Kaya Kołodziejczyk is a dancer and choreographer, hailed as one of the talents of the thirty-something generation. In her latest performance, she takes inspiration from centuries-old Japanese theatre traditions and explores how these traditions may be applied to folklore and traditions of her native Poland.
Dancer and choreographer.
Kaya Kołodziejczyk finished ballet studies as the Polish art scene was undergoing a dynamic shift, with artists including Katarzyna Kozyra and Dorota Nieznalska generating critical work that broke through social, political, religious and cultural taboos. The body became a focus of this shift, particularly with feminist themes explored on canvas and in photography and video. Yet the dance scene was stagnant, as Kołodziejczyk recalls, with the options for a young dancer limited to classical ballet companies or folk troupes.
Instead, she attended the P.A.R.T.S. academy in Belgium, one of the important European centres for contemporary dance and performing arts, where she pursued her own path and worked with people from all over the world. She studied with Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, the renowned Belgian-Moroccan choreographer, and with Akram Khan, who fuses his U.K. background with his Bangladeshi heritage. Kołodziejczyk picked up dance genres and styles from the minimalist to the fanciful, and was inspired to a new way of thinking about dance by the Flemish director-choreographers Jan Fabre and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. With a sense of freedom, room to breathe and the space to let her creativity grow, she returned to Poland to develop a theatre of movement at home.
Kołodziejczyk initiated an independent artistic collective in 2007, which she named U/LOI, for Universal Law of Impermanence. The group's dancers, musicians and visual artists moved beyond the theatre space with their work, into the public sphere, the space of the city, including post-industrial buildings and galleries. The performance PK explored the roots of Polish-Jewish relations, setting movement inspired by the extreme urban sport of parcours in the post-industrial spaces of Łódź.
Her piece, Oh, Noh, takes audiences on a journey to medieval Japan, with choreography and a philosophical approach drawn from classic Noh theatre of the samurai courts. Kołodziejczyk traveled in Japan, immersing in dance and culture, learning from masters of classical Japanese performance and meeting people dedicated to continuing Noh's 700-year-old tradition. Kołodziejczyk recalls:
Everything started at the first of many workshops. It was by complete chance. In the next studio someone was rehearsing a dance that had come from a few Noh performances. On my next trip to Tokyo I happened to see Akram Khan and Juliette Binoche's collaboration, then I attended a dinner with Japanese curators who were fascinated with Polish culture. We talked a great deal about Andrzej Wajda and about... manga. They asked how long I had been living in Japan because I behaved as though I were from there.
That evening resulted in an invitation to the Kodo Music Festival, where she met Midori, a 25-year-old dancer who had been studying Noh since childhood, as well as voice training and music. Kołodziejczyk explains:
She knows 70 dramas by heart, a whole catalogue of gestures and movements, but in spite of all this, there's no place for her on stage! She's a secretary in a large Japanese firm. She didn't agree to do a performance about this, but she did agree to write a drama for us and demonstrate an alternative perspective on womanhood.
Oh, Noh is a visual performance based on the drama Izutsu, written by Zeami, one of the genre's pioneers. The action takes place in the liminal space between dream and reality. 'It's a multimedia spectacle that processes the standards of traditional Japanese theatre in a contemporary way', says Kołodziejczyk. 'The measure of time isn't just part of the dramatic structure of the musical tempo of live performance by the five-member Kinematic Ensemble, but the imagery as well. We were invested in capturing the sensuality of the shifting, changing atmosphere'. The costumes, created by the daring young fashion designer Maldoror, added another dimension of movement, with costumes whose unconventional shape had an impact on the scope of the dancers' movements. The work debuted in early November 2012 as part of the Crossroads (Rozdroże) dance festival in Warsaw.
Harnasie in baseball caps
Reflections on classical Polish tradition and folklore informed the performance to Karol Szymanowski's ballet score Harnasie in 2012, along with ways of reinterpreting its themes based on Gorale highlander customs. The performance took place in Zakopane, capitol of the Polish highlands, in summer fields beneath the towering Tatra Mountains. Kołodziejczyk exchanged traditional headgear for baseball caps, as one anachronism in making traditions accessible to new audiences. Critic Tomasz Handzlik remarked on the wealth of emotion that Kołodziejczyk presented without resorting to pathos or caricature, giving Harnasie her own 'fire and energy' while referencing Szymanowski's vision to move beyond the hard rustic forms of the highlanders and delve into the tale's epic character, simmering on the surface with theatrical drama dwelling within. The audience in Zakopane clearly shared Handzlik's appraisal, with their standing ovation at the curtain call.
Piruettes in the Opera
Kołodziejczyk's talent is being acknowledged by the dance establishment she was wary of as her career began. She scored a part in the director Mariusz Treliński's production of Richard Wagner's Flying Dutchman at the National Opera House in Warsaw in 2012. 'Mariusz Treliński has changed the opera format,' she explains, adding that:
I'll never forget his Madame Butterfly or King Roger. He's a visionary, he's brought fresh air into the opera and shaken up the institution. This revolution is enduring and Treliński is continuously changing the way people thinking about opera. He has introduced a rich palette of tones and shades.
Kołodziejczyk clearly sees a place for herself among these tones and shades, incorporating her own spirit into parts she performs. She's taken her dance beyond Poland - mountains or otherwise - to Belgium, France, Germany and Holland. She was singled out by the critics in the German magazine Ballettanz in 2009 as the most intriguing dancer of the new generation. She has been associated with the APAP European network of performance artists since 2011, and lectures on dance at universities in Europe, the U.S. and Japan.
In 2013 she took part in a workshop held on the Mad Brook farm owned by Steve Paxton and Lisa Nelson, during which she got to know the work of the precursors of the contact improvisation dance technique. At the same time she developed an interest in the ecological and countercultural movement Back-To-The-Land. This resulted in the staging of SOL, a performance which she debuted at the Body / Mind Festival. She co-created the choreography with the legendary and politically radical American group Bread and Puppet Theatre, which celebrated its 50th anniversary. Kołodziejczyk explains that the performance is a critical reflection on contemporary dance decades after the revolution carried out by pioneers of post-modern dance, as well as a personal expression and an attempt to summarize her career.
Kołodziejczyk avoids categorising her art form, which breaks the bounds of genre. ‘I'm interested in the interdisciplinary space’, she says. ‘I'm independent, but I like to work within collectives. What I do I refer to as original performance, dance, theatre of movement’. For her, dance begins with an essential spark - a fascination with movement.
Translated by Agnieszka Le Nart based on the original text by Anna Legierska for Culture.pl, November 2012, update: May 2016