Ula Zerek is a dancer, performer and playwright based in Trójmiasto. She founded the Polka dot artistic collective.
She was born in 1985 in Gdańsk, where she also went to school. In 2002, she studied the oboe in a music primary school and in 2008 she graduated from Gdańsk University's Centre for Foreign Language Teacher Training with English as her speciality.
She debuted in 2004 during the Gdańsk Dance Corporation festival, where she presented her 20-minute-long etude titled Zaśladczanie, prepared with Anna Jędrzejczak-Skutnik. In the same year, she began her collaboration with the Dada von Bzdülöw theatre – a dance group formed in 1992 in Gdańsk by choreographer and director Leszek Bzdyl and dancer and choreographer Katarzyna Chmielewska. She performed in the group's works, such as Odys-Seas (part of the SEAS project realised at the premises of the Gdańsk Shipyard), Eden (2006), Barricade of Love (2008), Red Grass (2009), FRUU (2011), Celebration (2012), Enclave 4/7 (2013) and Exposition (2017). The latter performance is an example of Zerek's interdisciplinary mindset – the artist combined movement with conceptual thought and photography:
In the exploration of the idea of time, I confront movement and photography on the basis of partnership and their simultaneous contraposition. At the point of departure, movement is the attempt to keep time flowing and photography is the attempt to stop it.
In 2007, she worked with the Trójmiasto-based Patrz Mi Na Usta theatre and took part in the Belladonna, choreographed and directed by Krzysztof Leon Dziemaszkiewicz.
In 2009, as the recipient of a scholarship from the marshal of Pomeranian Voivodeship, she presented her solo performance titled Humuli Lupuli as part of her residence in the Gdańsk-based Klub Żak. The idea of old age was her inspiration. The artist was accompanied by live musicians: Dominik Bukowski on marimba and Zofia Wróbel – the artist's sister – on cello. Humuli Lupuli was part of the Polish Dance Platform 2010. For this performance, her part in Red Grass and for the Polish-German multimedia project Pixel Fall 3D, Zerek was awarded a double ‘Storm of the Year’ prize by the Trójmiasto edition of Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper's culture section.
In 2011, Zerek established the Polka dot collective, and in May 2018, the Polka Dot Foundation was formed. Its aim is to propose a ‘new quality of the presence of dance in the areas of art, social life and at the crossroads of culture and business’. It is important for Zerek that artists from different fields of art co-operate: dance, theatre, dramaturgy, and music. Polka Dot's first performance was Memo for which Szymon Wróblewski wrote the script.
Magda Hajdysz said the following about the project:
Everything began with books – texts by Oliver Sacks, a neurobiologist (author of the famous book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat), and Douwe Draaisma – a historian of psychology. Zerek and Wróblewski, inspired by them, decided to confront themselves with the phenomenon of the human brain.
In 2012, the collective staged a performance titled Being in Gdańsk's New Synagogue. Zerek, responsible for the performance's concept and execution, was inspired by a 1955 guide for housewives. The artist said in a pre-premiere interview:
I didn't want my performance to give definitive answers, to, for example, carry an explicitly feminist message. Perhaps all these female roles – that of a mother, wife, cook – spring from a need, from an inner strength?
Zerek performed in the Polish version of Collective Jumps – a performance by German choreographer and performer Isabelle Schad. The performance was realised by Art Stations Foundation (in co-production with Warsaw's Goethe-Institut) and presented for the first time in December 2014 in the Old Brewery in Poznań. Collective Jumps was a dance statement on the topic of the formation of a community. It was an encounter between ‘forms and practices of traditional folk dances originating from various cultures’.
The artist also prepared the choreography for a performance by Wojtek Zrałek-Kossakowski titled The Gdańsk Tapes which premiered in November 2016 in Miniatura City Theatre's Rehearsal Space. It was a performance based on the memories of Zrałek-Kossakowski and a group of Pomerian youth invited by the creators. Other sources of inspiration for the performance were books by Magdalena Grzebałkowska (1945: War and Peace) and Piotr Perkowski (Gdańsk – A City from Scratch).
In September 2018, the premiere of the performance was held as a part of the international choreography project The Heart of a Factory, made in co-operation with the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, the European Solidarity Center and Tabacka Kulturfabrik from Slovakia. Zerek was responsible for the dramaturgy of the project, which is an authorial dance variation on the theme of the relationship between the body and the machine, inspired by the true stories of factory workers and the contemporary shape of Eastern and Middle Europe's post-industrial spaces which, nowadays, are gaining new life.
Sources: taniecpolska.pl, e-teatr.pl, teatrdada.pl, wyborcza.pl, encyklopediateatru.pl, dancedesk.pl, nck.org.pl; compiled by Marcelina Obarska, Aug 2018, translated by Patryk Grabowski, Sep 2018