This year’s edition of the Bonds of Culture Festival will be a kind of "monograph" – the encounter with the international and multicultural team of actors, musicians, singers, masters of vocal techniques, documentary filmmakers and scholars gathered around the project Armine, Sister of the ZAR Theatre. The axis of the musical group’s work on this project is the Armenian liturgical music, complemented by the traditions of Asia Minor, including Persian and Kurdish, the meeting point of musicians and singing masters from Iran, Armenia, Anatolia and Istanbul. The presence of Armine, Sister project on the Bonds of Culture Festival includes three presentation of the theatre peformance, five concerts and three film screenings, the lecture, the exhibition and the workshops. Thematically it refers to the tragic past of the Armenian people inhabiting Anatolia. Armine, Sister also deals with the issue of "Europe’s silence," and also a reflection on being a witness and inheritance of a testimony.
ARMINE, SISTER - PROJECT
Armine, Sister refers to the history of the Armenian people in Anatolia and their near-extermination at the beginning of the 20th century. The project enters into the history of Europe’s silence and is a refl¬ection on the act and inheritance of witnessing.
The project has been realised in both artistic and research fields, which include expeditions, studies of Armenian history and music tradition and work se-ssions led in the Grotowski Institute in Wroclaw. In the years 2010-2012 the company travelled to Istanbul and to Anatolian cities, Yerevan, and also Jeru-salem, and met with choir leaders, chorists, and musicians, some of whom take part in the work on the performance work. Among them is Istanbul-born Aram Kerovpyan, master-singer of the Armenian Cathedral of Paris, who has become the key collaborator in the research. The project focuses on the phe-nomenon of the Armenian monodic singing tradition and the way it has been preserved or not in diaspora which was largely formed after the First World War as a result of the Armenian Genocide in 1915.
Rather than focusing on the history of the events of 1915 or the history of the ensuing denial and taboo, Teatr ZAR centres on the history of ignorance that feeds on inaction and leads to inaction on the part of today’s Europeans. On the other hand, the history of ignorance also includes the social story of buil-ding an accord of silence around each act of violence. The events in Anatolia in the early 20th century launch us into a wider debate about lessons in “wit-nessing after witnessing”, which always turn into lessons in identity.
Armine, Sister is a multipronged project that includes creation of a performance and presenting it in Poland and abroad, work on publications, among others on a photographic album, organising photographic exhibitions, panel discussions and concerts of musicians. The project is the first manifestation of the new domain of the group’s work – WITNESS/ACTION. ZAR collaborates with the Gomitas Institute, the Armenian Embassy in Poland and Armenian associa-tions. In 2015 we will propose to celebrate the Year of Armenians in Poland and internationally.
A fundamental change has been taking place in the work of Teatr ZAR. Desiring to build on the ten-year experience of working on polyphonic singing, the group has decided to work with monodic traditions. ¬The new vocal training and techniques have required a two-year process of ‘embodiment’. ¬The emer-gant vocal material has been recomposed, harmonised and orchiestrated in order to build a contemporary musical drama.
¬The poetic sensitivity of the company’s previous work was retained while re-examining the narrative aspect of their theatre. For this new project they have constellated a new international group of performers including Iranian, Armenian and Turkish master singers from Iran, Armenia and Turkey. ¬The group kept the musical focus on Armenian liturgical traditions – from Istanbul’s monodic traditions through Ekmalian’s and Komitas’ notated versions of some traditional melodies – complementing them with Eastern singing traditions, including Persian and Kurdish. After a series of expeditions, a studio was esta-blished in Wrocław, which has worked year around.
Armine, Sister not only reveals the history of the Armenian extermination, but also the history of silence and the responsibility for it. ¬The work explores what it means to be a witness, and what witnessing means to us today. We cannot and do not want to speak on behalf of Armenians, but we wish our per-formance to break the chord of silence.
ARMINE, SISTER - PERFORMANCE
Armine, Sister is dedicated to Armenian history and culture and to the Armenian genocide.
Originally, the piece was intended as a séance in which it is not us calling the departed, but the spirits of the dead calling to have a trace of the past revealed, made visible, unearthed. The title, Armine, Sister, recalls the first two words of a letter with no clear address, which is doomed to drift around in time and space.
In light of the post-Auschwitz future that Theodor W. Adorno envisaged for poetry, art and education, we would like to ask: “Is there a chance that the 21st century will not become the century of ignorance?” In our new piece we ask about Europe, convinced that Europe is a question – one about history, identity, dignity. One of the main ideas of Armine, Sister is to tackle the issue of historic taboos and lies as opposed to a duty to witness.
When working on the performance, we often invoked Paul Celan’s Death Fugue, in which the dreams of the murderers and victims are dreamt in the same space. The space of the performance/séance of memory, like the space of a dream, is co-inhabited by thousands of beings. Armine, Sister touches on how painful the memory-carrying process can be. It is also an attempt to identify/name our place in relation to past generations, and to understand who we are – we, who always stand on the other side of memory like on the other side of the camera. We gaze at history through a peephole, seeing only a trace, a sha-dow, a thought.
For our new project, Armine, Sister, we decided to explore Anatolian monodic traditions, based on the group’s vocal competence built for over ten years, resulting from our experience performing polyphonic songs. The project includes musicians from various music traditions of Asia Minor, Anatolia and Iran, whom we met on our expeditions: the Van-born Kurdish singer Dengbej Kazo; Murat Iclinalca, the Armenian master singer at St Gregory the Illuminator Church in Istanbul; the Teheran-born sisters Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat; and Vahan Kerovpyan, a composer and drummer born to an Armenian family in Paris. We also collaborate with the singer Virginia Pattie Kerovpyan and the Istanbul-based singer and drummer Selda Ozturk. Our main collaborator on Armine, Sister is Aram Kerovpyan, the Istanbul-born master singer of the Armenian Cathedral in Paris.
Cultivating an ethos of ensemble work, Teatr ZAR develops productions through a long process of creating its own theatrical language, which draws on music from numerous traditions found in the East and West. The company is a multinational group that was formed during annual research expeditions to Georgia between 1999 and 2003. During these expeditions, they collected much musical material, including a core of centuries-old polyphonic songs that have their roots in the beginning of the human era and are probably the oldest forms of polyphony in the world. Zar is a name of funeral songs performed by the Svaneti tribe who inhabit the high regions of the Caucasus in north-west Georgia. Teatr ZAR attempts to demonstrate that theatre does not only relate to thea (Greek seeing) but it is something that above all should be heard.
Performances are just part of a long process of research, expeditions, personal explorations and transformation. ZAR brings back theatre as it was before art ruptured into different disciplines and styles. Its work addresses themes that, in the contemporary world, seem to be reserved only for the religious domain. It comes from conviction, influenced by Polish Romantic ideas, that art is not only complementary to religion but can fill the dynamic chasm between the everyday and transcendent life. Juliusz Osterwa, one of the greatest figures of 20th-century Polish theatre who tried to put these ideas into practice – and one whose ideas had a great impact on Jerzy Grotowski – once wrote: God created theatre for those for whom the church does not suffice.
Gospels of Childhood. The Triptych performance is a culmination of the company’s more than 10 years of work with ancient sacred songs. In 2009, the triptych premiered in London at the Barbican Centre and then was presented in Los Angeles, Wrocław, Florence, San Francisco, Chicago, Sibiu in Romania and in Legnica, Szczecin and Bydgoszcz in Poland. Separate parts of the opus were presented among others in Athens, Edinburgh, Madrid, Beograd, Budapest, Paris, Cairo, Seoul, New Delhi, Boston. The triptych was named Best New Music Theatre from the Los Angeles Times in 2009, and in October 2010 it was honoured with the Wrocław Theatre Price. The second part of the triptych, Caesarean Section. Essays on Suicide, was shown as part of the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh in August 2012 and was presented with a prestigious Total Theatre Award for Physical/Visual Theatre and a Herald Angel Award.
Currently the company is working on the new project “Armine, Sister”, dedicated to Armenian culture and realised through expeditions and studies of Ar-menian tradition and history.