Halka/Haiti 18°48’05″N 72°23’01″W
in collaboration with Joanna Malinowska
Panoramic video with sound, 82 minutes 29 seconds, dimensions variable
photos by: Barbara Kaja Kaniewska, Damas Porcena, Andrej Vasilenko
Inspired and provoked by Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, two artists decided to revisit his mad plan of bringing opera to the tropics. In order to reveal and undercut Fitzcarraldo’s colonial romanticism, they attempted to confront a set of particular historical and sociopolitical realities by staging a specific opera in a specific place.
The opera was Stanisław Moniuszko’s Halka, a tragic story of love destroyed by class differences, considered Poland’s “national opera” ever since its Warsaw premiere in 1858. The location was Cazale, a Haitian village inhabited by the descendants of Polish soldiers who were sent to Saint-Domingue by Napoleon in 1802 and 1803 to put down the slaves’ rebellion. The Poles—who had joined Bonaparte to fight for the independence of their own motherland—ended up uniting with the revolutionaries and were later granted honorary status of blacks in the newly established republic. Still today, people from Cazale identify with their historical motherland, call themselves “Le Poloné,” and bear creolized surnames of their Polish ancestors.
On February 7, 2015, a one-time-only performance of Halka was staged for a rapt audience of these Haitian Poloné, along with their friends and neighbors, on a winding dirt road complete with passing animals and motorbikes. The final shape of the performance resulted from a collaborative process between a Polish opera team and Haitian musicians and dancers.
The event was filmed in one take to be shown as a cinematic installation at the Venice Biennale.