Cora Herrendorf - her legacy

Cora Herrendorf
26 November 1949 - 31 January 2023

I saw Cora for the first time in Milan in 1971 in the performance Water Closet of the Argentinian Comuna Baires. Still today, her strong presence and expressive face in the performance comes to my mind when I think of her. I was young and just starting in theatre, so her example and personality were important in showing me alternative ways. Just after I had left Italy to work with Odin Teatret, I saw her again in 1977. It was at Casciana Terme during a meeting of theatre groups. Her performance, representing a scene of torture, was interrupted by the spectators as it was considered to be too explicitly violent. Cora and Horacio and Hugo courageously told of the real experiences of torture they had lived through during the dictatorship in Argentina, which finally made them decide to emigrate to Italy.

Cora had founded the Comuna Nucleo in Buenos Aires with Horacio Czertok in 1974. When she left Argentina four years later to settle in Ferrara, the group took its current name of Teatro Nucleo. Since 1974, Cora worked as an actress and/or director in most of the productions of Teatro Nucleo. Many remember “Quijote!”, the impressive open air performance Cora directed in 1990. In 2007 she founded Donne Comunitarie (Community Women), a community theatre group of gender, for which she directed the “Signora Memoria” (2007), “La Balera di Filomela” (2009) and “Asylum – il manicomio delle attrici” (2012).

I was in close contact with Cora especially at the time when her partner Antonio Tassinari got cancer. He died at the early age of 55. Life was not being gentle with Cora. Leaving her home country and then losing her work companion and love marked her profoundly.

When the European project “Magdalena without Borders” directed by Bárbara Carvalho was in Ferrara for the Totem Festival in 2021, Cora was beside her daughter Natasha Czertok and her granddaughters Sofia and Noemi to welcome us, introduce the meetings, and comment on the performances. Her hand trembled because of Parkinson disease, but her voice was as decided as always. Cora had a lot to say. The past came alive in her stories.

Cora has always maintained contact with The Magdalena Project and I have always wanted her to come to Transit Festival in Denmark. She was going to come to the tenth edition in 2022, but her health did not allow it. Cora sent a piece of writing with Natasha to be read at Transit:

"I have always seen very clearly the red thread that connects me to my mother. A thread that crosses the ocean, the one she crossed by ship when she left Poland with her family to escape Nazism, and the same one I crossed to return to Europe and escape the Argentine dictatorship.

It is a sea that contains a red thread made of art, music, painting, theatre, dance.

My mother, Elka, stopped being an actress when she married. She gave so much love, the best teachers in music, theatre, dance. I feel I betrayed her because I did not follow the thread she had imagined for me. I did not do the theatre she imagined. But who knows, if she had lived long enough, she might have been proud of my artistic journey.

The thread that binds me to her also contains the mystery of intuition, a feminine heritage that we often struggle to listen to, and which prompted me to trace the same path for my daughter, or at least try to. Like me, my daughter began studying piano at the age of 6. Like me, she studied dance from a young age. Inheritances, transitions, intertwining threads, beyond 'good/evil, black/white, right/wrong'. That is how my children came about, a totally irrational, intuitive choice. Creating life is not something you can do rationally. Childbirth is a wonderful and terrifying moment, a rite of passage.

Creating performances was and is for me exactly like creating life. Beautiful, difficult, painful, indispensable. Most of my shows have been generated in nine months, as it happens. Cells coming together and creating your rhythm, your music, your poetry. It has everything to do with love. Without love there is no art, and without love there are no children, for me at least that is how it is. And all my projects were born this way too, in this constantly changing forge that is Teatro Nucleo.

I have worked for many years with women, looking for myself, a reflection. Sometimes I have succeeded quite well. Sometimes threads are interrupted. Mine was interrupted on 27 February with a heart attack, and now it is a matter of starting again, finding that thread again. Peace, war, death, life. Hate and love There are so many questions still unanswered.”

It is with her words that I would remember the responsibility Cora has also given us of allowing her woman’s legacy to live on.

Julia Varley