Dancer, choreographer and manager of the Silesian Dance Theatre in Bytom.
He is currently known mainly as the manager of the Silesian Dance Theatre in Bytom and Department of Dance Theatre dean at the Ludwik Solski Academy for the Dramatic Arts in Krakow, but the accomplishments of this artist are synonymous with last two decades of Polish dance history. His roles include, but are not limited to: choreographer and dancer, educator, curator and contest jury member, social activist and manager.
Jacek Łumiński graduated in dance education at the Academy of Music in Warsaw. Afterwards, he studied acting and played in many performances at the National Jewish Theatre in Warsaw for six years, eg. these authored by Jakub Rotbaum, Szymon Szurmiej and Juliusz Berger. In 1979-1985 he participated in drama classes organised by the theatre. He has also performed on many other stages in Poland. He participated in numerous workshops and internships in the United States (Juilliard School, Alvin Ailey School, Bartholin Academy), Germany (in Essen and Cologne), Denmark (Copenhagen) and Poland. Between 1985 and 1988 the danced at the Polish Dance Theatre in Poznań in Conrad Drzewiecki's group. Then he created Modern Dance Theatre in Olsztyn, which was unfortunately active only for two seasons. Yet Łumiński's actual career began in 1991, when he, together with Belgian choreographer and dancer Avi Kaiser, founded the Silesian Dance Theatre in the industrial region of Poland, in Bytom. The first performance presented to the audience was Ma quere a moi. At that time the theatre was an exceptionally dynamic institution which connected the sophisticated young artist’s private entrepreneurship with the patronage of developing local self-government. SDT is considered to be the first professional modern dance group in Poland. Although local authorities were sceptic about the existance of the group, it was active for 23 years and make Bytom recognised worldwide – especially in United States as the most renowned dance centre in Poland.
The theatre’s head soon became noticed – he managed to establish international contacts, especially in the United States, which made him a leading figure in the contemporary dance milieu of 1990s Poland. The aim of this unique, entirely original institution, which connected the qualities of a creative work hub and an education centre, was to develop and promote the art of dance on an international scale. Hence Łumiński felt – at that time, legitimately so – that he is an ambassador of Polish dance, its most prominent figure and leader. The dance circles in Poland consist of individualists and although Łumiński educated several great dancers and choreographers, he didn’t find many followers of his 'method' understood as a native aesthetic. As a result, the SDT isolated itself, whilst its leader simultaneously strengthened his institutional activities. As he said in his own words about his artistic and social enterprise:
I have always believed that contemporary dance will find its audience in our country, especially among the young viewers. I cared about creating an institution which would gather supporters, connect artistic and educational qualities, whilst fulfilling a service role toward independent artists at the same time
Educational and promotional success of the SDT cannot be questioned. In 2005, together with six other European dance schools and with support of the Leonardo Da Vinci EU program, first academic-level dance school program was created. First graduates of the 'actor-dancer' specialization have already left the school. SDT paid also significant attention to social programs. The artists worked with disabled and senior people, with children, they also visit social welfare institutions, hospitals and schools. Other special achievements include the Annual International Contemporary Dance Conference and Performance Festival, which attracted both renowned artists and debutants to Bytom. It was the biggest and the oldest dance festival in Polad. It was held annually in July from 1994 to 2013. It was the time of workshops for professionals and amateurs, classes for dance critics, classes in recording dance and for art managers.
The SDT dance group consisted of 11 members, but its line-up constantly changed. Except for Jacek Łumiński’s works, the group’s oeuvre includeed productions by Avi Kaiser (Belgium), Anna Sokolow (USA), Teresa Friedman (USA), Mark Haim (USA), Risa Jaroslow (USA), Melissa Monteros (USA), Stephanie Skura (USA), Wendell Beavers (USA), Sam Costa (USA), Frank Handeler and Diane Elshout (Holland), Christine Brunel (Germany), Henrietta Horn (Germany), Conrad Drzewiecki, as well as revivals of historical works in choreography by Polish dancer and choreographer of the interwar period, Pola Nireńska, prepared by Rima Faber (USA). SDT was closed by authorities in Bytom in 2013.
Jacek Łumiński rose to fame as a choreographer outside of his homeland, even though his own technique is sometimes called Polish school of contemporary dance. Łumiński’s idea od Polishness is rooted in local folklore (including Jewish tradition – mainly of the Hasidim, who once lived in Poland), the specific character of dance figures in folk rituals and their characteristic spiritual element. The artist follows a specific manifesto of self-knowledge:
Jacek Łumiński’s contemporary dance style was established under the influence of many culture elements which emerged during research (begun in 1981) on the folklore of Polish Jews as well as Polish folklore mirroring local mentality, history, geopolitical situation. These elements shape the motor qualities and values and influence movement in space. The essence of shaping the movement is deeply rooted in folklore factors typical for various regions of Poland – tempo rubato, asymmetrical musical structure, asymmetrical pulse and other distinguishing elements of Podhale, Lubelszczyzna, Kurpie, Sądecczyzna, Rzeszowszczyzna and others. Each region developed its own folk tradition qualities under the influence of the local communities’ experience and mentality. For example, people of Podhale share an unique meaning of space – one which mirrors their sense of freedom and independence. Music, songs and dance from this region are characterized by a variety and complexity of rhythms. An 'open throat' singing manner reveals the power and resilience of the people. All these elements and other ones, altogether with a specifically cacophonous sound of local music, help touch the transcendental aspects of human nature. Kurpie, a land of virgin forests, provides a variety of original musical forms which remained unchanged throughout centuries – not only tempo rubato, but also irregular structures of musical forms. Regardless of aforementioned factors, the Jewish songs, legends, superstitions, customs, manners, rituals and dance forms – the substance of hands, pelvis, chest and spine – ecstatic elements, ritual movements et al. have a significant influence on the basis of style and technique developed in the Silesian Dance Theatre. Dance seen as a conversation with God or a connection with supernatural powers, dance as prayer – as it functions in the Hasidic tradition, was included in the Silesian Dance Theatre style. “Swimming” in space, connecting inner and outer worlds, but also surpassing those worlds through technical skill (enriched with knowledge about body and mind) and mental power shapes the general vision of the group.
While observing Łumiński’s often exquisite choreographic achievements, it’s difficult to notice a streak of 'Polishness' going beyond fascination with folklore, known also to other 20th century Polish choreographers. His own dance works seem to portray emotion and forms of human relationships, encapsulated in the language of folk dance gestures. Sometimes moving, sometimes predictable – but the artist manages to build his own language of movement, possibly nearest to the aesthetic of 'physical theatre' and filled with specifically 'American' dynamism of the group as an agile scenic body. Sharply divided phrases, acrobatic stunts, a play of sudden meetings and partings create an uneasy, even aggressive atmosphere of the performances. The main motif seems to be a conflict between 'the individual and the social', a muscular body is usually in contrast with 'technically' cold set, whilst folklore motifs refer to a primal, ritual layer of emotion.
Jacek Łumiński created over twenty original dance performances. In Łumiński's choreographies there is no room for improvisation. His works are inspired rather by the reality, social relations than by literary traditions.
An exceptionally well-received one was Wk-70 (1998), incredibly precise and choreographically polished. The performance merges modern dance inspirations with a quality typical for Łumiński: an ability to correlate human body with a wall, a crossbeam, a solid shape. The stage is covered with a transparent, plastic tent, resembling a greenhouse or an incubator, a bunker or a temple; moving on wheels, the tent often divided the space into separate areas, in which various etudes are performed. Music of different eras: from medieval times, through baroque and romanticism, to popular hits known to every Pole – seems to infiltrate dancers’ bodies, freeing a type of movement, content and emotion typical for its time. Superficial historical and social conditioning moves deeper into the sphere of intimate behavior, to reach eventually the domain of archetypes. Particular figures are more than a simple paraphrase of old dances – in the dancers’ positions, steps and gestures, there appears only a spark of ritual movement, which joined the carnal with the ceremonial, even prayerful commitment.
In the Charm of the ordinary days. The saint’s dream performance (2005) a sophisticated choreography is located on a multi-leveled scaffolding – both a support and a creative obstacle for the dancers. The subject again refers to a sensitive, weak individual’s entanglement in a web of anonymous and brutal social relations. In a certain moment, the purely dance sequence suddenly ends, and the dancers turn into actors in an improvised performance involving the audience. Then, it turns into a satire on contemporary media, advertising and commerce. The final scene presents a fallen angel with a Mohawk hairstyle – a figure bringing unreal hope into brutal ordinariness. The night of the dew (2003) is a male solo, performed under a transparent tent with a ladder and softly falling feathers, surrounded with warm yellow light. The ladder can become a hiding place or an observation point, a border point between the intimate and the unfamiliar. It leads towards an invisible kingdom, which – despite being impossible to reach – can remain in dreams and memories of the endeavour. The author used the construction in an exquisite way, turning an ordinary set element into an integral part of the choreography. At the edge of day and dream (2000) consists of separate images referring to basic feelings – love, hate, aggression, compassion. Very simple yet suggestive set suggests an universal “nature”, which provides a sense of mystery and ambiguity. In a beautiful forest image, in tree hollows, girls adored by men appear like Madonnas in roadside shrines; allusions to chthonic symbols, Slavic mythology and Polish folk tradition lead the interpretation towards the sacrum.
The neighbor chronicles (2008) is a long etude for two mixed couples, merging a gymnastic convention (exercises on a horizontal bar, martial arts) with a dramatic one (a marital argument on a beach), oscillating around feminist subjects and, as usual in Łumiński’s works, depicting human relationships in an aggressive environment.
Another Jacek Łumiński’s choreography is Panopticon and/or the Poppy parable (2008). The set consists of a giant, complex construction built of metal bars and mesh, resembling a prison. The viewers are sat outside, passively looking through the bars on the group of dancers literally wriggling between the elements of the trap, in search of an exit. Their bodies twist around the pipes, and suspended in a circus-like manner, keep crashing with the brutal matter and with each other. In this cage, a story about a poppy seed continues – a parable of an anonymous individual, yearning for freedom, but unable to tear themselves away from others. Each of the dancers-prisoners has their five-minute solo and a short community moment in a duo, but it turns out soon that everybody here is only an element of a general, total plan of inner, outer and interpersonal enslavement.
The individualistic dimension of modern dance and totalitarian manner of corp de ballet gain a metaphorical meaning here. The image of 'enslavement' becomes an universal illustration of the human condition (Jadwiga Majewska, The Body Revolving The Stage. New Dance in New Poland, IT, Warsaw 2011).
Łumiński received recognition in international circles, which led to trust put in him by the official cultural administrators.
Travels to the United States – says the artist – are an ennoblement, and reviews by renowned American critics opened a door to the world for us. In America, I have found a confirmation of my concept for contemporary dance, which draws inspiration from Polish and Jewish folk tradition as well as classical and contemporary music. The fact that we’re respected in local academic circles can be confirmed by series of lectures for held by our dancers for American students.
This position, especially expose in the last decade, is confirmed by reviews in the American press. New York Times announced the group’s American success in 2002:
In the times, in which even the most serious artists aim at entertaining the audience, Jacek Łumiński and his Silesian Dance Theatre – a dance group from Bytom in Poland – doesn’t flatter the popular taste. As usual, he remains uncompromising in rejecting conventional solutions.
The Dancing Time wrote in 2003:
Łumiński’s works give evidence to an awareness of alienation currents – both superficial and deep ones – which to a large extent build the expression of contemporary dance, as well as the knowledge of theatre using mixed modes of expression. He uses slide projections, video elements, movement of passers-by, but also more formal dance elements. Above all, he seems to remain tuned in – emotionally and actually – to a more traditional type of expression, based on less experimental means. These are only a few opinions of international critics, expressing their regard for the Silesian scene leader’s talent.
Jacek Łumiński’s position in the Word of dance is mirrored by numerous awards, grants and fellowships: Ben Sommers Award (USA/Israel) in 1986, Ballett International Fellowship (Germany) in 1988 rok, United States Information Agency-Visisting Artist (USA), 1992; Trust for Mutual Understanding/Suitcase Fund Fellowship (USA), 1993 and 1994; ArtsLink Fellowship (USA), 1994 and 2002; The Golden Mask’95 – the award given by the governor of Katowice; McKnight Fellowship (USA), 1995; Pola Nirenska Award (USA), 1996, Art Award of the President of Bytom, 1997; Golden Mask '99 for choreographing Wk-70 at the Silesian Dance Theatre, Filar Raportu award 2003, Golden Cross of Merit 2004, Golden Badge of Honour for contributions to the development of the Silesian Voivodeship 2005, the award of International Theatre Institute - ITI for international promotion of Polish culture (2009) and Silver Medal Gloria Artis for contributions to culture (2012). In 2000 he became one of the curators at the Contemporary Dance Coproduction Fund, he also became professor at the Swarthmore College in Philadelphia.
In 2008 Łumiński became a head of the Department of Dance Theatre at the Ludwik Solski Academy for the Dramatic Arts in Krakow. The same year he becaame a PhD. In 2009 he started working as a scientific editor in publications of the University of Warsaw concerning dance.
After winding up the group of the Silesian Dance Theatre, Łumiński became an initiator to another dance festival, organised by Silesian Dance Theatre Foundation. International Conference – Contemporary Dance Festival Ekotopie Kultury is held annually in Katowice. The first edition was made in 20014. The festival is not only about presenting performances, but also about organising workshops for mamteurs and professionals, debates, lectures and social projects.
Jacek Łumiński, as a strong and passionate personality, can successfully promote his achievements, give interviews and publish his musings on dance itself as well as its social and political contexts. He ran workshops at American universities, in the Netherlands, Germany, Israel and in many cities in Poland. For many, he remains a champion, for others – a sworn enemy. He is still a controversial and a very active figure on the local dance scene. He explains his credo in his own words:
I have never been interested in the art for it’s own sake. Art has a tangible, human dimension, not only an egotistic one, and the more actions like this are taken, the more people begin to change. I think that during these 20 years of activity we managed to gain people’s trust. This is the most difficult thing. Of course, one can start a theatre. But the big gest challenge is to survive. Dance is treated in many cultures as a 'popular human form' – which means that it’s not as sophisticated as ballet. To the question: is dance an alternative to life of sorts?, I will reply: Dance is life, for sure! It’s bodily expression, impacting the viewer directly through the senses – intellectual reflection appears later. The mind usually orders us to adjust carnal solutions to political and social situation, to the viewers, which makes it all very 'neat.
Author: Jadwiga Majewska, August 2011; updated May 2016 (ND).