The Painted Bird Trilogy is a trio of interdisciplinary live performance works by Pavel Zuštiak | Palissimo Company, featuring dance, live music, video, and visual projection, presented in New York City by La MaMa (November 2010), Baryshnikov Arts Center (June 2011) and Performance Space 122 at Synod Hall, NYC (May 2012).
Here, Pavel answers audience questions submitted following the performances of Part III, Strange Cargo.
Audience Member: What is the relationship of the work to the original book?
PZ: This is the first time I turned to a book as an inspiration for my work. Together with the cast, musicians and designers we turned to it as a source abstracting the themes of displacement, migration, transformation and “outsidership” into a trilogy of live performance works. It was my goal to create the work that would through abstraction speak to vast audiences beyond cultural or historical differences. I feel that history is repeating itself and issues tackled in The Painted Bird book are as relevant today as they were decades ago. But I was not planning on adapting the book’s narrative for stage in a literal manner.
Audience Member:How does Part 3 fit into the rest of the trilogy? I have not seen the other parts. This is the first I’ve seen by this artist.
PZ: I intended for each part to be able to stand on its own so it’s not like you won’t get one part without seeing the others. But when they are put together into a cycle it is my hope that it will add my to more than just a sum of the parts.
The trilogy format came out of my desire for the audiences to experience the displacement and migration, themes in the book, in the format and their theatre experience as well as in the content. Each of the parts is of a different theatrical framing. Part I (Bastard) is a proscenium theatre production, Part II (Amidst) is performed in a black box theatre without seating, with audiences traveling through the space on their own, surrounded by performers, musicians, thick haze and multiple video projections. Part III (Strange Cargo) is performed between rows of audiences facing each other tennis court style. The complete trilogy will eventually have audiences migrating from venue to venue on a five-hour journey. We will premiere the full cycle at the Wexner Center for the Arts on September 12-16.
See a video teaser for the entire trilogy, being presented at the Wexner Center in September 2012
Audience Member:Basically, about the consideration & creation of the music with the movement. Were they created together?
How was this piece devised? Was music added after choreo or in tandem?
PZ: I always work in a team. The music for Strange Cargo was developed through initial discussions about the themes and ideas how these could be approached sonically. Then followed a lengthy developmental process in the studio with the cast and eventually fine tuning of pacing and timing during a weeklong tech at Synod Hall. Both choreography and music evolved in tandem which makes it more organic and compact.
Audience Member:How long was the rehearsal process and was there at a lot of improvisation?
PZ: First two development periods we spent a lot of time with the cast and musicians improvising, I was giving them different scenarios and tasks that related to the ideas I was looking at as a starting point focusing on developing a movement language and underlying movement principles that would be developed further later. It is always a challenge to decide what to set and what to keep open. And then what parameters will be set and what kept open? Even when the movement sequence is set I might leave the timing open. I am interested in creating scenes that feel as if they were happening for the first time in front of the audience.
Many people ask about what is improvised and what is set and I feel like I get on defense a little. There is this assumption that improvisation is a shortcut and you can do whatever you want when improvising.
Many people ask about what is improvised and what is set and I feel like I get on defense a little. There is this assumption that improvisation is a shortcut and you can do whatever you want when improvising. The structure and material are specific and sometime you have actually less options when improvising. It really is challenging and requires a mature performer to sustain the structure and material within an open framework. What is the function of the scene, what physical/performative state do we want to achieve, what is the physicality of it, what is the physical principal driving the material? – all this is very specific and eventually set.
Audience Member:What is the cargo? Who are these people?
PZ: In Bastard (Part 1) the soloist Jaro Vinarky is the outsider, towards the work’s end engulfed by a large group of people. In Amidst (Part 2) it is both – three performers and audiences themselves that are in the shoes of an outsider. When I was coming up with the title for the third part word cargo stirs an association of a shipment, transport across a border (possibly), something that is not in its own element, and has this pragmatic notion. To me, in Strange Cargo, each of the five performers is somehow “the other.” There is this assumption that their otherness would bring them closer and create a sense of community. Tragically, even when together they seem to be alone. Alone together. There is this void in each of them that cannot be filled.
The Painted Bird is about finding one’s place in a community, in the world. It suggests that each of us is an outsider and insider at the same time. It only depends on who and how defines those borders.
Audience Member:Why the voiceover in the end?
PZ: Another layer to Strange Cargo was springing from the Kosinski’s personal life. After he wrote The Painted Bird, book that became very controversial, he was hated by many Poles and accused of painting Poland in terrible light. He lived in NYC where some Poles even tried to kill him. Just like the bird scene in the book. Stricken by his own. His mother was attacked in Poland as a result of the hatred stirred by responses to the book. Kosinski even said that he was not sure he would write the book had he known how the effect it will have on him and those closest to him. Art imitating life and life imitating art. And that’s how the quote from “Synecdoche, New York” made into the work. The film also touches on the idea of a play within the play and the line between art and life, audience and stage being blurred. The quote is from the funeral scene in the movie and it is played just before Kosinski’s suicide note “I am going to put myself to sleep now for a bit longer than usual. Call it Eternity.” is projected onstage.
Audience Member:Were you thinking about class, race, gender inequality? Were you more concerned with political metaphor or individual relationships? Were you thinking about rape, Holocaust, Occupy Wall Street? Were you addressing a specific political history? Or the general subtext of history as felt/stored within the body?
PZ: Each of the parts, and especially Strange Cargo, references atrocity. I attempted to abstract these so that it goes beyond a specific historical moment, which in the book is the second world war. One of the video projections in the work is a black and white video of an upheaval. You see a mass of bodies in distress, you get an idea but it is not about specific demographic or specific historical moment. These acts of atrocity are happening in the world as we speak – history repeats itself.
Thanks for your response, Pavel!