negative legend [czarna legenda]

a set of ideas and opinions repeated in the form of rumours, occasionally appearing in print, usually of a defamatory nature (see, for example, Bronisław Wildstein’s roman à clef Mistrz [The Master]), according to which the work led by Grotowski was suspect, risky, worthless and, above all, harmful for his collaborators. This negative legend combines three parallel series of accusations: a lack of ethical infrastructure and significant professional knowledge resulting from a foundation in a particular tradition (Grotowski as an evil or self-proclaimed guru – such theories are presented primarily by Jacek Dobrowolski); exploitation of collaborators (great demands placed on others, forcing actors into making sacrifices while himself remaining in the safe position of director and ‘obstetrician’) and then abandoning them once they cease to be required; finally, collaboration with the communist authorities (or with other dangerous forces, for example Ahriman, as Jerzy Prokopiuk has claimed). This negative legend often refers to facts about the life of Grotowski or his collaborators that have been taken out of context, manipulated or falsified, particularly with regard to the premature deaths of Antoni Jahołkowski, Jacek Zmysłowski, Zbigniew Cynkutis and Ryszard Cieślak, or the suicide of Stanisław Scierski. In referring to the tragic fates of these artists without any intention of understanding them, the creators and propagators of the ‘negative legend’ unceremoniously exploit their fates in order to discount Grotowski’s work. This attitude, in many cases, is connected to their own problems and failures. The ‘negative legend’ should certainly, though, be clearly separated from a critical stance towards Grotowski’s approach, which draws attention to his errors and analyses his own failings. It is clearly evident that the power of the ‘negative legend’ is directly proportional to the force of the ‘positive legend’ which declares Grotowski to be an infallible genius while creating an image of him as a flawless master. It is supported by numerous silences and understatements which are still common in the biographies of Grotowski and his collaborators.


Jacek Dobrowolski: Szaman, uzdrowiciel, czarnoksiężnik, „Teatr 2007 nr 5, s. 36–41.

Jerzy Prokopiuk: Noc z Grotowskim, „Notatnik Teatralny” 1992 nr 4 (zima), s. 119–120.

Bronisław Wildstein: Mistrz, Warszawa 2004.