Dance Polyphonies: Leśnierowska & Orlik Continue Their Journey
small, A photograph from the performance ‘The Yanka Rudzka Project: Polyphonies’ by Janusz Orlik and Joanna Leśnierowska, 2018, photo: M. Zakrzewski, center, wieloglos_m.zakrzewski_2.jpg
‘Maybe we will manage to win over the world? It’s evidently gone mad and perhaps thanks to this supranational and trans-religious community we will be able to improve it just a little bit’, declare Joanna Leśnierowska and Janusz Orlik of their continuation of an exceptional project inspired by the life and work of Yanka Rudzka, an artist of Polish descent who went down in the history books of dance in Brazil.
Dramaturgist, curator, and choreographer Joanna Leśnierowska and dancer-choreographer Janusz Orlik haven’t ceased in their attempts to discover a dance language which makesmake intercultural dialogue possible. The Yanka Rudzka Project: Polyphonies is the working title of an original programme which began with the unexpected rediscovery of Yanka Rudzka’s body of work. In 1956, she arrived in Salvador to run a pioneering dance school which quickly became one of the most important Brazilian centres of the performing arts. Yanka Rudzka, although relatively unknown in Poland, is considered to be the mother of contemporary dance in Salvador and one of the most important artists of modern dance in Brazil – the first person to combine the traditions of modern dance and Afro-Brazilian culture, especially the rituals of the African candomblé possession cult. Rudzka is one of the artists presented in the book Polish Dance Avant-garde Artists: Stories and Reconstructions, dedicated to the most prominent and experimental female dancers of the 20th century.
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Yanka Rudzka, photo: Sílvio Robatto / courtesy of the artist's assistant Lia Robatto
The revolutionary and controversial belief that contemporary culture cannot grow without invoking the local traditional roots of a region brought Yanka great esteem and secured her a place in South America’s pantheon of avant-garde dance. In the words of the project’s creators:
Rather than envisioning a reconstruction of Rudzka’s work, we were fascinated by her uncompromising creative attitude and the interest in traditional culture which she considered to be absolutely fundamental for the development of contemporary art. We were curious about the clash of our experimental approach with unstylised tradition. We wanted to find a tool to create a dance language which would feed on tradition but wouldn’t be an exact copy of it. The idea of juxtaposing the ritual samba and the oberek on stage is quite daunting. We engulfed ourselves in ethnochoreology to discover common elements and it was a very interesting journey across the history of our continents.
The research part of the project, which took place in 2016, was dedicated to tracing Yanka Rudzka’s history and work in order to reclaim her for the history of Polish dance and choreography. At that time, an entirely new performance titled ZACZYN (FERMENT) was also choreographed by Joanna Leśniarowska and Janusz Orlik. The performance brought together Polish and Salvadoran dancers and dancing communities.
The ecstasy of dance is addictive and contagious. There is a lot of good energy around this project. We feel that Yanka Rudzka’s spirit is with us. Full of humility, we travel on pilgrimages to sites of different cultures and start by learning at the source – not by imposing our external ideas.
Currently, the artists are continuing on their journey and inviting dancers from Caucasian countries.
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They began in 2018 with another studio visit to Armenia and Georgia where they had the chance to discover traditional Armenian and Georgian dances and to prepare workshops about Polish dances – the oberek and the mazurka. How did they come across the idea to invite dancers from this particular region?
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When we received a proposal to repeat the Yanka Rudzka project in the East, it was obvious to us that we couldn’t copy it in any way – we could only continue our journey and find places which, at first sight, would be as exotic as Brazil when paired with Poland. This is where the idea to travel to the countries of the Caucasus came from. Belarus, Ukraine, and Lithuania are – mostly because of our shared history – very close to us culturally. We share the same folklore. On the other hand, the Caucasus region seemed like a very interesting partner – even though it is the cultural cradle of Europe, it lies adjacent to the Near East. At the same time, we know that the cultures of Armenia and Georgia are also different from each other. Now we have a bigger team, more cultures to clash – and that’s exciting. In the practice of the dance rendezvous that we propose, we always ask ourselves who we are, how complicated our history is and how intercrossed our identity is. We also ask how similar, and, naturally, how inspiringly different our cultures are. And finally – how they can nourish contemporary choreography.
During their ethnochoreological quest, the artists, supported by ethnographer and Polish traditional dance specialist Piotr Zgorzelski, researched how many common elements the traditional dance cultures shared, irrespective of their geographical location:
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Most of the unstylised folk dances were created in similar circumstances – they were performed by poor and oppressed people. In Brazil’s case, they were enslaved Africans who tried to preserve a symbolic contact with their motherland and dignity through cultivating their own culture in a foreign land. In Poland, they were serfs. Dance gave these people strength, solace, and confirmation of their self-worth. All the dances of traditional cultures were of a communal, ecstatic and transformatively-ritualistic character. […] In those times and circumstances, dance was also a method to communicate with the divine. Those who danced the best in a particular traditional community were considered to be ‘chosen’, capable of ‘speaking’ with the deities. However, common elements are also visible in the form – traditional cultures were closely connected with agricultural labour. The ternary rhythm, which basically appears in every geographical location, is directly drawn from farm work.
According to the project’s creators, today’s conceptual and ‘cold’ choreography has distanced itself from emotions and the ecstatic roots of dancing. The contemporary laboratory approach to movement does not go hand in hand with the feeling of pleasure and joy which is present in dance. Leśnierowska and Orlik wanted to reclaim this aspect of avant-garde choreography. The artists also emphasise how important the human connection was for their project:
This project is an opportunity to see and discover yourself and your traditions through the body and the point of view of another human. This is its greatest asset – holding a mirror up to each other. On the conceptual level, this is not something that surprised us – but on the emotional level, it was an entirely extraordinary experience. Paradoxically, the farther one goes, the more one is able to connect with oneself. It might’ve seemed that our traditional culture is a natural environment for us, one in which we feel confident. However, in fact, contemporary culture made us blind to our roots. Only our long journey during which we are somewhat forced to deepen our knowledge about our culture so that we become able to share it with someone else made it so that we could understand ourselves better.
The project will be finished with a new, multicultural performance which is planned to premiere in September 2018 in Stary Browar in Poznań. However, the artists say this is not the main goal of their activities:
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For us, the process itself is the most important thing in this project. We joke around that the staged performance is actually a by-product, a report of the journey. We focus on meeting in practice and practising meetings and allow ourselves to remain ignorant for as long as possible.
Choreographic Territories project is a part of the POLSKA 100 international cultural programme coordinated by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, realised within the scope of NIEPODLEGŁA perennial programme in the years 2017-2021.
Financed by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland as a part of the NIEPODLEGŁA perennial programme in the years 2017-2021.
Originally written in Polish by Marcelina Obarska, Apr 2018, translated by PG, May 2019