They dance Chopin and Piazzolla, flamenco and Tom Waits. Zawirowania (Swirls) consist of 10 performances, four dance personalities and a distinctive style, which has become recognized in the last decade at the most important international festivals – from Minsk and Madrid to Israel and South Korea.
Dance theatre, founded in 2004 by the dancer Elwira Piorun and director Włodzimierz Kaczkowski
Zawirowania Dance Theate, credit: Marta Ankiersztejn
Zawirowania Dance Theatre was established in 2004 under the Contemporary Scene Foundation's auspices and it creates primarily original narrative performances which are to tell a story using contemporary dance techniques.
Elwira Piorun has been active on the scene for over 20 years, as a dancer and a long-time soloist at the Grand Theatre of the National Opera. She played the main roles in Giselle, Fortepianissimo, Insatiability. She spent her last years at the Warsaw Ballet School during the martial law, when there was little choice except for the classics. Yet those gloomy 1980s were the heyday of Polish ballet.
- We performed in Taiwan, Germany, United States, Japan. The best choreographers, including Balanchin, Bejart and Neumeier, worked with us. In 1987, I took the long-awaited position of the Grand Theatre Ballet soloist – summarises Elwira Piorun. In 2013 she received an invitation to work with Ido Tadmor and Rachel Erdos with two-part production “Rust&Engage” as the effect of their collaboration. Except from modern dance, she also is also a teacher in classical dance and yoga.
Grand plie, Witkacy and Stańko
Elwira’a first fascinations? Jiří Kylián and William Forsythe. – It was such a discovery for me! A revolutionary combination of the classics with a modern energy flow. An important experience on my way to contemporary dance was my collaboration on the Insatiability ballet based on Witkacy’s works, with Tomasz Stańko’s music. My friend Zofia Rudnicka was responsible for the choreography, Włodek Kaczkowski was responsible for the script, and I had an influence on my cabaret diva role. So, sometime in the 1987, we can find the rudimentary idea of our own group, which would later become Zawirowania.
The success of the performance was built on Stańko’s music, Witkacy’s drugged visions masterfully interpreted by Marek Walczewski, as well as the original choreography, to which Elwira 'added a small contribution'. – My position in theatre was fairly strong, but when I received an invitation from Jurek Makarowski to work in a local theatre of Hagen, Germany, I didn’t hesitate to accept it.
The West appealed with its wealth and openness – it was 1989, so leaving the country wasn’t a decision for lifetime anymore. From Hagen, she moved to Dortmund. – I danced a lot, often in the main roles. Probably the most personal performance was Kindertotenlieder to Mahler’s music, when we danced in a church. But I abandoned classic ballet decidedly and with no regrets – even though my body probably still carries many habits, which sometimes help, and sometimes can be an obstacle.
But these are the 1990s. An entirely different story.
Astor Piazzolla versus Tom Waits
In 2004, the creators of Zawirowania – dancer Elwira Piorun and director Włodzimierz Kaczkowski – decided to apply contemporary dance techniques to build narrative performances. They announced a return to the plot – increasingly frequently abandoned in favour of nonlinearity and conceptualism.
Zawirowania’s first premiere was Hold Me, to Astor Piazzolla’s music. On the stage: three women and one man, with a few bar seats in the background. Renowned bandoneonist’s melancholy music slowly flows from the speakers. No single word is uttered.
According to Jacek Marczyński, Rzeczpospolita s reviewer, it was :
A simple story told using simple means. Nominally contemporary dance seems nearly classical in comparison to current postmodern pursuits. But this short performance carries something important: the emotional impact of each of the four dancers
Anna Markiewicz commented on Hold Me at the TVP website: "Piazzolla’s music stresses the sharp, dynamic character of particular scenes, while the interiors of Prochownia create a distinctive set design to a show, in which reality intertwines with imagination and dream."
Zawirowania’s recent compositions: Water, Air or Close-Ups tell stories about elements and relationships between men and women. – “They resemble a collage of dance and poetic scenes” – writes Anna Czajkowska. – “There is no complex character psychology nor experience. (…) Realist aesthetics, simple choreography based on the essence of the body, are the quintessence of artists’ emotional ordeals in life. In a common space, each of the performers (and choreographers at once) tells their own story, simultaneously searching for closeness of another person. The raw interiors of Stara ProchOFFnia – cool red brick, sparse stage design and lack of props puts a more significant challenge before the artists”.
In 2005-2006 two other productions with Elwira Piorun premiered: W stronę światła... z zawiązanymi oczami and If You Love – Kill. Both of them are showing a man trying to find oneself and getting lost in the modern world. After Hours (2007) was another depiction of the world moving forward too fast, where people have no time for a break. They immerse in their own thoughts and are too afraid to fail and do not take risk essential to make dreams come true. Then Nothing But Blue is about chaos at an airport where accumulation people's possesion show their real faces. In 2009 the theatre produced Innocent when you dream and, in cooperation with Spanish artists, Chopin ambiente with choreography by Juan de Torres and Daniela Merlo from Larumbe Danza (Elwira Piorun created choreography of the Polish part). In 2010 they performed Fuera de Campo with choreography by Daniel Abreu. Another production was Things, things, things (2012) choreographed by Karolina Korczak. In this performance the artists explore the issue of Holocaust, traumas and suffering.
2013 brought two international collaboration, one of them was Navigation Song BD303 (choreography by Irad Mazliah), refering to navigation songs used by fishing communities. This is how the authors' describe this production:
On the base of fishermen’s coming back home, Navigation Song BD303 approaches the topic of Cain’s curse and the homeless wander to eternity. The spectacle recalls moments of human change: the philosophy of humanity by Erasmus, and the idea of the new European presented in Stephan Zweig’s literature.
The second one, Rust&Engage was choreographed by Rachel Erdos and Ido Tadmor and performed by Elwira Piorun and Ido Tadmor. They create a picture of a couple who went through ups and downs, their relation is deep and strong, based on love, however not free of problems. Year 2013 was also a year of The Conspiracy, where the artists work on relations between violence and its image in mass media. In 2014 The 50 Faces of Eva was made, presenting a look on three different women with different cultural and social backgrounds. The latest production of Zawirowania is an international coproduction Out in the Line Up with choreography by Nadar Rosano.
A fusion of personalities
Four dancers – apart from Elwira Piorun, these are Karolina Kroczak, Szymon Osiński and Bartosz Figurski – are divided by generation and origin as dancers, but they share a common type of sensibility. Zawirowania, through various stage configurations – solo, duo and group performances – draw viewers into a world of poetic imagery. Body’s plasticity is their distinctive feature. Their performances aren’t exaggerated. They really dance – remaining professional and evocative at the same time.
Dance theatre is a theatre of personalities – says Karolina Kroczak, a dancer and choreographer, who created a very personal Things, Things, Things performance dealing with the Holocaust. – These are reflections upon the responsibility for the Holocaust, and in a wider perspective – for trauma and suffering.
I’m fascinated by the duality of Jewish culture – very spirituals and stressing the material dimension at the same time. I’m asking questions about coexistence of these two threads, reaching for literature and historical figures. What is my connection with them? I’m searching for answers in my body and movement. In my solo performance, I let things speak – personal belongings of those who are not here anymore. It is them who are the real characters in my performance; I am, through my body, only trying to touch on certain situations, to experience them.
Karolina Kroczak joined the Zawirowania Dance theatre in 2006. – Our first performance together was Nothing but blue. I feel sentimental about this show – eventually we made four versions, and in each of them, a different dancer appeared – recalls Karolina.
Each dancer’s personality changes the show, destroys the structures, even though each of them follows the same themes: an airport. Traffic. Someone lost their luggage. People waiting for check-in. On an empty stage there’s only a book, a suitcase, a pair of high-heeled shoes. As Maciej Stadtműller writes in Nowa Siła Krytyczna: "A story about waiting at the airport, told using words, would be banal. Dance transfers thoughts from the dimension of reason into the dimension of emotion. (…) The performance didn’t refer only to three women in the waiting room, but to everyone, in every waiting room”.
Out of the frame
Karolina participated in performances such as Chopin Ambiente, Innocent when you dream, Close-Ups or Fuera de Campo (Out of the frame) . She considers the latter one, created with the Spanish director Daniel Abreu, the most important experience in her career. Why?
– Daniel has his own approach to performance, but also a unique working method, chich requires absolute discipline from the dancer – the discipline of using one’s intention in the movement. Meeting Daniel concided with developing my interest in shamanism. Creation and participation in Fuera de Campo is a spiritual experience for me.
Elwira Piorun : Abreu is my discovery. He came to one of our festivals and immediately seduced us with his life philosophy and intensity of emotion. Daniel didn’t know us, had no idea about our way of movement and technical predispositions. Our first rehearsal was a surprise, we had to improvise for 2-3 hours. Then he asked us questions and left us with a subject to think creatively about, sometimes only suggesting a direction. He works with mood, colliding various types of movement.
The power of emotion
- I believe in people and meetings between them – says Karolina. – If I keep my eyes open to the other person, I am always ready to learn from them.
Elwira also agrees that duos are more inspiring for her than solo performances. – Contact with someone else, with their touch, sight, emotion – also negative – which can surprise us on stage, is indispensable.
– Our power lies in the team – adds Bartek Figurski, the only certified actor in the group, a graduate of the Ludwik Solski Theatre Academy in Cracow and co-author of several choreographies. – I have always been interested in movement. Hence I chose musical and studies at the Dance Theatre Faculty in Bytom.
Before he joined Zawirowania, he worked in dance and entertainment theatres. At the beginning of his career, the interdisciplinary type of dance theatre, which merged singing, movement and voice, only started to develop. – There were very few institutions like this in Poland, for example the Silesian Dance Theatre, ran by Jacek Łumiński. Now dance as an art form is doing increasingly better, also due to the newly founded Dance Institute.
He participated in Dancing – Krystyna Janda’s recital based on Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska’s works; worked as a soloist in the ROMA Music Theatre; starred in musicals directed by Janusz Józefowicz, Wojciech Kępczyński and Roman Polański. He also worked with the recently famous theatrical duo – Monika Strzępka and Paweł Demirski. In St. Sophia’s Hospital Midwives, a performance based on actual events and played in Teatr Rozrywki in Chorzów, he plays an angry infant, general Franco’s son.
– I have just graduated from acting school. Paweł added new scenes, rehearsal after rehearsal, continuously in the creative process. It was a very inspiring and developing experience. Strzępka and Demirski’s show, called an 'obstetric revue' by the critics, was acclaimed by audience of many festivals. The jury of the 11th Festiwal Prapremier in Bydgoszcz awarded him for an original use of musical form to convey an important social message.
Magdalena Radłowska joined the group in 2013. She has graduated from Contemporary Dance School in Poznań, socio-cultural animation with specialisation in dance at the Faculty of Pedagogy at the University of Zielona Góra, choreography at Middlesex University in London and Contemporary Dance Faculty at the Contemporary Dance School “The Place” in London. She was granted numerous awards and scholarships, eg. Young Poland scholarship founded by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. Radłowska is also a choreographer of the first Polish interdenerational dance theatre ”Dawka Energii” and the creator of the Anima Dance Company.
Szymon Osiński is not only a dancer and a choreographer of the Zawirowania Dance Theatre, but also a teacher in modern jazz and contemporary dance. His great adventure with dancing started at the Busters dance group in Łódź. He took part in the first Polish dance show OpenTaniec which was directed and choreographed by Jarosław Staniek. Later on they happen to work togather again. So far Osiński had a chance to show his talent at the Dramatyczny Theatre and Polonia Theatre in Warsaw, and Groteska Theatre in Kraków.
Zawirowania often perform abroad (Crete, Hungary, Czech Republic, Germany, Spain, Ukraine, Russia, Slovakia, Israel, and most recently at a prestigious dance festival in Korea). They invite their students to participate in the shows. Since 2005, the theatre has been organizing the Zawirowania Dance Theatres Festival, which takes place annually, each June. This event gathers dance theatres from around the world – among other, from Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Belarus, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Russia and Israel. The aim of the Festival is to create a centre of contemporary dance in Warsaw. The organisers want to share inspirations with others and to create cultural exchange between countries. They would like to “build a strong contemporary dance platform” and network that is to help artists to create productions in international cooperation. The festival is also a significant factor in popularising the Polish audience with brand new trends in dance.
When the group is not touring, Zawirowania’s shows take place in Stara Prochoffnia. The group is the first regular dance theatre in Warsaw. The theatre is also engaged in educational activities: there are classes and workshops led regularly by the members of Zawirowania's crew and trainers.
Translated by: Olga Drenda, 12/2013, updated April 2016.