Niky Wolcz studied at the Theatre University in Bucharest and has worked as an actor, teacher and director throughout Europe. He joined the faculty of Columbia University in 1996; his productions there have included Twelfth Night, The Caucasian Chalk Circle (directed with Andrei Serban), Ionesco’s Bald Soprano and The Lesson, and Turandot (directed with Ursula Wolcz). European directing credits include Macbeth, Waiting for Godot and The Temptation of St. Anthony. In opera, he has directed productions of Don Giovanni, The Magic Flute, Il Campiello, La Bohème and Roberto Devereaux (with Andrei Serban). He made his Metropolitan Opera debut in December 2003 with his choreography for the company premiere of Benvenuto Cellini, and he choreographed Faust at the Met in spring 2005. He directs workshops on topics including Commedia dell’arte, biomechanics, allegorical theatre and Dada theatre. In 2005, together with his wife Ulla Wolcz and some of his former Columbia students, he founded an experimental theatre of his own: Kuden.
The “As If” of “Ur-Scenes”
The still vital traditional forms of Far Eastern theatre, e.g. in Japan or in India, are encoded in a highly precise alphabet which governs the use of both the body and the masks. My particular interest lies in investigating how these forms evolve when they relate to ambiguous, not precisely defined contexts—such as in European/American theatre.
Following his groundbreaking experience at the Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier, Jacques Copeau came to the conclusion that—regardless of the fact that Western theatre knows no reliable traditional rules—we theatre professionals must nevertheless believe in them if we are to survive. In search of these unspoken or elusive principles, we must again and again act like Miguel de Unamuno’s Don Manuel Bueno: despite all doubts and hopes of finally finding proof, we carry on and act as if; we believe in faith.
What has sunk into oblivion is that the primary and central symbol of theatre is the mask. It is unyielding, unique and impressive. It is a form of inescapable destiny. According to the ancients, with the mask each one carries his or her fundamental guilt. One could say that a primal scene lies at its origin. The law of drama is enshrined in the mask. With the mask, what goes beyond reality becomes fact.
My research project is based in equal parts on experimental practical foundations and on theoretical considerations. It is guided by Zeami’s dictum O Mo I Je (I remember), which I slightly amend for my purpose to: Were you there? No, but I remember. This hints towards the fact that learning to learn represents an integral part of my research activity. It starts with a comparative approach, which aims to bring together the various paths of creative training—Zeami’s monomane, Bharatanatyam’s anucarana and Aristotle’s imitatio techne. Based on equally assumed similarities and differences, the acting tools of these theatre idioms will be examined both theoretically and practically.
Together with an already established training repertoire, the prototypes which the masks represent will be taken up in order to find and to forge genuine re-creations for work on various text fragments.