Pavel Zuštiak and Palissimo

November 11, 2010

Pavel Zuštiak and Palissimo // Ellen Stewart Theatre // La MaMa,
NYC // November 11–21, 2010 // Reviewed by Siobhan Burke

Jaroslav Viňarský in
Bastard. Photo by Megan Green. Courtesy Palissimo.


It’s hard to find anything extraneous in Bastard, the first part of Pavel Zuštiak’s new trilogy “The Painted Bird.” Almost every artistic choice in this hour-long work feels essential, beginning with the two anonymous figures whose minimal actions set an eerie tone for what follows. A man walks into the space and lowers himself to the floor. He lies on his stomach, arms by his sides, ear to the ground, then stands up, walks to another part of the stage, repeats. A second person enters and does the same, simultaneously. Shadows under the faint light, accompanied by the low drone and occasional distant wailing of Christian Frederickson’s score (played live), they seem to belong to a ghostly realm, traces of events past or yet to come.

As they exit through the audience, a dwarf-like creature appears, cloaked in a bright red garment, his face masked. There is something both sad and endearing in his stiff, waddling gait. Though erect at first, charting linear pathways through the barren landscape, he gradually loses his balance until he collapses in an upstage corner, soon to shed his coat, cocoon-like, and emerge in nearly-nude human form.


—which is largely a solo for that human form, the exceptional dancer Jaroslav Viňarský—is based on a pivotal scene in the Jerzy Kosinski novel from which the trilogy takes its name. In it, to borrow Zuštiak’s description, “a wandering boy witness[es] the painting of a bird into brilliant colors causing it later to be violently killed by its own flock.” In Zuštiak’s loose interpretation, Viňarský—who could be the boy or the bird or both—is eventually assimilated into a flock, rather than destroyed by one, though perhaps we are meant to see the loss in assimilation, of one’s individuality or “truer” self. Viňarský evolves from a kind of stripped-down, preternatural humanoid into a boy in jeans and sneakers, eventually merging with a swarm of laypeople who march down from the audience. He does what they do—at times bringing back the earlier lying and standing ritual—distinguished only by the black paint he has smeared over his face and arms.


The dark, sometimes angry world of Bastard (lit evocatively by Joe Levasseur and Tomas Moravek) is one of charged and carefully chosen symbols. A sword falls from the ceiling, puncturing a small rectangular platform. The weapon turns out to be a handle that allows the platform to open, revealing a mirror.

A sense of loneliness and alienation persists. In one scene—after Viňarský has seared through a quicksilver, skittering phrase—the theater falls silent. For the first time he seems truly alone with himself. He leans against walls, folds himself into corners, as if figuring out how he fits in here. A light appears in a doorway, then in a stairwell leading to the balcony, then in another doorway, but always shuts off just as he approaches it. When two lights go on at the same time, we feel utterly there with him as he decides which way to go.


Part II of “The Painted Bird” premieres at Baryshnikov Arts Center in June 2011. Part III premieres at P.S. 122 in September. See