Poland's Teatr ZAR brings its singular songs and theater to the SF International Arts Festival
The second piece, Caesarean Section: Essays on Suicide, is a physically and emotionally powerful work whose raw, wild energy animates prodigious feats of dance amid another intoxicating arrangement of music, now accompanied by live instrumentation. It amounts to an emotionally wide-ranging exploration of freedom and the human condition on the brink of self-annihilation.
Finally, the third piece, Anhelli: The Calling (which was still being developed when I saw it in 2009) is inspired in part by Polish Romantic poet Juliusz Slowacki and his journey from Naples to the Holy Land, in which the ensemble made use of a large white sheet in its evocation of an expanse as forbidding as it was liberating.
These pieces, which can be seen on separate nights or all in one go between two venues on Potrero Hill (the perfectly suited St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church hosting parts one and three, and the nearby Potrero Hill Neighborhood House hosting the more volatile and frenetic Caesarean Section), stir up a range of feeling with their arresting amalgam of liturgical song (with a smattering of modern airs from the likes of Erik Satie) and the power and precision of ZAR's accomplished ensemble. Use of natural light, live instrumental accompaniment, and simple stage properties (simple but strikingly arranged, as in a glowing shaft of broken glass that cuts across the floor in Caesarian Section) meanwhile train a low-tech, premodern set of theatrical elements toward addressing the fundamental facts of life and death. The deep relationship between theater and religion rarely feels this palpable.
But it starts with the music, which as Fret told me in Poland in 2009, gives the path to all that follows, both as a direction and foundation. "Every single action [in Gospels of Childhood] was put on a solid footing because the music was very solid; music is so precise, a structure of breathing. "
That structure, says Fret, is a tool applied to life, just as theater is a tool. "In the extraordinary vibratory qualities of the zar, we saw a column of breathing. It is 2,000 years old. Even the Svaneti people don't understand it — in that there is no [semantic] meaning — but they have not forgot the ritual function of it, related to the funeral ceremony, to saying farewell, to fulfilling that moment when the coffin is lowered into the earth, sending the soul somewhere. For a moment a society breathes together. This is the most important and central function of singing, to breathe together. The main message of life and of art is a pattern of breathing. We can use emotion to direct our breathing. We can also use some tools, like song, to harmonize, not only in terms of technique but also with what's inside. The performance is a huge 'partitura,' or score, of breathing."
TEATR ZAR: THE GOSPELS OF CHILDHOOD TRIPTYCH
Part of the SF International Arts Festival
Thurs/19–Sat/21 and Mon/23–May 25;
7 p.m.(part one); 8:15 p.m. (part two); and 9:30 p.m. (part three)
$12–$25 ($48 for all three parts)
St. Gregory of Nyssa Church (parts one and three)
500 De Haro, SF
Potrero Hill Neighborhood House
953 De Haro, SF