A Białystok company with a vision

"The actors of the Doomsday Company are determined to promote alternative theatre in Białystok. It turns out that their vision has sense and that they have talent. Tomorrow they will perform their most famous play, "Baldanders" (in the photograph), in Warsaw's National Theatre," writes Monika Żmijewska in "Gazeta Wyborcza - Białystok".

Just two years ago only people in Białystok were talking about them. A group of graduates of the Theatrical Academy in Białystok organised a festival, "Białysztuk". It included a reading of a modern Polish play - something which had never been done in Białystok before. The festival has had successive editions and the actors and directors of the company founded the SPA [Stowarzyszenie Promocji Artystycznej - Artistic Promotion Society] in order to simplify the procedure of applying for money from various institutions. They do not have their own seat so they rehearse their shows in the rooms of friendly institutions and then perform them in Poland and abroad. They break up into smaller groups and prepare intimate performances which are easy to transport. Thanks to this, they are able to prepare more productions, the shows are cheaper to produce and theatres more eagerly invite them within the framework of their OFF stages. So the Białystok SPA artists can be seen under the banner of the Doomsday Company or the DZRT Action or under their own names. The last two months have seen a whole string of successes. "Baldanders" by the two Marcins, Bikowski and Bartnikowski, an original show about a demon locked in a cage and his supervisor, produced within the hospitable walls of the Białystok Puppet Theatre, enchanted the jurors of the 20th "Suitcase" International Festival in Łomża and of the 18th "Without a name" International Theatrical Festival in Cieszyn (at the former, the dark horse was Petr Zelenka, who brought his play "Teremin" from Prague, but "Baldanders" won anyway). The same show received the three main awards in the pan-Polish competition for the presentation of Polish contemporary art under the auspices of the Minister for Culture (for the show, the acting and the music).

The starting point here is the history of the demon Baldanders, described by Borges in "The book of imaginary beings" - a demon of change, who sits imprisoned in a cage guarded by his supervisor. The greatest impression is made by the puppetry skills of the artists. Bikowski blends into one with his puppets and is able to play a hideous demon, an elderly dancer from a variety show and a worm peeping out of a pocket who has to comment on the dialogue between the other two.

Admiration is aroused not only by the speed with which the actor transforms himself into his puppet but also by the design effect of this parade. In the intention of the artists, the show was to talk about the schizophrenic splitting in two of a human being. And so it happens - also in the artistic dimension. The puppets and mannequins recall rather monsters than human figures. There are some excellent scenes here, for example Bikowski's efforts to show "the passage of time without the passage of time", or the song parodying Tom Waits sung by a mannequin as if transported directly from 16th-century Venice.

In September the actors performed "Baldanders" at the Festival of Eastern European Theatres in Kosice (Slovakia) and on Sunday will be performing at the National Theatre - for the first time in Warsaw. In October they will be at the Pan-Polish Festival of Puppet Theatres in Opole, at the International Puppet Theatre Meetings in Toruń and finally at the "Contexts" festival in Poznań. The show has been invited to the festivals in Kaunus and in Moscow. The actors have also been invited to create a French version in the seat of the Velo Theatre in Angers in France.

Bikowski and Bartnikowski, together with their colleagues from the association (including Paweł Chomczyk and Dagmara Sowa), within the framework of the Doomsday Company, appeared in June at the Malta International Theatre Festival in Poznań. With the show "Salome", after Oscar Wilde, the Company won the "New Situations" competition and earned 30,000 PLN. Their very presence at the festival was already an honour - the organisers only invited eight theatres out of the hundred which had applied and which had made their debut in recent years. As if there were not enough awards, with "Biting" they won the Grand Prix of the 8th "Events" International Festival of Theatrical and Artistic Activities in Tczew.

The artists from Białystok are staying in their native city and want to promote it and show that this is a questing theatre. However, the new premiere by the SPA actors - "Biting" - was seen by Warsaw audiences before Białystok. The group performed in the capital because no place for the performance could be found in Białystok at the time but the Roma Theatre wanted to show it in Warsaw.


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