Grotowski: Ecstasy and Initiation in Performance

Misopolinou, Anna. 2004. Grotowski: Ecstasy and Initiation in Performance. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

By examining the work of the theatre director Jerzy Grotowski, this thesis seeks to define how Grotowskian performance becomes an initiatory process through ecstasy. Despite several transitions in his work, from 1959 till after his death in 1999 to the present time, its aims and underlying principles have remained unalterable. In the Grotowskian tradition the performer builds up the psyche, in contrast to other acting methods that stress the importance of the role. What Grotowski sought to achieve was the self-development of the performer through transcultural performing and ritual techniques.

Therefore, an interdisciplinary approach was elaborated for the analysis of Grotowski‘s methods. After contextualising Grotowski in the post-War Polish society, his work is examined in relation to other disciplines. An overview of theories from anthropology and sociology indicates how Grotowski‘s work relates to traditional and archaic ritual. Thus, his work can be further elucidated by the theories of Theatre Anthropology, which examine performances that borrow artistic elements from ritual and non-Western theatre. Yet, Grotowski refused to adapt unedited ritualistic or theatrical fragments and gestures to his work. Viewed concomitantly with anthropological and psychological theories, his work appears to have developed a special affinity to ecstatic and healing ritual, the methods and principles of which were applied by his performers. To elucidate this special affinity, parallels are drawn between Grotowski‘s work and the Greek ecstatic ritual of Anastenaria. This thesis indicates the way the mental and physical perception of Grotowski‘s performer functions in an ecstatic or liminal context beyond bipolarisation. In other words, body and mind, impulses and gestures are harmonised. Taking into account studies on ancient Greek civilization, it further

draws parallels between Grotowski‘s performer and the ancient Greek performer, as both embraced a multilevelled/liminal approach to acting. The Greek actor participated simultaneously in the social institutions of the city-state, among them the tragedy, and in the religious practices, possibly the Eleusinian mysteries. By having considered post-war Polish history, as well as Grotowski‘s relation to the politics of his time, it becomes clear that Grotowski‘s concept of the performer was not just spiritual caprice, but was strongly influenced by the politics and religion of his country, as was the ancient Greek concept of the performer.
A final consideration of this work is to show that Grotowski‘s performer seeks to perceive yet transcend the duality of human nature.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Additional Information:

Supervisor: Professor Maria Shevtsova,


Grotowski, acting, theatre anthropology, ritual, Greek theatre, Poland, ecstacy

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Theatre and Performance (TAP)



Item ID:


Date Deposited:

19 Mar 2019 09:40

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 14:15


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