Artwork / 2021 / Ella Jaroszewicz (Luminous Lioness)

the Franco-Polish mime Ella Jaroszewicz, Marcel Marceau’s second wife
Gwenn Seemel
Ella Jaroszewicz (Luminous Lioness)
acrylic on wood
7 x 5 inches

This is the first time I’ve ever remade a portrait of someone using the same reference photo. I originally painted Ella in 2004, and it’s wild how different that piece is from this one. You can see the making of Luminous Lioness and learn more about why I needed to paint Ella again.

Below is Patrizia Iovine’s interview with Ella from June 2020, translated into English by me and published here with Ella’s permission. In the interview, Ella talks at length about her first husband, Marcel Marceau.

How did your artistic vocation come to be?

My mother and grandmother always said “it was written in the stars.” The fate of your life is written in the stars. Life lets you make decisions, but there is an innate vocation for the arts that cannot be learned. My father was a musician, and my mother had a wonderful voice and was a soloist at the Kielce Cathedral—all this during the difficult period of the war and the post-war period in Poland. Back then you had to survive, it was more important to get a piece of bread or potatoes than to dedicate yourself to your art. Poland was in ruins and so were we. My mother hid me from the communists and shortened my name to Elzbieta Jaroszewicz from the orginal Maria Elzbieta Jaroszewicz-Bartnowska, because it betrayed my noble origins.

When I was four, my father taught me to read and write, taking me regularly to a teacher. I was not yet seven years old when I was enrolled in third grade, two years early, in a school run by both religious and secular teachers. I was chosen along with other girls to perform a ballet at the Christmas show. A nun-teacher in the school accompanied us on the piano and demonstrated dance steps. When she saw me dancing, she told me “you’ve got a gift, you’re talented!” This is the first ever unforgettable artistic memory of my life.

When did you meet Henryk Tomaszewski?

After high school, I would have liked to continue dancing. I’d taken dance and gymnastics lessons, and I was part of the sports club at my high school. I would have liked to do theater too, but my parents advised me to go to university. I was interested in geography and geology, but I was still very young, and there were few available spot in these areas of study, so I was told to wait until the following year. I decided to study at the Sports Academy. While I was looking for student lodging, I stayed with a family friend of another student for several days.

It turned out that this woman was a soloist at the Wrocław Opera Ballet and a close friend of the principal dancer in the same theater, Henryk Tomaszewski. Her name was Ałła Laskowska, a very important presence in the history of Tomaszewski’s theater. It was thanks to her that, one afternoon, I found myself in front of Henryk Tomaszewski, who was directing the rehearsal of the first show for his company, Pantomima. I didn’t know anything about mime at the time. I wandered into the rehearsal room and, without asking me, Tomaszewski put me into the staging. After working out a sequence with me and rehearsing it, he turned to me and said “good, good, but...who are you? What is your name?” I replied, “Ela.” I remained in his company for almost nine years; I was his partner on stage and principal actress. In his show called Condemned to Live, I was “The Tree,” a symbol which was later chosen as the icon of his theater.

Along with all this, I still attended the Sports Academy the first year. This was very important for my theatrical training as I studied physiology, anatomy, muscle structure, and several athletic disciplines. This knowledge helped in my artistic development and in my work as a teacher. I interrupted these studies and went straight into the last year at the Opera dance school, becoming part of the Wrocław Opera Ballet. At the Opera I danced in ballets from the repertoire and was very popular with the choreographers.

At the same time, I was working with Tomaszewski. With his company Pantomima, we performed for three years without pay until we received two gold medals at the Moscow International Pantomime Competition. Tomaszewski left the Opera after receiving a grant and chose me as a permanent member of his company.

Tomaszewski didn’t like to be defined as a teacher. He saw himself above all as a creator. He knew how to awaken passions, and this art is also my passion. Today, there are no longer any master educators or original creators in this discipline.

When I think that in France these days the grants are awarded on the basis of written requests and who you know, it’s absurd. The emphasis should be put on analyzing what artists do during rehearsals, attending the staging of shows, and in that way establishing the merits of a company. Art has been bureaucratized. It is in the hands of officials sitting behind desks, or young people with no specific professional skills whose sole interest is economic.

How did you meet Marcel Marceau?

It’s curious: the two loves of my life have been Tomaszewski’s company Pantomima and Marcel Marceau.

Returning to France from a tour of Russia, Marceau stopped in Poland. He gave a series of performances, including one in Wrocław, which was a very important and very active city, artistically speaking, and which was also where Tomaszewski’s national pantomime theater was based. I was already the company’s principal performer. The organizers invited Marceau to the Pantomima theater to see excerpts from our show. This was to take place during the day, before the Marceau’s performance. He arrived and spent a long time with Tomaszewski and the other performers, but could not stay to see the presentation of our company’s work.

I, on the other hand, had been rushed to the hospital at eight in the morning with appendicitis. I’d been in pain all night but hoped I’d be okay by morning; it was not the case. I was unable to participate in Marceau’s visit. The next day I received several bouquets of wonderful flowers with a program signed by Marcel “for Marika.” He had been told that company’s star who plays Marika in Woyzzek was in the hospital.

A few months later Pantomima was invited to the Festival of the Nations in Paris, at the Sarah Bernhardt Theater. At this time, Marceau was in Paris and his agent, Ms. Boulestex, who remembered meeting our troupe in Poland, suggested that he come see our show. I didn’t know he was in the audience. Several main roles had been assigned to me in the show. It was a great success—a triumph. We were applauded for a quarter of an hour.

After the show, my dressing room was filled with photographers and their flashes were all following one man. He approached me asking “what is your name?” I didn’t know who he was, but I told him my name, and he said “you have a great talent!” It was Marcel Marceau.

I was still removing my makeup when Tomaszewski arrived to tell me that Marceau wanted to talk to me. A reception had been organized downstairs on the set. As luck would have it, I had studied French on my own when I was in Poland. At school, I’d learned Russian and German, but I was drawn to the French language. I liked its musicality. I never imagined that it would become my language and that I would make my life in France, so I firmly believe in the idea that “it was written in the stars.”

After the triumph at the Festival, we were invited the next day to present the show at the Athénée Theater in Paris, where we would be on the schedule for a month. Almost every evening after the show, a very elegant man with a beautiful smile was waiting for me in front of the theater to ask me to dinner. Marcel and I had long conversations. He invited the whole troop to his property in Berchères-sur-Vesgre. We spent a day together in the countryside. Marcel fell madly in love with me and, little by little, me with him.

I think I had two loves in my life, as Josephine Baker sang, Marcel Marceau and my company. But I will add today—since the number of happiness is three—a love that contains all the happiness in the world: the love of my daughter.

In any case, these first two loves were complicated. Marcel called me from Australia when I was in Norway, from London when I was in Italy, from New York when I was in Switzerland, or from South America when I was in Finland or in Sweden. He invited me to spend the summer with him in 1962 in Paris and London, where he had shows throughout August. In the UK, we met a famous English mime, Harold Cheshire, already on in years at that time, who presented us with an extraordinary number, The Hands that came out of a black cape and struggled with each other as symbols of good and evil.

That year, Marcel came to Poland several times to see me. He dreamed of founding a company with me in France, and he proposed multiple different scenarios. He kept saying “I can’t live without you.” Anything could happen!

He then invited me to the premiere of one of his shows in Paris. The Polish Ministry of Culture granted me a professional passport for a few days to attend. Today it seems absurd, but, in the days of communism, the political and economic context was very complicated. It was difficult to leave Poland to travel freely. On the other hand, I was able to take part in international tours with Pantomima, which at the time was a revelation in the artistic world—so original. We were a cultural showcase for Poland.

Currently you can live in any country in the world. Residing in Paris while working in Warsaw or Rome. For us Polish artists, communism was a tragedy. Our lives were crushed. I didn’t have the chance to take pleasure trips. I lost so much time.

My drama is precisely the fact that my two loves did not develop as I would have liked. I had to come to terms with this hurt—a tear in my heart. I lived with Marcel, my great love, in Paris. Yes, the great love, the one that only happens once. Unfortunately I was not able to fully develop myself artistically, as there was no mime company in France. I retook dance lessons: classical, jazz, and Spanish dance. I accompanied Marcel to the US for a tour and at the American Dance School in Los Angeles. For several months, I took courses in the Martha Graham style, which was not yet well known in Europe. The Dance School ended up inviting me to stay and create a dance-mime class in a style inspired by the theater of Tomaszewski. On my return with Marcel to France, I gradually managed to develop my own language: a new technique in which mime merged with dance.

I created a mime course for the Paris Opera School of Dance for the first time in its history. One of my students still teaches there today. I have taught in several schools and academies in Germany, Austria, Spain, France, Poland, Great Britain, at the National Ballet in London, and at Flinders University in Australia. I have taught at the Grotowski Institute in Poland, among others. Mimes, film actors, circus and theater artists, dancers, and choreographers were interested in my teachings. My school offered a rich and innovative education. It’s because of me that, for the first time, France and the EU recognize the professional title of Mime Artist and Corporeal Theater Artist. My company Magenia presented shows all over Europe and received praise from the public and the press.

My shows invite reflection on the complexity of human life. My intention is to attract the public to a form of expression which, according to Racine, must “please the eyes and touch the heart.”

What element would you rank as most important for an actor?

Talent. You can learn a technique, a style, but you cannot learn to be an artist. There is something innate in an artist. But, even with talent, you have to work a lot. The best artists are hard workers.

What influences have you had on actors, dancers, on your students in general?

You should ask my students, dozens and dozens of artists who attended my school. I think I have illuminated their creative sphere, have made it clear that knowing the theory is not enough. In art, you have to be an eagle, not a sheep.

In my teaching technique, I developed a fusion of mime and dance to form the body of the actor. Each micromovement changes the meaning of the gesture. Slowness and rapidity change the personality of the character. With gesture, you have to have a sense of rhythm, a sense of space. In other words, you must strictly master the technique of mime. You have to work a lot, but above all you have to be passionate.

I like to tell my students that the great mimes of the time of Augustus in the 5th century, Pylades and Bathylle, told their pupils: “do not disdain being excellent dancers to become perfect mimes.” When I founded my school Studio Magenia (Magenia means “dream” in Polish), it was a lot of work. What I taught my students, I had already practiced. I never improvised something that I hadn’t done and experienced myself on stage or in another class.

At the end of 1960, Marcel Marceau opened his first International School of Mime Marcel Marceau in Paris. I participated in the creation of the educational program, with the goal of training young people in a way that got them closer to the practice of mime. There were many people from all over the world who wanted to enroll in the school. I remember the first day there were eighty students divided into two classes. At Marceau’s school, I introduced a dance and acrobatics class. For these courses, I put forward high level teachers. I also took care of a mime class where I worked on my personal technique inherited from Tomaszewski.

The learning took place in rooms without mirrors or dancing bars. Until then the actor did not need to look at their image in the mirror but worked on the interiorization of movement. They were focused on themselves. I asked to install mirrors along the walls to work with my students, and bars for dance exercises. This is how Marcel Marceau himself began to work with mirrors, essential for technical corrections: not “looking at yourself” but looking at what you are doing.

The mime is a complete artist, a silent actor well anchored to the ground, but with the lightness of a dancer and the agility of the acrobats of Commedia dell’Arte who were able to improvise their lines by punctuating them with eloquent gestures. Their preparation also included working pirouettes and falls. The body is at the service of the theater. Each gesture must be justified; the slightest movement must be chosen to define the character of the actor, taking into account aesthetics, expressive power, poetry. The justified gesture depends directly on the intimate features of the character, the situation, the context. The artist must feel the gesture in itself for it to be “heard” by the audience.

What is the artistic heritage given to you by your teacher, founder and director of the pantomime theater in Wrocław?

I was fortunate enough to inherit from Tomaszewski a fundamental thought: since we live in a social context based on conventions, humanity needs to reveal another self. It is essential to show the authentic intimate self, the one we hide from society. In the theater you have to show the truth absolved of conventions. There is an endless wealth of bodily expressions ready to take the stage. The theater is the most beautiful of lies. “We are made of the same material as the stars,” said Shakespeare. “Bring moments of wonder to your audience for there is no art without mystery,” said Brecht. And I say: do this work only if you love it.

What have you inherited from Marcel Marceau?

Our meeting, our life together, was not only a love between a man and a woman but a professional fascination between two artists. I cannot say that I was not artistically influenced by Marcel Marceau, my teacher and husband, but I also influenced him in certain choices. For example, with regard to one of his most suggestive pieces The Creation of the World. We were in London for one of Marcel’s tours. When we got back to the hotel in the evening, we worked together on the waving of the arms. We discussed the order of the sequences, we improvised often and each gave something to the other. We exchanged our ideas on lessons, creations, life—source of inspiration.

Until 1964, before I arrived in Paris, Bip’s costume was different: I suggested to Marcel changing the shape of his pants. It modernized and refined his silhouette on stage.

What touched and influenced me was the purity of his artistic creation. I really enjoyed his way of creating a character out of his ingenuity and simplicity. I was passionate about the expressive flexibility that reflected essentiality. In the improvisations and shows that I have directed, I’ve always tried to capture the essence of the character at every moment. You have to work on the gesture without too many words, without “speaking,” unless it is necessary.

In his piece The Park for example, Marcel shows two women who interact on stage. The first mimes restless and incessant conversation as she knits, and the second, resigned, listens silently, tilting her head steadily in a slow rhythm. In this case the “talkative” woman has an interesting scenic sense. The relationship between the characters is born precisely from these silent words, which trigger poetic movements in their own way.

If you had to critique Marceau’s technique, what would you say?

Critique his technique? No, it’s impossible. In my humble opinion there is not a technique that belongs to Marcel Marceau, but a technique that is Marcel Marceau. There was only one Mime Marcel Marceau and his stage language that we call his “technique.” There will never be anyone who can match him. You shouldn’t try to imitate Marceau, just draw on his technique: but first you have to love him. Love what he did and capture his poetry. Imitation is meaningless. Marcel spoke of the art of silence. Silence is music and there is music in gesture. You have to know how to listen to your gestural poetry. According to Franz Liszt, “it’s not worth explaining what needs to be explained.” Silence does not exist. Everything that a person creates is the product of their imagination. I strongly believe in what Albert Einstein once said: “imagination is more important than knowledge.” That doesn’t mean you don’t need to know, obviously. On the contrary! You have to have a great knowledge to use your own imagination and know how to make it visible.

What have been the mime masters’ influences on the students who have successfully opened schools around the world?

Corporeal theater learned a lot from Marceau, but unfortunately it ended up making photocopies of him. I do not intend to criticize those who do the job of mime, however I think it would be better if the courses in Marcel Marceau’s schools started with the expressive richness of the master, but then, through the student’s own artistic talent, managed to detach from it to find the individual’s own path. We must not imitate, because the body of each artist is different. Different are the proportions, the hands, the rhythm. This is why, through imitation, the movement seems artificial, unnatural, and above all devoid of charm. A solid technical base is essential in training. The mime must know how to manipulate invisible objects, must know how to use them, know his body well, his endurance, his balance, and must also have a good general knowledge because it will influence his unique artistic creation. Unfortunately, many young graduates of Marceau’s school have only reproduced a copy of his knowledge.

As for myself, I recognize my influences, but also the choice I made to walk my own path. I married dance with mime by working on the poetry of gesture. I have taught in several countries and found that since the 80s people don’t work as hard as they did before. There are a lot of theater and mime companies created by my students around the world. Among them, one runs a theater school in Austria, another created the mime festival in South Korea, yet another taught for thirty years at the University of Pittsburgh in the United States, and I could mention more in Switzerland, Spain, or Australia. I am proud that they left my school in Paris respecting tradition and creating new paths. I hope this ancient art survives.

Are there things Marceau said of you that you would like remembered?

I am particularly proud of what he said and wrote about me: “the style and the gift of Elzbieta Jaroszewicz will give actors the dramatic impetus to elevate pantomime to the level of tragic or burlesque theater.” And: “Elzbieta, together, we shout out our silence with our souls and our bodies, and with them our love for pantomime.”