Dance. It is happening here and now. Poland 2017
Observation of the current transformations on the Polish contemporary dance scene is now extremely interesting as we are witnessing various dynamic aesthetic changes occurring within a relatively short time. This phenomenon provides a fascinating opportunity for deliberating, organizing facts and creating the historical narrative.
1973, when Conrad Drzewiecki established the Polish Dance Theatre – Poznań Ballet, is usually considered as the beginning of the history of Polish contemporary dance. At that time and even later, in the first decade of the XXI century, the dance theatre genre was eagerly explored by critics and researchers. Many artists sought, in their work, to break down the choreographic structure by introducing significant theatrical elements such as verbal narrative and singing, the use of acting and the introduction of many dance techniques into one performance. The narrative was also modified. The first signs of changes, such as deconstruction, simultaneity and the break-up of the action into micro stories were introduced in the continuous narrative characteristic for ballet. Fascination with the genre of dance theatre reached its apogee in the 90’s.
Dance theatres, led by charismatic artists, often pedagogues, have been established in the most important dance centres. Jacek Łumiński, Ewa Wycichowska, Witold Jurewicz, Leszek Bzdyl and Katarzyna Chmielewska, Hanna Strzemiecka, Iwona Olszowska, Marta Pietruszka, Janusz Skubaczkowski, Beata Owczarek Wojciech Mochniej and Melissa Monteros, Katarzyna Skawińska, Elżbieta Szlufik-Pańtak. In addition to these theatres various festivals emerged and eventually have become an important aspect of dance life, substituting for the lack of infrastructure and education.
This admiration for dance theatre was possible because it originated from the strong, but interrupted tradition of Polish expressionist dance from the interwar period, continued by the pedagogical work of Janina Jarzykówna – Sobczak at the Gdańsk Ballet School. Later, the spirit of this tradition has been consciously awakened by Drzewiecki and the Expression Theatre of Wojciech Misiuro (1987).
The next generation of artists (for example Joanna Czajkowska, Eryk Makohon, Karolina Garbacik, and Jacek Owczarek) made his, in some sense belated debut, at the end of the 90’s and at the beginning of a next decade. These artists most often work in permanent teams, they are associated with a specific space and they have deliberately chosen to act as dance theatres. As a generation, they have not created one artistic manifesto; each artist had to pave his/her own way. They do not organize any longer festivals gathering the whole dancing community; they tend to act more locally. All of the sudden there are a lot of dance events, as well as pedagogues and dance studios. At this time situation of the dance has begun to differ from the period of the Polish People’s Republic and the first years after the political transformation in 1989.
Completely different dynamics in dance may be observed after 2004, i.e. after Poland joined the European Union. The representatives of the Polish dance community began to travel abroad in search of education. The opportunity of completing education in the filed of dance and choreography at foreign universities attracted many young dancers and they have suddenly realized that now it’s much easier to organize and finance the studies abroad than it was in the past. Adepts of Polish ballet school more often chose to study in places such as Vienna, Berlin, Linz, Amsterdam, Brussels, Salzburg or London. Some of them returned to Poland after several years and began working independently, without their own permanent location and team. Instead, they had to depend on grants, individual work or cooperation with art centres. The artists of this generation often carry out projects both in Poland and abroad. They refer to the other aesthetics than those represented by the type of dance theatre, transplanted to Poland by their older colleagues. Dance theatre has been superseded by the so-called new dance/new choreography, which is closer to performance and improvisation.
Poznań residency programs of the Old Brewery, created by the curator Joanna Leśnierowska, as well as other residency programs (re: //mix, Żak Club residency programs, Maat Festival, Choreographic Machine, Schlemmer Analogies) have had great significance. This group consists of about thirty people (Anita Wach, Janusz Orlik, Renata Piotrowska, Małgorzata Haduch, Karol Tymiński, Kaya Kołodziejczyk, Ramona Nagabczyńska, Maria Stokłosa) who, according to their assumptions, refer to „No manifesto” of Yvonne Rainer. They also give priority to performative actions and reduce theatrical elements by concentrating more on everyday life and using ordinary movements in choreography, such as walking or jumping. They are more interested in a visual body than in a semiotic body, they concentrate on formal aspects, which they deconstruct or build based on a metanarrative. In the substance of their works one can see a tendency to the open forms. Most often the starting point of their work is a creative process, which is a kind of introspection stretched in time and which eventually results with physical actions that they work with and they collect them in order to eventually create a form of a performative activity.
New dance, often defined as new choreography is also based on a combination of a perspective of a researcher and an artist, therefore this phenomenon often results in projects such as a lecture performance. A perfect example of this kind of project is a work of Renata Piotrowska “Death. Exercises and Variations”, which tells a story of dance of death (danse macabre), on one hand with words and on the other hand by inscribing this story on the body of an artist.
This kind of choreographic activity is designed for the space of museums and art galleries (Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, Museum of Art in Łódź, Cricoteka in Cracow, Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle) and therefore these institutions have become home for dance.
Simultaneously with the activities of the „Solo Generation“ begins a long awaited moment of creating various institutions, whose presence is leading to greater professionalism in the field of dance. The Faculty of the Dance Theatre (the first academy to teach in the field of contemporary dance) has been established in Bytom (2007/2008), the Polish National Ballet gains the autonomy within the structure of the Grand Theatre – National Opera and the Institute of Music and Dance (founded in 2010) stars slowly shaping the dynamics of Polish independent dance scene, even though many programs of the Institute are also dedicated to the institutions. The activities, carried out by the Institute of Music and Dance, consolidate the community of people connected with dance.
One of the primary aims of the Institute is to set up the participatory national dance scene in the capital. Some sort of the indirect solution, because of the lack of this type of institution, may be the cooperation with the Studio Theatre and regular presentations within the frames of the “Studio Dance Scene”, prepared by various curators.
Dance has also begun to infiltrate into dramatic theatre, it is already possible to point out to some fruitful effects of cooperation between theatre directors and choreographers in terms of theatre performances, for example, in the case of such teams as: Tomasz Bazan and Krzysztof Garbaczewski, Dominika Knapik and Ewelina Marciniak, Kaya Kołodziejczyk and Mariusz Treliński or Maja Kleczewska, Weronika Pelczyńska and Agnieszka Glińska.
There are also various other interesting projects carried out in the theatre by other choreographers less connected with a particular director, for example by Mikołaj Mikołajczyk and Iza Chlewińska. Another kind of innovation is the more and more common introduction of social participatory projects, run by choreographers, but carried out together with the amateurs. It is worth mentioning here such projects as: “Nights and Days” by Mikołaj Mikołajczyk and Iwona Pasińska, “Now it’s the time” by Mikołaj Mikołajczyk or MaMaPerform – Maria Stokłosa’s project for women.
Another important person who is deeply involved in social issues and creates very meaningful, socially engaged performances is Aurora Lubos. The artist touches upon issues of refugees, physical and symbolic domestic violence etc.
In 2017 the Nowy Theatre in Warsaw has invited young choreographers (who call themselves „Generation After”) to showcase their presentations on a regular basis. Among them there are artists associated with the group of artist called “Solo Generation”, such as Maria Stokłosa, Renata Piotrowska, Anna Nowicka, Magda Ptasznik, as well as younger artists such as Paweł Sakowicz, Marta Ziółek, Alex Baczyński-Jenkins and Mateusz Szymanówka – a dramaturg and a curator.
Polish dance scene is experiencing a kind of boom, gaining new spaces and infiltrating slowly into the consciousness of its audience on a wider scale. It begins to settle down in the ecosystem of performative arts and expresses its message and more and more clearly and louder. It is not afraid of experimenting and is searching for new means of expression and new challenges. Dance strongly influences the theatre, and people connected with theatre have become very fascinated with dance: corporeality has stolen the show in dramatic theatre. The upcoming years will probably be the most interesting in the recent history of Polish contemporary dance, so it’s definitely worth keeping our finger on the pulse.