Our story by Edyta Kozak – written before the 20th edition of C/U Festival (2021)

Jun 30, 2022 · 14 min read

History of Ciało/Umysł Festival

Ciało/Umysł, one of the oldest dance festivals in Poland, has become the platform for many important cultural events. As the only one in the country, it promotes the independent world art of dance. It has become recognizable as the event that creates opportunities to learn about new ways of thinking, breaks with standard creative solutions and is thought-provoking.
The first edition of the festival was held in July 1995 in Warsaw under the name of Małe Formy Teatru Tańca (Small Forms of Dance Theatre). It was the first festival of such type in Poland. Its initiators were Edyta Kozak, a former soloist of Teatr Wielki and Stadttheater Bern, a choreographer of the only independent Warsaw group, Teatr Tańca NEI, and Jarosław Żwirblis, a member of Akademia Ruchu (Academy of Movement), vice-president of Stowarzyszenia Przyjaciół Akademii Ruchu (the Association of Friends of Academy of Movement), which conducts cultural activities in Kino Teatr Tęcza. The base for this unique encounter was formed by the inner need of NEI members to meet other dancers and choreographers involved in contemporary dance scene in Poland and abroad. The meeting was to be an opportunity to take a closer look at oneselves through the prism of the achievements of other artists, compare experiences, exchange ideas and integrate. The event met with great interest of young people, the dance community and the media, and became the nucleus of today's festival. Initially, it was organized in a two-year cycle. In 2001, the festival changed its name to Ciało/Umysł (Body/Mind), and focused on presenting dance as a thought-provoking art, integrating matter (body) with idea (mind), and opening up new possibilities for presenting contemporary art. It has been organized every year since 2009, and each edition has a different theme.
The organizer of the first six editions was Stowarzyszenie Tancerzy Niezależnych (the Independent Dancers' Association), and of the seventh - Stołeczna Estrada. Since 2009, the organizer and producer of the festival has been Ciało/Umysł Foundation. All editions are linked by Edyta Kozak, the initiator of the festival and its artistic director.
The central idea of ​​Ciało/Umysł festival has been to search for the most interesting trends and directions in the world dance art, consistently present new currents in choreography and support creativity, progressive proposals and new quality in dance. It not only presents a wide spectrum of genres and techniques, but also reinterprets Polish and world dance classics. The event showcases artists from Poland and abroad who are considered the most interesting in their generation, and invites outstanding foreign artists who often visit Poland for the first time. It also promotes Polish artists in the international arena, inviting theoreticians and European programmers.
The event’s guests are often rising stars of the foreign art scene, who are discovered by the festival to the Polish audience before their career flourishes for good. So far these have included, for example, the enfant terrible of the French stage Jérôme Bel, who has participated in Ciało/Umysł already five times, Trajal Harrell, recognized by "Tanz Magazine" as the best dancer of 2018, or Alessandro Sciarroni, the winner of the Europe Prize for New Theatrical Realities and Golden Lion award for lifetime achievement in dance at the Venice Biennale in 2019. The basis is constituted by long-term, close cooperation with foreign artists, often involving the participation of residents of Warsaw in their ventures.
The festival consciously questions the boundaries and definitions of genres, supports performances and events with innovative formulas, incorporates other fields of art into its program, and thus expands the audience of the art of dance. An important task which has been consistently dealt with throughout the years of the festival's existence consists in breaking down the stereotypes created and maintained by the media, mainly these concerning the image of the body, social position and age, as well as referring to real human needs, also in the broader context of searching for one’s identity – be it personal, artistic, social or cultural. The festival revealed to its viewers some different perspectives on the disabled (Sciarroni, Your girl, Mélanie Demers, Les angles morts) and non-normative body (Jérôme Bel, Disabled Theater) during its 2013 edition which was entirely devoted to this particular topic. The festival’s slogan Yes, I like watching! was not only a provocation, but also a diagnosis and encouragement to try to transcend the dictates of visuality.
The problems of multiculturalism, identity and the concept of a modern man's home were touched upon by, among others, the French band Kubilai Khan Investigations, Pichet Klunchun, which in a balanced and subtle way combined the language of classical Thai dance with contemporary sensitivity; Akram Khan, a world-renowned British choreographer with Bangladeshi roots, interested in combining diverse traditions and cultures; Constanza Macras, who in her Big in Bombay presented an appealing stage interpretation of the phenomenon of globalization, and Muhanad Rasheed with Iraqis Bodies and their play Crying of my Mother, which was created in Jordan and Syria, where the artists took refuge after the outbreak of the war in Iraq. The 2018 edition was devoted to artists from Arab countries who ask both us and themselves some personal questions without accusations and ready-made answers. They deal with stereotypes and refer to the rich culture of their countries to talk about them in their present day condition.
Almost twenty years ago, the performances of young Japanese artists reminded us of the role of man in the multimedia world. They were: Leni Basso, Baneto, Nibroll, Kakuya Ohashi or Kentaro !!, the leader of Tokyo Electrock Stairs, who widely uses various hip-hop techniques. Luca Silvestrini and his award-winning Protein Dance team in LOL made a satirical, harsh commentary on Facebook's society. The influence of modern technologies on the way we communicate – in a  compressed, broken, and at the same time harsh and overloaded with emotions way - was the subject of Alessandro Sciarroni's play entitled Joseph which made use of Chatroulette chat. Wojtek Ziemilski in his Agency was looking for an answer to the question of how to find a place for freedom in the technological space of constant movement. In recent years, the festival has hosted 3D, augmented reality and Virtual Reality - these techniques have been successfully used by Polish artists (such as Iza Szostak - le journal secret, Future Presence, Tomasz Bazan - Manfred Macx).
The reflections on the artist's identity were undertaken by, among others, Mihai Mihalcea, who shared his intimate confessions of “the one betrayed by art"; Edyta Kozak, who in the triptych Dancing for you ... transformed everyday life into art through her attempt at an autobiographical confession; the creators of Mimosa, who in search of their own identity, explored the clash between voguing culture and postmodern dance; Rafał Dziemidok, who revealed to the audience his personal relationship with the dance of the last twenty years. Feminist topics were raised by, among others, the Pendiente theatre, Mathilde Monnier and La Ribot, the great artistic personalities of contemporary choreography who, although they all come from different backgrounds, are equally concerned about the future of art and criticize the narrow image of a woman produced by society and the media with black humour.
The themes of the crisis of traditional relations (Hanna Strzemiecka, Katarzyna Migała), the dark side of human imagination (Clary Andermatt, NEI Dance Theater) and the search for identity through identification with club culture (Krzysztof Dziemaszkiewicz, Erna Omarsdottir, Valdimar Johannsson, Good Girl Killer) have been present from the very beginning of the festival. Xavier Le Roy (Self Unfinished, 2001) used his own body to talk about the perception of the body in the era of developed medicine. Thomas Lehman, Daniel Linehan and Martin Schick spoke about the problems that a contemporary author as a creator of art has to face. Alonzo King, together with 17 members of the Contemporary Ballet from San Francisco, attempted to depart from the aesthetic dimension of dance in favour of the search for the sacred, while Daniel Léveillé in The Modesty of Icebergs, confronted the body with the power of sight and exposed it to the public gaze.
The festival program also included some controversial performances of such international dance celebrities as Jérôme Bel, who showed "music without music, dance without dance, light without light", Sasha Waltz, who allowed us to experience the body and learn its political, historical, economic and social contexts through a kaleidoscope of expressive meanings, Marie Chouinard, whose naked ensemble danced Chopin's preludes, or Steven Cohen, who, in a ballet tutu made of a wrought iron chandelier, wandered among the ruins of Soweto in a gesture of solidarity with the poor to fulfil the mission of an artist and depict the social life of his era, at the same time creating a touchingly real, violent ballet.
This variety of artistic approaches and styles allowed the festival to show not only the dance itself, but also some other forms of art (including visual art, performance, architecture, live music, new media). Ciało / Umysł presented, among others a unique "dance on low trapezes" as choreographed by Robert Davidson, organic dance by Gilles Jobin, body art by the Academia Theater, physical theatre of the Betontanc team in a ten-meter aquarium, the minimalist, conceptual ideas of Willie Dorner's movement, David Weber-Krebs’ choreography of light bulbs, as well as the hybrid project, combining visual arts, circus and choreography called Mouvinsitu.
Dance penetrated into non-theatrical spaces, too: Bill Shanon, a disabled dancer moving around the city on a skateboard, used mini cameras to record reactions to his dance which passers-by could immediately observe on a video installation, while Heine Røsdal Avdal & Yukiko Shinozaki invited us to a hotel room for an intimate spectacle for one viewer only.
The festival devotes a lot of attention to Polish artists. It is here that the Dada von Bzdülӧw ensemble, which in recent years has become a model of Polish dance theatre, or the Lublin Dance Theater, which promotes artistic activities itself, showed their first and subsequent works. The festival has focused especially on artists who in the last decade returned to Poland after finishing their education abroad. It has been creating conditions for their development by producing premieres and presenting their works. Today these artists, including Marysia Stokłosa, Iza Szostak, Karol Tymiński and Ramona Nagabczyńska are recognizable choreographers.
The premieres, hosted regularly at the Warsaw-based festival, are important for the development of the Polish dance scene. It was on the occasion of the event’s opening in 2001 that Katarzyna Kozyra prepared an installation-performance titled A Dance Lesson to the music of Igor Stravinsky, and Paweł Goźliński wrote a new chapter of the meeting of the fictional Polish choreographer Veronika Blumstein with American postmodern artists. The performances of Bretoncaffe, Grzegorz Laszuk and Kaja Kołodziejczyk won the recognition of European partners who became the co-producers of these works. In 2003, the festival hosted the first Polish platform, "taniec.pl", which attracted numerous foreign theatre and dance festival directors to Warsaw. Their visit resulted in an international cooperation with many Polish artists earlier presented at Ciało/Umysł.
Drawing on the potential and talent of the inhabitants of Warsaw by engaging both professionals and dance amateurs in joint action has constituted an important and unique element of the C/U program since 2008. In thirteen years, over two hundred and sixty people took active part in the festival events. In Jérôme Bel’s The Show Must Go On, nineteen pop music hits were interpreted in a minimalist but meaningful way by twenty Warsaw performers, and in The Gala, professionals and amateurs blurred the lines between what we call a failure and a success of a performance, suggesting that theatre is a community created by both those on the stage and those standing in front of it. Nicole Seiler in Living-room Dancers presented the viewers with a set of binoculars, an mp3 player and a map of Warsaw, and invited them to wander the streets of the city in search of red neon windows where one could watch Warsaw dancers. The Swiss choreographer Guilherme Botelho engaged local performers twice. The first time, a group of several dozen of them became a mirror for viewers, with all their imperfections and flaws, asking about the line between art and intimacy. The second time, the choreographer selected ten Polish dancers for the hypnotic race called Sideways Rain to create a moving story about memory: both intimate and individual, as well as cosmic memory of the body. Over twenty amateurs visualized Velma's music, while the Portuguese duo Ana Borallo & João Galante showed a number of times that cooperation with local amateur performers has great potential. In 2014, the stage was filled with one hundred inhabitants of Warsaw, creating a colourful landscape of professions, attitudes and views, reflecting the complexity of the city's social fabric; a year later, together with twelve performers, the theatre was re-engaged in political space, allowing the release of revolutionary energy through Hermaphrodite. In 2019, a duo of Portuguese artists invited amateurs to the Russian roulette in search of their own definition of happiness.
The festival is abundant with accompanying events. It hosted three scientific conferences: in 2008, exchange / change devoted to the structure of institutions and financing of dance in Europe; in 2011, Pina Bausch's heritage. Inspirations, references, testament, about the influence of Pina Bausch's Tanztheater Wuppertal on contemporary theatre, dance, film, and critical thought; and in 2017, the 24-hour conference Today Tomorrow, devoted to changes in the perception of the time paradigm in the context of politics and performance. The festival is accompanied by educational projects, workshops, discussion panels, photo exhibitions, video projections, installations, work in progress presentations and meetings with artists, and the audience is invited to dance during concerts of such musicians as: John the Houseband, Kentaro !!, Tides from Nebula, Brian Coxx, DJ Teresa i Tygrysy, DJ Lenar. In 2020, the festival went online, and developed a series of projects integrating dance and the artists who create it into a global virtual theatre.
C / U is nomadic in character. It finds the best spaces to show the works of invited artists. Many of its events took place in places that have already disappeared from the map of Warsaw. The now non-existing Soma club at ul. Foksal served the festival menu prepared by the artists themselves, Jezioro Łabędzie at ul. Moliera led dance-labs and discussions without borders, the Good Girl Killer collective conducted a dance and music settlement with the pop culture dumpster in Le Madame, and the German artists from Two Fish presented the show Christiane Müller moves out in the Raster Gallery at ul. Marszałkowska in which they predicted the gallery’s moving out.
During the two decades of its existence, the festival has presented several hundred events and almost two thousand artists, watched live by over thirty thousand viewers in thirty-two venues all over Warsaw. Almost as many viewers watched on-line events in 2020, while promotion and marketing communication about the festival reached several million Poles in the whole country. Since 2008, the significant position of the festival on the international arena has also been built by its participation in various European networks. This collaboration allows not only to co-produce numerous international performances but, above all, provides access to know-how, research and achievements of other European partners, and also makes it possible to be a part of many important events held in between Lisbon, Athens, Dro, Beirut and Reykjavik.
After neoclassicism, minimalism, the art of narration, the new dance theater, conceptualism and critical art of the 1990s, after exploring the corporeality and unsightly version of aesthetic art, after artists' rebellion against the existing rules and experiments with new media, after reaching pleasure and trespassing it, now, at the post (?) pandemic (?) times, just as every year we ask the questions: what are the most important and most interesting tendencies and directions of the world dance art? What is important in dance today? How is it made? By showing that dance is not an accident, a fashion or an accessory among other human artistic activities, we prove that it not only lies at the source of human expression, but is the essence of humanity and life.
Edyta Kozak

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