Yanka Rudzka: Shamaness of Pirouettes
portrait, Yanka Rudzka:
Shamaness of Pirouettes, Yanka Rudzka, archival photograph, photo: Sílvio Robatto / courtesy of Lia Robatto, center, Yanka Rudzka, zdjęcie archiwalne, fot. Sílvio Robatto / dzięki uprzejmości Lii Robatto
A dance revolutionary in Brazil, but almost unknown in her own country. A shock of blond curls, fierce temperament and unmatched power of expression... Meet Yana Rudzka, the Polish woman who took the Brazilian dance scene by storm.
A mysterious pioneer
Yanka’s biography would be a challenge for many detectives. There are more secrets and blank spaces than known facts, and her story is a web of puzzles. We know she was born in 1916 in Łódź and probably took dance lessons from the masters of her time: Janina Mieczyńska or Tycjanna Wysocka. Later, Yanka will hone her skills in Germany and Switzerland, but it is her move to South America that will change her life.
Polish Dance Avant-garde Artists. Stories and Reconstructions – Image Gallery
Her overseas adventure takes off in Argentina. In 1952, she goes to Brazil for the first time. Soon, she will forever change the local dance culture there. She becomes a pioneer of choreography, merging the local context with modern forms. She is a committed teacher. In São Paulo, she begins teaching one of the first modern dance courses in Brazil. The real breakthrough comes with her trip to Salvador, a coastal city that, until the 18th century, served as the country’s capital.
Rudzka becomes the director of the Dance School at the university in Salvador. She spends only three years in the city – but what glorious years they are! Her ideas influence not only her local environment, but also other Brazilian dance artists. Yanka is not afraid to experiment, and her visions are often considered controversial. She doesn’t compromise, however. Thanks to her unique artistic boldness, Rudzka joins the avant-garde pantheon of South American artists.
Cultural Fusion: Poles in Latin America
In 1961, she creates the choreography for the movie Women and Millions, a Brazilian film about a bank robbery directed by Jorge Ileli.
Possessed by dance
Rudzka has an extraordinary mind, and she considers dance to be much more than just art. To her, the human body in motion becomes a fascinating laboratory, and Rudzka is also interested in anatomy, history of art and physiology. She passes this approach on to all her students.
Yanka is a devoted Catholic, but her deep faith doesn’t stop her from taking an interest in Candomblé: Afro-Brazilian religious practices. The primary element of Candomblé ceremonies is dance of possession. Those who fall into a dancing trance are chosen to communicate with the gods. Rudzka participates in these extraordinary ceremonies, watching intently and memorising every drum beat. She becomes the first choreographer to mix local rituals with modern dance, combining ecstasy with technique. The spiritual roots of dance are of fundamental importance to her: Yanka believes it impossible to create contemporary art without looking back into the past.
Traces of Polish Culture in Brazil
In 2015, Yanka Rudzka is ‘discovered’ in Poland. A year later, a group of Polish dancers, led by the dance dramaturge Joanna Leśnierowska, presents a project called Zaczyn (Leaven) in Brazil. This is a real archaeology of dance! The mission of the project is to reclaim Rudzka for Polish culture.
Zaczyn is an extraordinary romance of traditional dances from Brazil and Poland: samba de pé and the oberek respectively. The brilliant Polish choreographer becomes the inspiration for building a bridge between distant cultures. The project is followed by another performance, Wielogłos (Poliphony), where dancers from European countries join the international group. Yanka Rudzka remains the patron of the projects, symbolically looking after this unusual artistic meeting in spirit.
Originally written in Polish by Marcelina Obarska, translated by Agata Zano