Poland: The Chorus of Women

The Chorus of Women was spearheaded by director Marta Górnicka, a graduate of Warsaw’s Fryderyk Chopin School  of Music and Theatre Academy.

Three years ago Górnicka pitched the idea of The Chorus of Women to the Zbigniew Raszewski Theatre Institute and it was instantly commissioned by the director and given financial support.

Her intention was to create something that existed outside of established norms for choral music. For her, the chorus drew on a lost historical dramatic technique; it wasn’t about beauty or physical ability but inclusivity, and reintegrating the presence of a choral narrative that had once been so prominent in golden-age theatre.

‘The idea was to show the voice of a few generations, not only the voice of young girls or only the voice of adult women’

‘The idea was to show the voice of a few generations, not only the voice of young girls or only the voice of adult women,’ says the group’s producer, Anna Galas.

In keeping with Galas’ aim to create ‘one voice’, the 26-strong ensemble includes women as young as 17 just finishing their studies, to women at the very beginning of their careers, to much older women – the eldest member is aged  70.

The group was assembled in 2009 when Górnicka, the creative force behind the project, held open auditions in a deliberate move to encourage women of all shapes, sizes and ages to put themselves forward for the show, regardless of their acting or musical experience.

The initial plan was to devise a production that would be shown as a work in progress at the institute, but when the project came to an end, Górnicka and Galas realised they had created a finished product. This is the Chorus speaking: Only 6 to 8 hours, Only 6 to 8 hours premiered in June 2010 and was voted as Teatr magazine’s Best Alternative and Musical Theatre Performance in Poland in the 2009-10 season.

Experimental but moving, it features a combination of shouting, chanting, singing and whispering, using words from the works of Simone de Beauvoir, pop music, fairytales, films, operas and even cake recipes. The result is a constructive disagreement onstage that challenges imposed visions of femininity as the chorus tries to regain, and create, women’s voices in culture.

The project may appear to have a feminist agenda, but Galas is reticent to pigeonhole the work, instead taking a broad-stroke approach on how its themes fits into gender commentary on Poland. Equally vague are her comments on the significance of an all-women ensemble, aged 17-70, touring an intelligent female-centred piece (rather than the usual run-of the-mill comedy), that is led by a female crew.

For Galas, This is the Chorus speaking is a portrait of Polish society in progress. The ensemble’s second project, Magnificat, will explore the context of women and Catholicism. She explains that whilst Poland is thought of as being a very Catholic country, this is changing; today there is something akin to a ‘European crisis in general of the church’.

In the similarly experimental Magnificat, the chorus mixes quotes from the Bible, food recipes, texts by Adam Mickiewicz, Austrian playwright Elfriede Jelinek, along with fragments of Euripides’ The Bacchae, computer sounds and newspaper extracts. The chorus is confronted with the Virgin Mary, the symbol of femininity in the Catholic Church, and the ideological and aesthetic power held within this iconography.

The Chorus of Women was awarded a grant as part of the 2011 cultural programme of Poland’s presidency of the EU, and this, combined with support from Zbig-niew Raszewski Theatre Institute, enabled Galas to take their first show to Berlin, Kiev and Tokyo, after which more opportunities to tour and perform followed. In October 2011, The Chorus of Women performed at the Belfast Festival at Queen’s, Ireland, and in May 2012, Dresden.