With their new work, Armine, Sister, Teatr ZAR, the resident company of Poland’s famous Grotowski Institute, evokes what happened in 1915 when the Turks killed more than a million Armenians in Anatolia — a genocide that Turkey still denies. Through singing, movement, and metaphors, Armine, Sister reflects on the world’s silence on the near extermination. The piece, which has been wildly successful in Europe, comes to the San Francisco International Art Festival (SFIAF) for its U.S. premiere. Seeing it with others is a powerful act, says Jaroslaw Fret, the artistic director of Teatr ZAR.
“In the same moment we are creating one small community and we all are witnessing something that does not belong to our experience, but to humankind,” said Fret. “We try to reduce our ignorance.”
Teatr ZAR started traveling to Georgia and Armenia in 1999. For years, they have been working on polyphonic singing, but for this piece, they have trained in Armenian monodic traditions. Along with new musical ideas, Armine, Sister differs from past work by adding people outside the company for the first time, such as Istanbul-born Aram Kerovpyan, master-singer of the Armenian Cathedral of Paris, along with other singers from Turkey as well as from Iran and Armenian.
Fret sees the incorporating of Armenian singing as a way to bear witness — to create a sort of monument to those who were killed as well as those who survived. The group, which made its Northern California debut in 2011 (also as part of the SFIAF) with Gospels of Childhood Triptych, is known for its powerful and evocative pieces, incorporating music and movement without text. Paige Rogers, co-founder of the Cutting Ball Theatre in the Tenderloin, was so enamored of their style that she brought the whole cast of the Cutting Ball’s production this season of Antigone to Poland for a two-week training workshop with movement and music coaches
Doing theater is all about powerfully affecting people, Fret thinks.
“It’s like a political stone thrown into the water and next you see the circles,” he said. “You see the waves in the audiences and in the other artists.”
Armine, Sister, Tuesday, May 26 and Thursday-Saturday, May 28-30, at the Herbst Pavilion, Fort Mason Center, 2 Marina Blvd., $30. Free buses will run from the Embarcadero and 24th Street BART. Schedule here.