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Powerful theatre at St James Cavalier

Acclaimed in around 75 countries, Adam Darius' and Kazimir Kolesnik's Death of a Scarecrow has been described by theatre critics as a mystical, powerful and riveting theatrical performance, recalling the "origins of theatre (and) reflecting thousands of years of subsequent tragedy and comedy".

Mr Darius, a ballet dancer turned mime, is renowned to have developed his own method of acting. His experience takes him a long way back when, as a young actor, he met and worked with theatre masters such as Yevgeny Vahktangov and Jean-Louis Barrault. He claims that the art of mime knows no boundaries.

"It's a universal language. I feel that our performance found so much acceptance in different cultures because of the expressiveness of the art form and because the themes are universal," he said.

Mr Darius and Mr Kolesnik, who were invited to Malta by the St James' Cavalier Centre for Creativity, are giving master classes in expressive theatre. Thomas Freundlich, the Finnish lighting and set designer of the performance, is also conducting a lighting techniques workshop.

Their performance, which is to take place at the weekend, takes its title from the repertoire's final item and embraces a spectrum of themes that has evolved since the performance was first conceived some 38 years ago.

Mr Darius comes across as a widely-travelled man, full of interesting experiences and energy.

He describes the duo's style as a combination of mime and acting, a kind of "physical theatre in which the actor's body becomes the most important instrument of expression". "We do not speak on stage but we are enveloped by a soundtrack of voices, sound effects, rock music."

Originally a solo performance, Death of a Scarecrow was turned into a duo when Mr Darius met Mr Kolesnik about 25 years ago. "He had been one of my many students but immediately stood out to such a great degree that I changed the solo performance to encompass his abilities," Mr Darius said.

The duo has not stopped touring with evolving versions of Death of a Scarecrow ever since, conducting workshops in different parts of the world and winning prestigious awards. Only recently have the actors been awarded Jordan's Noor Al Hussein Foundation Award for their contribution to Jordanian culture. The award follows numerous others that have been awarded to Mr Darius and Mr Kolesnik in different parts of the world, mostly for their effort in transmitting their theatrical knowledge in different parts of the world.

"Teaching and transmitting what we know to others is a consecration of what we do. I ask: why do I live this way? I've lived this way for such a long time. But I couldn't live in any other way because it fulfils me most when I see people acquiring knowledge and experience," Mr Darius says.

He described the repertoire of Death of a Scarecrow as ranging from the "startlingly dramatic to the outrageously comic. We feel that the present 85-minute performance is the best combination ever. Some instances have become very popular around the world and we have retained them. Others have been scrapped and replaced. That is why it's a living piece, because it has been evolved".

This being their second trip to Malta in 19 years, Mr Darius and Mr Kolesnik hope that the performance will be an experience for the older generation that has already seen their work and to the young people who will see them on stage for the first time.

Highly stylised make-up plays a very important role in Death of a Scarecrow. "If you go on stage with a naked face you might just as well not have a costume; simply walk naked on stage. I believe that if it's a performance with costumes and all kinds of stage accessories, the stage should be made up as well."

Mr Darius' mask is a spectacularly painted clown's face that takes an hour-and-a-half to paint. "A clown is a symbol of every human being - he is lively and full of merriment on the outside but he bleeds and cries inside. It's the same in life... a person's face usually conceals what that person is really feeling. In this case, the clown's mask fits all the parts I perform."

In the last piece, Mr Kolesnik acts out a diabolical force of evil that inflicts suffering on the scarecrow - the eternal symbol of suffering humankind - played by Mr Darius. "This is perhaps the most dramatic piece of all the repertoire," he said.

But is there redemption in the end? "I hope so. I'm by nature positive and I wouldn't be here talking to you if I were pessimistic. I would have given up all this a long time ago. I never give up. Never. And you can only feel this way if you see light at the end of the tunnel."

However, Mr Darius insisted, the audience always sees what it wants to see. "The actor can think one way and the audience can have a thousand and one interpretations. Nobody is right or wrong. That is the beauty of it all."

Mr Darius strongly believes that theatre should be provocative. "It shouldn't just divert. Theatre should agitate you and make you think. If it is good theatre it will shake you... it will make you think about what you would otherwise not think about."

Does Death of a Scarecrow contain political nuances? Mr Darius recalled an instance when he was hosted on Irish television. "I was asked: How do you protest? My reply was: My performance is my protest. Whatever I have to say about tyranny, oppression, brainwashing, beauty and poetry, I say in the performance."

One piece in the repertoire called Pierrot in Exile, for example, has been described as a "highly poetic" scene about asylum seekers and has provoked different reactions in different audiences in the world. "The scenes relate to situations that exist in all parts of the world and are not significant to just one geographic region." Describing the work of his younger colleague, Mr Darius said some of Mr Kolesnik's pieces were so expressive that people at times averted their look because they were too frightened to look at him.

"This is when acting is of such intensity and sincerity that it goes beyond masquerade. This is a high moment of expressiveness and this is what we work hard to achieve."

Mr Darius said each performance is a re-creation, never an imitation of something they have already done. "I never press a button to come up with something new. Each performance involves a lot of work. The encounter with the audience is a very important moment and it needs a great deal of preparation."

The duo's physical preparation is a process that does not stop. "I do ballet sessions five to six times a week. This is how I maintain my muscles and my flexibility, my speed and liveliness.

"Emotionally, I absorb and nourish myself from the different people I encounter. It involves fearing and laughing and empathising with all living creatures and humans." Mr Darius said his travels have helped him to constantly renew his spirit.

The duo will perform Death of a Scarecrow at St James Cavalier theatre on Saturday and Sunday, each play starting at 8.30 p.m. Tickets costing Lm5 may be purchased from the Cavalier booking office.

Supported by the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts, Le Meridien Phoenicia and Lufthansa German Airlines, Death of a Scarecrow is being held within the framework of the Summer Cultural Activities series 2004 that is sponsored by HSBC.

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