2 września 2018

To be like Marie

fot. J. Popczyk / portrait by Gerard
It seems a year passed since I was offered to portray Marie Walewska on a big Czech event in Slavkov (Austerlitz). At first I thought it was just a courtesy talk but in spring we were already agreed. It was just about to sew dressed and prepare for the role.
 

fot. J. Popczyk
The problem with Marie Walewska is that there is not much source to get her known better: her way of being, her personality and what made her so special among all other women of the period. What was she like? Was she transparent being, a passive marionette in hands of polish noblemen willing to bring back Poland? Or rather a strong woman trying to find herself a place in a surprisingly new circumstances that came into her life? Shaded with a glory of her imperial lover, yet she dealt with it quite good, even after his departure to Saint Helena. Well, even after exile to Elba, she was able to live her own life, being the only woman brave enough to visit Napoleon there, taking up all risks and dangers of long journey.

fot. J. Popczyk
This is what I wanted to show while portraying Walewska. The reverse of a well known story about creating Great Duchy of Warsaw seemed to be more appealing to modern spectators and, as well, to me. Removing old layers of pseudo-patriotic paint let me discover more truth about the character; to reveal who was the girl posing Gerard in a heavy, black velvet gown, back in 1810. Her-story against history.

fot. J. Popczyk
It is a moment I should pay respect to the people who portray historic characters frequently, as it (except obvious pleasure and splendor) is a very hard work! Over more than 15 hours I was to be not myself anymore, and was obliged to be available all the time. (Even the photos you can see here were taken in an extra short time, like 15 minutes before I was called to the palace).
I also felt lack of special theatrical training and supervision. As because in Poland nobody even heard of such history promotion as character portrayal, I was completely on my own. I created, researched and prepared the role, while testing everything for the first time in my country ever. These were months of hard work.

Obviously the fact I have been doing historic reenactment for few years and I know past ways of animating my body and dress, I know past dances and details of life from 200 years ago was quite helpful in preparing to the role.

fot. J. Popczyk

speachy speech ;) fot. J. Popczyk
The Walewska day started early morning with court breakfast and then a visit to headquaters tent, where Walewska with her international court raised glasses.
The official part started when Marie with her old husband, son and his nanny was brought by the carriage escorted by dragoon regiment right in front of the palace to greet all guests who came to see reenactment and enjoy the day in palace and gardens. I thought it would be the most stressfull part as I was asked to make a speech (in polish but still...) in front of the public. I considered it stressfull while in fact it wasn`t at all! I would rather say now, it was the most pleasant moment of a day. The speech I prepared was a common in polish szlachta (lesser noblemen) culture greeting speech - so it was suitable both for occasion and period. The most heartwarming moment was when, after I finished, my friends soldiers shouted vivat.

fot. Salik Slama

fot. Salik Slama
The next part was moravian vine ceremony, hosted by Walewska of course. With her old husband and friends she was transported by a carriage to the front part of the castle and was asked to raise toasts again. Great fun! I must have been very careful with the vine and other drinks to not to make drunk Walewska portrayal xD

fot. J. Popczyk

fot. J. Popczyk
In the meantime the court lunch was prepared with Marie in the most honourable place. This part of a day was closed with a picnic and Mozart concert. For me it was a moment to relax and take a pleasant horseride and few photos you can see here.

portrait by Gerard / fot. J. Popczyk
Until this moment I was wearing the Walewska signature look - a velvet gown I made according to a portrait by Gerard. To improve impression I alsko copied her jewellery, silk slippers and hairstyle. I played with makeup and arrangement of my face for photos to look more like her.
I had to choose one of both: to sew many gowns for every occasion that was planned during a day but in any of them look exactly like Marie (unfortunately her clothes do not exist anymore and there is not too many portraits to copy as well) or to sew her most recognisable gown and wear it the whole day. I choose the second possibility to be seen as Walewska by visitors. 

fot. Salik Slama

fot. Johana z Bohnické věže
But I changed the gown to white one (the one you know from Walewska photoshoot in Royal Castle in Warsaw) to wear it at the court dinner and later, during a ball. While the dinner was about to start, I was asked to make another speech, this time in english. Surprised a little but I managed to improvise a short talk and this way learnt that historic character portrayal is also about improvising things.

fot. Johana z Bohnické věže

fot. Johana z Bohnické věže
During the ball I felt tired, and it was not only over a dozen hours in the role, but mostly weeks of intense preparation (if we look at amount of time I am wasting to attend my modern work, there was not much left for Walewska - while professionals have all day and night to prepare. That`s why it was so intense for me). Anyway, I found a strength to lead polonaise dance in the first couple and to get involved in few more dances as well before I lost vitality. The whole night battle I spent lying on museum`s chairs and only fireworks in gardens brought me back to the world of living.


Being Walewska was an amazing experience for me! And quite unusual, if we know that I was the first person from Poland to portray Walewska on a huge event abroad. Now I shall say thank you to organizers who invited me and gave me trust; and thank my friends from Poland who supported me in action. I only hope it is not the last time I portrayed Walewska, but rather the beginning of the story.


fot. Klara Bartosova

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