhD, CUNY, 1999) has served as Curator of Literature and Humanities at the Polish Cultural Institute New York, and has taught at Barnard College (Columbia University). He has published on Polish and Russian literature in a range of academic journals and anthologies, wrote the introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of "The Street of Crocodiles" and Other Stories by Bruno Schulz, and is currently writing about Bruno Schulz.

The Jewish Presence and Absence in the Theater of Tadeusz Kantor has been organized by the Mid-Manhattan Library and the Dorot Jewish Division of the New York Public Library in cooperation with the Polish Cultural Institute New York.

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