Let it last…



Ryszard Nieoczym in memoriam

I’m reviewing the chat of The Europe Project participants. “- It’s over…”, Giorgos’ words are inexorable. The circle of life and death of our Master has closed. He passed away to eternity, quietly on May 18, 2023 in the morning, in Toronto.

We are strong, the way he wanted us to be. Words of gratitude, respect and love flow from all over the world. We support each other, each of us recalling the memory of the master, and we mourn him. Could it be otherwise? He was a tireless nomad, explorer and researcher of the human soul. As his students, we were waiting for him wherever he arrived. He dispelled the darkness of our ignorance and illuminated each one’s way back to the roots of the primal nature.


Once Ryszard called his work and life in a theatre the long and winding river.That beautiful metaphor tunes my imagination to the reception of specific, poetic frequencies. I feel in harmony with them, and I try slowly to bring out from the current of this rushing river the events that defined its course. 

Ryszard Nieoczym was born on November 26, 1946 in Wildflecken, in a camp for displaced persons. His parents came there after the end of World War II as a former forced laborers of the Nazi Germany. He spent the first years of his childhood in the camp surrounded by the picturesque landscape of the Rhön mountains, in the difficult conditions of camp life. From there, in 1951, he went with his parents to Canada, taking the first intercontinental journey of his life. Emigration to Canada was an obvious choice for Ryszard’s mother. At her home town from where she was forcefully deported by the Germans, remained only the shadows of her relatives – the victims of the Holocaust.

The family eventually settled in Kirkland Lake, a small town in the province of Ontario. This place is well known to Wilderness Wendings participants. There they usually stopped for the night to rest after a long journey from Toronto. Just over the horizon, the wilderness of Canadian forests and lakes waited. It called us with the ineffable beauty of her austere majesty.

In 1970, Ryszard Nieoczym became a graduate in Philosophy and Comparative Religions from McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada. Soon after graduation he decided to travel to Europe, and finally went to Poland in 1971. Soon it became clear that he was connected with this country not only by maternal blood ties, but also by a spiritual bond with the master and with the actors of the Laboratory Theatre. As an intern under the direction of Jerzy Grotowski he underwent a kind of initiation into the specificity of domain theatre. He established a thread of extraordinary friendship with the members of the team, especially with Zygmunt Molik and Ryszard Cieślak. This experience had a huge impact on the flowering of his creative powers.

In 1972, he founded Le Theatre de l’Homme Actor’s Laboratorium in Toronto, later known as LeTHAL Inc. As its artistic director, he organised a number of theatre festivals and conferences over the course of two decades, in cooperation with his team and the Canadian academic community, among others – New Directions in The Performing Arts (McMaster University, Hamilton 1976) and the Theater Explorations Festival (York University, Toronto 1980).

From the very beginning, the atmosphere and character of those events were imbued with the thought, work and presence of Jerzy Grotowski. His lectures and master classes by theatre artists such as Zygmunt Molik, Ryszard Cieślak, Rena Mirecka, Antoni Jahołkowski, and Teo Spychalski were a regular feature of the program. All the events attracted the attention of eminent theater practitioners and theoreticians. Guests of festivals and conferences included Elizabeth Albahaca, Gabriel Arcand, Ludwik Flaszen, Andre Gregory, Charles Marrowitz, Richard Mennen, David Rosenfield, Richard Schechner. Today, it is difficult to mention the names of all of them, but they undoubtedly constituted an outstanding team of theatre experts.


All this wealth of experiences was a fertile ground on which Ryszard Nieoczym’s creative work flourished and, over time bore ripe fruits. It often happens that the bond with the master burdens the student on the way to independence. Was this the case with Nieoczym? In my humble opinion, he took the best from the master but went his own way, called it a personal path, and created his own unique quality.

What legacy did he inherit from Grotowski? First, the attitude of unique respect for the inner life of a human being. Secondly, the consciousness of the importance of the process par excellence and the role of the via negativa in it. Thirdly, a deep understanding of the value of community (Communitas) and the significance of holidays and celebrations in its existence. Fourthly, the ability to question cultural patterns and taboos, which resulted from the love of freedom of thought.

Jerzy-Grotowski and Ryszard Nieoczym, Theatre-Explorations-Festival, York University Toronto 1980

Ryszard Nieoczym walked through life independently though not alone. He testified in action to the sense and value of his idea of a personal path. Critical of cultural cliches, distrustful of the so-called unquestionable authorities, he was not always and everywhere welcome. However, with the passage of time, he was more and more appreciated, and even loved by his students. There was a reason for this: He made them recognize and take deeply into their hearts the Primal Rhythm of wild nature. He evoked this phenomenon forgotten in our culture, along with all its beauty and strength.

From the very beginning, he was accompanied in that work by his life partner, Dawn Obokata. Their synergy resulted in Wilderness Wendings (1979-2019), which were organized every summer and dedicated to discovering wild nature as a unique landscape of the human soul (Soulscape), not as an enemy that must to be defeated in order to survive. In fact, paddling in a canoe along the Montreal River lake and island system in Ontario, somewhere between Gowganda and Matachewan, may have been associated with survival at first. However, those who immersed themselves in this specific soul journey with their whole body, and not only with their minds, experienced the revival of life forces in connection with wild nature and its elements. Retreats on the islands, conducted under the watchful eye and care of companions from LeThal and Le Contre Courant theatres, well served discovering the gifts of wild nature.

Another research program related to Wilderness Wendings – Theatre Apprentice (1984-2012)* took place in very simple conditions, on a non-electrified farm in Buck Lake, Ontario. There was a secluded hall where LeThal and Le Contre-Courant from Quebec ran theatre exploration projects each summer. Both programs have been very popular among participants from Europe and elsewhere for many years. Contact with wild nature was a breakthrough and cathartic event, especially for women. They returned to its primal depths as home to find a shelter for their souls and discovered their own Soulscape.

Wilderness Wendings can be called, without a doubt – an innovative program. Various types of projects so fashionable today “return to the sources of femininity” or “return to nature” seem to be a weak echo of those events. Everything happens too fast in them and is aimed at a quick and spectacular effect. Ryszard Nieoczym knew that regaining connection with nature and with oneself is a long and complex process and a personal path we follow into the unknown turns out to be strewn with both roses and thorns. At the same time, he believed that a human being is able to exceed many limitations and survive life’s storms when in union with wild nature, thus developing strength and serenity.
* in the years 2015-2019, the Theater Apprentice program was continued in France, at Las Téoulères – Atelier de Théâtre & Résidences artistiques, led by Katharina Seiferth


Wilderness Wendings formed an important and strong foundation for LeThal’s artistic vision. According to it, the theatre was the domain of wilderness within civilization. 

Its space revealed the depth of the invisible primal land of imagination – the underworld, where dreams, myths and stories were born. The mission of the theatrical performance was to transfer the original images and ideas, so that the viewer could actively experience them inside himself, and not just watch them passively.

Nieoczym described this process of perception in a really concise way – To see, to receive in order to transform. Theatre immersed in wilderness drew inspiration from the exploration of the poetic depths of the soul. What was this depth? A game of images and imaginations. In its immeasurable richness there were images of wild animals. A human could see them only by being ready to accept the challenge of participating in the experience of a wild nature.

In turn, what Hillman** and Jung called the soul, Nieoczym called – “the wilderness animal, that subdued and caged primal aspect of the human psyche which the controlling forces of civilization ignore or actively deform.

A very good example of a work born from the vision of a theatre as wilderness within civilization was The Wilderness Trilogy (1990-1997)created by Dawn Obokata.

** R.Nieoczym, citing James Hillman, perceived the soul as an active function of the imagination


Ryszard Nieoczym called the process of Performer’s exploration of his/her own interiority– sounding the depths. In the same way as a sailor uses sounding of the depth of the water so that the boat travel is exciting and does not end up stranding the traveller, Performer navigates the journey inward the self. Soundingthe depth of images living in the body and its energy centers – voice, heart, sexuality, intuition, imagination. The fruit of this exploration is the release of the Primal Rhythm of the body. Thanks to this, Performer discovers the spirit of play with precision in every action. Enthusiasm, desire, and passion need discipline and craft – wrote Nieoczym. However, playing technique has never been the main goal of the exploration there.

Performer cannot focus on the final result of the work. The most important thing is the process, understood as striving for the moment of truth. The process should always take place – with, and not against the nature. Performer achieves this by yielding to the organic impulse, abandoning control of its flow. There is a clear reference here to Grotowski’s via negativa, which was not a set of skills but an eradication of blockages.

The organic process of yielding to an impulse was described by Nieoczym through the use of an image of the Flow of the River. Using a poetic metaphor, he wanted to relieve Performer’s mind of the ballast of intellectual speculation by redirecting attention to a direct experience. Seeing the images as organic flows of actions, he eventually came to the conclusion that all images are archetypal. This is where the name Imaginal Theatre came from. In his reflection entitled Beyond Technique & The Art of Playing, he expressed the belief that playing in the theatre is a life-long process and never finishes. A Player*** was obliged to follow their own personal path and explore it constantly, here and now.

In the practice of theatre activities, the process of sounding the depths also included the written word, the structure of the performance, and the cultural context in which the performance is created. It was important to move from the workshop context to direct theatre experience. 

Ryszard Nieoczym emphasized, especially in the last stage of his life and work, that the inspiration for his masterclasses Soundings were the theatrical explorations of Grotowski, Stanislawski and Artaud – three giants of the 20th century theatre. He described his own, original approach to the creation process as follows – The verb to create has also within it a passive as well as an active voice; the passive voice hears the call of the soul, the active voice responds. In theatre praxis the response to the call and allowing the images to emerge from within that call is called creation. For the practitioners in the theatre this is a process of action and reaction, doing and non-doing.(…) To do-Nothing on stage is a conscious act – a pause which is not an empty space, but a space filled with Presence of the Player.

*** in this text, for the first time Nieoczym replaced the word Performer with the word Player, drawing it from Shakespeare

Full moon over the Montreal River, Ontario Canada. Photograph by Ryszard Nieoczym


Archetypes – the primal patterns and myths of ancient Greece became a very important subject of LeThal’s theatrical research. R.Nieoczym, citing C.G. Jung believed that archetypes are styles of consciousness, repeated patterns of behavior, forms of fantasy. He paid special attention to their repetition, which the human soul actually needs and desires, because repetition allows it to explore the depths. He used the metaphor of a hawk constantly circling and observing the same piece of land from a height, and then swooping down to catch the prey it has spotted. I think that for Ryszard Nieoczym, the archetype was the salt of the theatre and the myth was its bread.

The collaboration with the Greek academic and theatre community, lasting almost a quarter of a century, and especially with the Athenian Mad Dam theatre, had a significant impact on the crystallization of vision and practice of theatrical research related to ancient Greek mythology. 

In this vision, the theatre appeared as an archetypal place of community – Communitas, where actors share the stories they tell (…) and the whole audience makes its descents into the underworld via the royal road of the imagination and fantasy to reconnect with the our own lost primal sources. The essence of the research was the act of resurrecting a myth, which was an act of healing in the primary societies.

Is it possible for our own western culture to resurrect its old stories of the beginning times, and by retelling these stories in contemporary garb, begin a process of healing? – Nieoczym asked. He didn’t have to look far and wait long for an answer. This question was asked at the right time and in the right place. Seemingly rhetorical, it caused a strong resonance deep in the souls of many women. Isn’t the character of a woman associated with the old and forgotten archetype of the healer? So distant that it is even incomprehensible and repressed by the modern collective consciousness. Well, according to Jungian depth psychology, repressed content returns with a vengeance.

Other important questions also emerged from theatre research previously conducted as part of the Monster Project, in collaboration with Tanz und Theater Werkstatt in Ludwigsburg****. Why were Greek mythological monsters female? And have they been internalized by the modern collective consciousness, like mythological gods? These questions intrigued Nieoczym very much. He believed that each monstrous female character appearing in Greek mythology deserved in-depth analysis in the process of individual artistic creation.In the series of monodramas The Eternal Feminine: Ancient Mirror / Modern Voices, as their director and dramatist, he gave voice to women, inspiring them to discover the mysterious, underground river connecting the modern woman with her ancient mythical sources. The audience saw the contemporary characters of Psyche, Pandora, Medusa, Cassandra, Hecate and Pasiphae. The concept of eternal feminine was taken from Goethe and was intertwined in the process of research with the exploration of archetypes of femininity. The mirror appeared there not only as a cultural attribute of femininity, but also as an ancient tool enabling insight into the unknown space of the soul. The mission of the woman who played a mythological character was to discover the sacred space of the theatre within herself. The seemingly impossible task became a reality, directing a long and metamorphosing research process. 

Ryszard Nieoczym was convinced that theatre still has this possibility of communicating the direct experience of mystery, wonder and awe, so lacking in our contemporary culture.

**** in 1990, the long and winding river of Nieoczym’s life led him back to Germany, where he was born. He initiated a project in Berlin called Wildflecken Theater and wrote about it – According to an old German tradition, part of the field should be kept wild and unplowed. This uncultivated place in the field remains untouched for birds and animals. In German this place is known as „Wildflecken”. 


As I mentioned earlier, a very important goal of Nieoczym’s research was to launch healing processes in contemporary theatre. He believed that every change takes place in the dimension of individual experience. In fact, healing is always an act of self-healing – he wrote. His research work led him to believe that most of the anxieties and problems of a modern human being result from the fragmentation of the body and the loss of its connection with the necessary energy sources. He admitted that nowadays there is a deeply rooted fear of the body itself. At the same time, he saw the challenges an artist of the celebrity era has to face and temptations he/she is exposed to in the race to the hall of fame. Therefore, Nieoczym directed his students’ attention to ritual practices that went beyond the domain of presentation.He believed that – Ritual Actions as an aesthetic phenomenon, they satisfy the longings of the soul for completeness, beauty, silence and stillness; they transgress daily boundaries and open the soul to its hidden depths. They are a source of physical and psychic renewal in a communal context.

Ritual & Healing / Woman’s Rituals (1995-1999), the first project devoted to the role of ritual practices in discovering the potential of self-healing, took place initially in the Tanz und Theater Werkstatt, in Ludwigsburg, and then in Schwedenloch in the Bavarian Forest. 

The fundamental thought forming the basis of this work is that there is a natural drive for playing and performing within the soul / psyche. Learning to play is discovering the true needs of the soul. (…) In the process we learned, among other things: how to be reborn and then overcome, in the body, the false dichotomy of body and soul; how to work with the body as a representation, how to bring to life the world around us (especially the world of objects), and how to reawaken our spiritual bond with the earth, water, fire and air elements.*****

In my opinion, the idea of ​​creating an international women’s group exploring the potential of self-healing was extremely avant-garde for its time. It resulted from insight into the situation and condition of a modern woman. Women’s Rituals, like Wilderness Wendings, were a kind of harbinger of changes taking place in the consciousness of many women around the world. These changes concerned the approach to one’s own body and the natural world. The paradigm of man as the master of all creation no longer had any reason to exist. Its place was taken by the awareness of the body’s belonging to the world of nature and the attitude of respect towards its incomprehensible heritage.

In the research process of Ritual & Healing / Woman’s Rituals, the essence of the role of erotic energy in the healing process****** was revealed for the first time. Later, with the passage of time, it became the basis of Ritual Actions – Erotic Path and Ceremonies of The Erotic Heart (2000-2019). They took place periodically in the town of Platamonas, located at the foot of Mount Olympus, in cooperation with the Greek group ROES, consisting of performers, psychiatrists, psychologists and psychotherapists. The research, in which artists from Canada and Europe also participated, was guided by the idea of re-reading the ancient myth of Eros and Psyche. Ritual practices served to discover personal healing potential, where Eros was perceived as the lover of Psyche. Like in the Soundings, it was about reconnecting the body with the primal, wild aspect of the human interiority, called Psyche (soul) by the ancients. Only in the body integrated with Psyche could the energy of Eros manifest itself and fully flourish. Ryszard Nieoczym called this process of exploring the human interiority, the Erotic Path.

As a researcher of the human soul, he was perfectly aware that Eros, as a lover of Psyche, was condemned by Western culture to misunderstanding and banishment. He knew that eroticism is today commonly and almost exclusively identified with the sexual act. He talked about it this way – The basic premise of Ritual Actions is the recognition that erotic energy and sexual energy are not identical; and that the modern identification of Eros with sex is erroneous; and most importantly both Eros and sex are governed by different rhythms. Further, there are great differences and variations between masculine and feminine rhythms, often contradictory and in opposition to one another. Erotic energy is the awakened sensuality of the body independent from sexual energy and though sensuality can lead to the sex act it is not a precondition for sensuality. In Western cultures – North American and European – too often sensuality is identified only with sexuality and is forced into only one mode of behaviour, and thus is not allowed to flow and develop into its natural and simple mode of being but is continually distorted, abused, and directed into only one form and function.

The process of exploring the Erotic Path in the field of ritual practices was therefore a process of rediscovering erotic energy and following its natural flow in the body, without any manipulation leading towards sexuality. The process took place in the context of a closed group, but the weight of the practice was individual and personal. Ryszard Nieoczym established a rule within it that could not be exceeded – Erotic energy can be shared publicly; sexual energy is shared only in private. As a master dispelling the darkness of his students’ ignorance, he was the one who was able to establish foundations and healthy boundaries for the work process. He knew what the breath of apparent freedom offered by mass culture means to a human being. He wanted his students to be able to bring the achievements of the Erotic Path process into their everyday lives. He encouraged us to discover the deep connections between performance art and the art of healing. Just as shamans once did – with the body and not against the body. Referring to their old and forgotten practices, he enriched the last stage of research with a new context – the process of uniting the erotic energy of the human body with the organic Universal energy.

Thanatos, death is not of the future but of the present; it lives and grows with us and within us. Can we find our balance with both Eros and Thanatos? We cannot be cured of death or of Eros; they dwell within us and emerge in their own time and rhythm.

Today, the eschatological dimension of this conclusion does not only make me reflect, but it resonates within me with the power of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. I think that Ryszard Nieoczym’s work deserves an in-depth and extensive analysis by theatre and culture scholars. My essay is just a handful of reflections. It’s about the fire of memory. For us, for whom he did so much, the glow and warmth of this fire are priceless. Let it last…

*****Justyna Jan-Krukowska. Work of art as an instrument of work on yourself in JUSTBODY z naturą w tyglu kultur / with nature in the melting-pot of cultures, Fundacja Wyspa Progress, Gdańsk 2020. / ****** I presented the testimony of my participation in this research process in the essay Body and Object – Key Discoveries in The process of Work with Body and Object, Contemporary Indian Theatre. Theatricality and Artistic Crossovers’, Jaipur, New Delhi: Rawat Publications 2017


I was fortunate to meet Ryszard Nieoczym in The Centre of Studies on Jerzy Grotowski’s Work in Wroclaw, in the homeland of his and my ancestors. I also had the privilege of communicating with him in his mother tongue. He shaped me as a human and performance artist like many of his students. He patiently guided me towards my personal path using the Socratic method of heuresis. As an indefatigable nomad, he looked for us like stars in the sky of his life’s journey. 

He saw our hidden radiance and potential that others couldn’t see. Like wild flowers, we opened imperceptibly to the sun and slowly closed, according to the rhythm of our primal nature. He showed us where snares and ambushes lie and where abandoned, poisoned bait lies. We ran with impetuosity like young wolves to meet the wild spot of our soul. We would fall to the ground to rest and sing her song. He watched over us like an obstetrician as we were born again with a full body and voice. He knew where rivers and streams begin and where the springs of life spring forth.

The moment you give, you have received – this saying of our Master rings in my ears when I remember the difficult period of the pandemic. Even though this time cast a shadow over the continuity of his research work in Canada and Europe, it did not break the bonds of community. The Jadro Center from Skopje has made a significant contribution to maintaining them. In 2021, Ryszard Nieoczym conducted online masterclasses as part of the Theatre & Integration project. Today, as his disciples, we are a strong community, spread all over the world. Its heartbeat can be experienced especially in Toronto, Quebec, Montreal, Thessaloniki, Skopje, Athens, Brussels, Berlin, Stuttgart, Wroclaw and Krakow. Today, as we remember Ryszard, we unite ourselves with Dawn, his dearest partner in life and in the theatre, and with his beloved children – Adrian, Raiden and Reiko, as well as with his grandchildren, Corbin and the lovely twins Paige and Brooke. 

Although we are still surrounded by mourning, there is still a living fire burning inside us. We cannot let this fire die out. Moreover, if one day water gushes out from his very being, we will see that our effort had deep meaning… Let it go! Let it flow!


Justyna Jan-Krukowska, Five Elements – the alternative potential of performance art, Srinagar Uttarakhand, India. Photograph by Arun Kr. Jaiswal