Pursuit of Happiness

EnKnapGroup, Ljubljana, Slovenia / Nature Theater of Oklahoma, New York, USA, 2017
Author: Pavol Liška, Kelly Copperová
Directed by Pavol Liška, Kelly Copperová

about the production

Inspired by Kafka’s unfinished novel America, Pavol Liška and Kelly Copper founded a re- markable and soon critically-acclaimed theatre company in New York in 2006, and called it Nature Theater of Oklahoma.

This theatre company has presented a number of successful productions across the USA and western Europe, such as the famous theatre epic Life and Times Episodes, which they brought to all major theatre festivals.

The International Festival Divadelná Nitra finally has the opportunity to introduce the work of this unique theatre company to the Slovak public. With all the more pleasure, because Pavol Liška, a native of the West-Slovak town of Skalica, is unknown at home. It is high time to mend that – with their current production Pursuit of Happiness, a collaboration with the well-known dance company EnKnapGroup of Iztok Kovač from Ljubljana (the production casts dancers from Hungary, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Slovenia, Croatia and Sweden).

It all began with the Declaration of Independence. One section in particular, which says: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

But what exactly is this ‘pursuit of Happiness’? What exactly does this ‘basic right’ of ours entitle us to? What exactly can we and do we want to justify with it? How much evil has been (is) committed in its name? How many American dreams have been wrecked and replaced by a devastated battlefield?

Pavol Liška and Kelly Copper exchanged written letters with each member for a year and a half. The correspondence served as a basis for the text, which in the end was written by Pavol Liška and Kelly Cooper in verse. The text blends the ‘high’ and the ‘low’, the banality of language with philosophical references in a dense, post-modern, original style and in the intense and masterful performance of EnKnapGroup, especially Bencei Mezei, the main protagonist of an imaginary and partly real dance group that is also, on stage, called EnKnapGroup. Besides various references to Western movies, low culture, but also so-called high art, it is no less interesting that an archaic cowboy dance has found its way into the choreography of this piece.

Playfulness and humour is the leitmotif of this otherwise politically critical performance, which, in a satirical form, adverts with a light- ness to all that can lie behind the (personal or social) pursuit of happiness.

The social-critical aspect is not the only point of interest about The Pursuit of Happiness. The play’s self-referential aspect is also very original. The dancers portray their characters in part as fictional and in part put a little of themselves into them. Together, they make up a sort of collective hero, guided by Bencei Mezei. The latter imagines himself to be a screen writer and, while shooting his imaginary film, leads the group to the battlefields of Iraq, among flying drones. There, their art is supposed to reconcile the belligerents. Will it succeed?

Collective and authorial creativity is a very important element for Nature Theater of Oklaho- ma. Pavol Liška and Kelly Cooper are interested in a complete presence of the performer on stage, his personal engagement and simultaneously his collective creativeness filled with improvisation. In contrast to ‘classical’ theatre, what is decisive is the process of creation, the transformation, not merely the result, which the audience then sees on stage. Not an aesthetic object, but art as a continual activity is at the centre of their interest. It is no accident that Nature Theater of Oklahoma draw on the heritage of happenings and performance art. They ally themselves with artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Alan Kaprow, John Cage, or the French filmmaker duo Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet.

Another characteristic feature of the work of Nature Theater of Oklahoma is an overlap- ping of genres and multimedia art. They are not interested in an impeccable result – the theatrical performance – but even more so in the imperfect that comes to be in the process of creation. At the beginning of their productions, the audience becomes familiar with the language with which Nature Theater of Oklahoma wants to work, and afterwards it is only a matter of playing along and taking active part in the theatrical event.
Martina Vannayová

Absurd TV images run through your head: Trump receiving his supporters in the lobby of his tower, Trump proudly holding signed executive orders in the White House, the movies of Quentin Tarantino, parodies by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. But Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller and Anton Chekhov are also echoed in the wonderful text, written as always by Liska and Copper.
Joost Ramaer, Theaterkrant.nl, 10. 3. 2017


created and performed by: EnKnapGroup: Luke Thomas Dunne (GB), Ida Hellsten (SE), Bence Mezei (HU), Lada Petrovski Ternovšek (HR), Jeffrey Schoenaers (BE), Ana Štefanec (SI)
light design: Luka Curk
costume design: Katarina Škaper
costumes by: Atelje d.o.o.
rehearsal director: Tanja Skok
stage manager: Luka Curk
technical realisation: Španski Borci/EN-KNAP Technical Teamexecutive producer: Karmen Keržar
production: EN-KNAP Productions
co-production: Théâtre de la Ville, steirischer herbst


Kelly Copper (1971) and Pavol Liška (1973) Pavol Liška was born in Slovakia and moved to the USA some time ago, where he graduated as Master of Arts from Columbia University. Kelly Copper comes from Florida, and graduated with the same degree from Brooklyn College. In the Nature Theater of Oklahoma directors Cooper and Liška work in a playful, albeit formally strict and aesthetically innovative collaboration, and question and rediscover their artistic identity with every new project. Both directors led courses in performance at the in Brussels and lectured at Harvard, Temple, New York University, the New School for Social Research, Bard College and at Columbia University. In 2010, they organised workshops at the International Summer Academy in Hamburg; they also taught at the Norwegian Theatre Academy in Fredrikstad, where they are presently advisors of the Artistic Council. Under the guidance of Pavol Liška and Kelly Copper, the Nature Theater of Oklahoma company received the prestigious Off-Broadway theatre prize OBIE; both directors earned the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award 2013 and other important awards. Pavol Liška and Kelly Copper will appear for the first time at the IF Divadelná Nitra.

Materials available

video of the production: yes
script of the production: SK, EN

If you are interested in these materials, write to archivy@nitrafest.sk