Polish Contemporary Dance – Awaiting an Explosion of Popularity
Drzewiecki and the beginning of a new era of Polish dance
On 12 September 1973 Conrad Drzewiecki, the legendary choreographer, founded the Polish Dance Theatre – the Poznań Ballet. The Polish Dance Theatre was supposed to be a group of soloists, great personalities, merging atmospheric classical music with contemporary trends and open to the audience. They substituted an orchestra for audiotaped music by composers including Chopin, Bach, Beethoven, Mieczysław Karłowicz, Wojciech Kilar, but also the Beatles and Pink Floyd. However, the audiences of that time marvelled at Soviet ballet and the Iron Curtain kept them cut off from international achievements and advances in the field. Those viewers weren’t yet ready for breaking the rigid rules of classical dancing. At the same time a revolution was also being fomented beyond our west border – Pina Bausch had become the head of the Wuppertal Opera Theatre, where she opened the most important chapter in the world’s contemporary dance theatre. Her first visit to Poland - to Wrocław in 1987 - meant to show her most important and historic work “The Rite of Spring”– shook the Polish dance scene, becoming a turning point in the lives of many Polish artists.
Therefore, Drzewiecki’s talents and visions matured in a specific political and artistic context. His aesthetic pursuits reformed Polish dance and enriched it with new forms of contemporary and jazz movement, until that point unheard of in Poland. Performances such asthe “Fiery Bird”, “Adagio for String Instruments and Organs”, “Pavane for a Dead Princess”, “Miraculous Mandarin”, “Krzesany” and “Yesterday” have gone down is history and many of these performances were also made into films. After 1987 the tradition and heritage of the master was successfully continued on an international scale by his pupil Ewa Wycichowska – a long-standing soloist of the Łódź ballet and choreographer of over 60 works. She invited the most outstanding artists including Mats Ek, Ohad Naharin, Yossi Berg and Brigit Cullberg to work with the Polish Dance Theatre. Under her management, Poznań has become the most dynamic and bustling centre for festivals, workshops and choreography and created a whole generation of young artists. It is the beginning of the nineties that contemporary dance researchers regard as the real beginning of that art in Poland, but they stress its link to the activities and inspiration of artists representing avant-garde theatre: Tadeusz Kantor, Jerzy Grotowski, Józef Szajna, Wojciech Misiuro and Henryk Tomaszewski.
The Silesian Dance Theatre and Łumiński’s Polish Technique
Unparalleled, innovative, unique – that is how both international and Polish media described the Bytom Miners’ & Metallurgists’ Silesian Dance Theatre founded in 1991. The awe-inspiring nine-strong troupe was admired wherever it appeared – from US prestigious stages and Israel to India, Canada, Germany, Hungary and Switzerland. The Silesian Dance Theatre has soon become one of the most impo rtant dance art institutions in Poland thanks to its new choreographies and its expressive, authorial style referring to pre-war Jewish culture and to folk traditions from the regions of Podhale, Kurpie and Lublin. Łumiński’s lyrical style, combined with the unusual physical and acrobatic skills of his dancers,has soon brought the group international fame and recognition. This is how a strong brand of Polish culture was born, Jacek Łumiński’s technique, “a form of magic and adoration of God that originates from religious rites”, characterised by rubatos, asymmetric pulse and by a philosophy of motion previously unheard of in Poland. The outstanding choreographer described his technique in a conversation with Joanna Leśnierowska:
“We don’t know what contemporary dance is but we do know that it is not ballet. To me it’s a way of life, a kind of philosophical system. Dancing combines many art disciplines into a form that is open enough to allow everybody to implement their own concepts. One may use one’s own attitude to the world, knowledge and beliefs as a basis. Ballet is different because it is governed by strict rules guaranteeing success, if only we stick to them correctly.”
Łumiński invites acclaimed international choreographers and dance companies to the Silesian Dance Theatre, conferences, festivals and workshops are held, soon at the State Drama School in Cracow the first Polish Faculty of Dance Theatre and Acting is created. The Silesian stage that recently celebrated its 20th anniversary has hosted such events as a reconstruction of a pre-war choreography by Polish dancer Pola Nireńska (“Mournful Song. Nirge, 1997) and her productions by such artists as Avi Kaiser, Mark Haim, Melissa Monterosor Hilke Diemer. For many dance artists, the educational and artistic activities of the Silesian Dance Theatre have been generational experiences, influencing also other contemporary dance centres created just after the fall of communism.Apart from Bytom and Poznań, the map of Polish contemporary dance extended north to Gdańsk in 1993.
The Theatre, in Which We Dance – Dada von Bzdülöw
The founder of the theatre, Leszek Bzydl, started as a pantomime artist. But the unique style of one of the first Polish dance theatres was also influenced by Dadaists and writers, especially by Witold Gombrowicz, considered an informal patron of this troupe. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, Dada has produced over 40 auteur and highly acclaimed pieces composed of motion, dance, live jazzimprovisation, literary quotations playing with the rules of theatrical convention. Bzdyl’s company has educated and shaped a whole generation of young artists, among them Anna Szteller and Filip Szatarski, now members of the influential Tri-City dance scene. But let’s go back to Poznań.
New Dance at the Old Brewery
This is the only such place on the dance map of Poland. It is a specialised space devoted solely to dancing – modern, multilevel choreography and education studio, one of the best managed and most successful projects in the past decade of Polish contemporary dance. It is here thatthe most interesting dance compilations are created and young artists, starting their professional careers under the watchful eyes of curator Joanna Leśnierowska and her regularly invited great choreographers and tutors from all over the world, attempt the highest artistic risk, setting the tone for the new critical Polish art of dancing.The strengthening of the underestimated discipline, which remains a marginalised sphere of Polish theatre, began exactly in Poznan, which has undeniably been the important centre of Polish contemporary dance since 2006.
At the Old Brewery, innovative and experimental forms, performances and dance installations do not require being supported of props or theatrical scenery. Leśnierowska shares Jonathan Burrows’ opinion, that in order “to create a dance you need two legs, two hands and above all a head”. The dancers also havelighting, space, music at their disposal - and an audience who often swaps places with the artists. Apart from creating the first Polish residency programme for searching artists Leśnierowska saw to, which is rare in Poland, the promotion of young talent on the Polish Dance Platform revived by her, where artists can meet curators, foreign producers and dance critics.
In 2003, Leśnierowska and Natalia Draganik created a collective called the Gymnastic Society, which was recognised by critics as one of the most interesting groups of the Polish dance environment. Its uncompromising artistic approach creates experimental spectacles in the centre, both hard to classify and often referring to their creator’s intimate experiences.“The Right Hemisphere” can serve as a good example. It is a poetic performance that inspires its viewers’ imagination. The author of this spectacle – Marysia Stokłosa, educated at the Amsterdam School of New Dance Development – searches for motion in the part of the brain that is responsible for visual thinking, spatial orientation and musical sensitivity. However, instead of a display of physical fitness, viewers are offered a completely different way of understanding dance, present in such forms as delicate eyelid movements. Thanks to the program offered by the New Dance Old Brewery, a new generation of young artists has been born, they are sometimes called conceptual dancers or dance philosophers. Just like Renata Piotrowska, Aleksandra Borys, who debuted at the 2012 Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Anita Wach and Janusz Orlik, who performed at the opening ceremony of the Old Brewery.
A New Generation: Internationally Educated, but on the quest in Poland
Their search for an original language in contemporary dance and the anticipation of an explosion of interest in dance in Poland have led many young creators to foreign art schools, especially to Belgium, Holland, France and the UK. Those who have returned try to put their international experience to use by doing something that is popular in the West - namely by founding artistic collectives and dance groups. Others choose a career as independent artists. Just like Kaya Kołodziejczyk, who was recognised by international critics as one of the most talented Polish choreographers of this young generation and who was trained at the legendary Belgian P.A.R.T.S. of Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker. Kołodziejczyk’s contemporary creations are often inspired by Polish folklore – (“Harnasie” by Szymanowski was staged at the foot of the Wielka Krokiew ski jump) - and they set new trends in the contemporary art of choreography. She is known for her refined, courageous and successful merging of different styles, disciplines and aesthetics: jazz and the Japanese dance called butoh or the traditional attire of Polish highlanders with dynamic and contemporary dance movements.
Renata Piotrowska’s artistic activity is also something in between visual arts, material arts, dance and performance. She is involved with the Poznań Old Brewery and in her performances she uses films and contact improvisation. Her most remarkable performance “Dancing with the Enemy”, presented during the Poznań Dance Platform in 2008, comments on contemporary culture. The driving force of the Polish contemporary dance of the past few years are artists like as Weronika Pelczyńska, known for her theatre collaboration with Agnieszka Glińska, also IzabelaSzostak, Karol Tymiński, Ramona Nagabczyńska – who are dancers involved with the recently founded Warsaw artistic collective Centre in Motion and with the Warsaw ‘Zawirowania’ Dance Theatre as well. The city of Lublin invariably remains a very important centre as it is the home to the Lublin Dance Theatre, founded in 2001 by Hanna Strzemiecka. Lublin is also home to the Maat Projekt Theatre, a searching, performing dance collective led by the celebrated young choreographer Tomasz Bazan.
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