My “Ciało/Umysł” – from the accompanying critic’s memoirs | Julia Hoczyk

Podcast / 10 min / e-Scena

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A series of podcasts edited by Julia Hoczyk. Invited authors reflect on C/U Festival from the perspective of time and personal interests. Witold Mrozek talks about the changing role of the festival. Alicja Müller – about breaking taboos. Katarzyna Słoboda – about the reception of dance on a kinetic level. Magdalena Przybysz – about performances with political and social themes. Anna Królica – about the performances which deal with the heritage of dance. Finally, Julia Hoczyk recalls the events that were important for her as an “accompanying critic”.

Julia Hoczyk
My “Ciało/Umysł” – from the accompanying critic’s memoirs

As a person practically brought up in theatre, I had heard about the Ciało/Umysł Festival for a long time, but it was only at the turn of 2004/2005, when I became seriously interested in contemporary dance, that my attention was drawn to this event. Being a student of the Theater Studies Department at the Theater Academy in Warsaw back then, I was interested in voluntary work with the festival’s organization, as well as the opportunities to meet artists and attend performances. This is how I became a member of a solid team of volunteers at the Ciało/Umysł International Dance Festival in 2005. Taking care of the festival artists and participating in all the presentations and meetings met and exceeded my expectations. Since back then the main focus of the Ciało/Umysł Festival was still on dance, its guests included some of the most significant dance artists from the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century. During the 2005 edition, the presentation of the monumental performance Kӧrper [Bodies] by Sasha Waltz & Guests from Germany at the Grand Theater – National Opera in Warsaw was a truly unprecedented event. I also vividly remember a meeting with the artist that was hosted after the performance by the outstanding humanist and researcher Dorota Sajewska. These events attracted the audience beyond the milieu of dance enthusiasts, artists, and theoreticians, since the entire cultural Warsaw was present there, not to mention a large representation of viewers coming from the rest of Poland. Predacious, surprising, touching, overwhelming – all these terms fit Kӧrper, which, as the opening part of Sasha Waltz’s trilogy (followed by S and noBody), showed for the first time on such a large scale the number of ways in which human body can be thematized. These included the body which experiences, and the one through which our experience in the world is mediated, the suffering body and the one enjoying the multitude of shapes and its otherness, the body that is constantly inscribed in social, scientific, and cultural discourses, but that is also trying to find a certain amount of freedom among them and undermine the existing orders. And it was the body, constantly entwined with a net of external associations, exposed and subjected to the merciless observation of the public, that called for autonomy and subjectivity in the performance, eventually becoming its main protagonist, narrative and subject all in one, thanks to the different morphologies and dancers coming from many countries and cultures. Sasha Waltz’s performance was significant for the Polish cultural community to such an extent that, in my opinion, it directed the directors’ attention to the role of the body – in this case, the actors’ bodies, in performances.  Despite the work of many choreographers in drama theaters, it was only at the beginning of the 21st century that the expressive and semantic potential of the body slowly started to reveal itself to the people of theater. At the same time, a generation of young choreographers born in the late 1970s and 80s came to the fore. They showed the contextuality of the body more and more boldly, not being afraid of breaking with the aesthetics of dance theater and the “nice-looking” dancing body, which had been dominant in Poland up to that point. In my memory, the debuts of Polish artists and the show of Sasha Waltz’s spectacular choreography inscribed themselves in the form of a continuum, showing significant moments in the development of dance and choreography in Poland and the world. This kind of dialogue also marked the festival’s line-up in the following years, as it included, alongside outstanding world choreographers, also young artists from Poland (i.e. Kaya Kołodziejczyk, Ramona Nagabczyńska, Iza Szostak, Karol Tymiński, Marta Ziółek).

The second – next to Kӧrper – large-scale festival event of the same sort was for me the performance of Constanza Macras, an Argentinean immigrant who lives and works in Germany. She presented a genre that I would describe as transcultural dance theater, an effervescent 2.5 hour-long essay in the form of a dance theatre called Big in Bombay. It took place in 2008 and it was the following, after 2005, edition of the festival, which at that time had temporary financial problems. But it was worth the wait. The festival returned in great style, taking over the enormous premises of the “Koneser” Vodka Factory. Industrial halls and outdoor meetings had a unique atmosphere that could not be recreated in today’s excessively smoothed-out shopping, residential, and entertainment complex. Coming back to the festival itself, though, that edition was unique in every way. In addition to artists from Poland and Belgium, as well as Polish choreographers who had been working abroad for years (Helena Gołąb, Magdalena Chowaniec, Magdalena Reiter), there were also artists who proposed a kind of intercultural translation. Next to the Thai artist Pichet Klunchun (already known to the Warsaw audience from the performance staged together with Jérôme Bel), who presented his I Am a Demon, a solo inspired by the traditional mask dance, there was also, among others, Dick Wong from Hong Kong, who invited Maria Stokłosa and Rafał Dziemidok to participate in his work titled B.O.B. * The Final Cut. The artist who dealt with the topic of cultural differences in the most spectacular way, however, was Constanza Macras. Her Big in Bombay was an unbridledly staged essay, sparkling with an excess of pop-culture fun and changing its tone from buffo to serious with time. Similarly, as in the case of Klunchun, the organizing framework of the performance was the situation of a dance casting with the participation of representatives of various dance conventions and styles, suspended in the in-between space – a waiting room and a container. Scenes from the audition are interspersed with sequences as if taken straight out of Bollywood films. For the choreographer, the Indian cinematography and one of the world’s most populated cities serve as a point of mixing orders and identities, an intercultural melting pot that one of the characters tries to control by selecting the participants. Despite this pop-culture and post-colonial background, the first part deals with a still relatively ordered world in which the viewer may feel comfortable and at ease, but in the following parts, the onstage world reaches a state of more and more cruel entropy, disintegrating before the eyes of the not so long ago laughing audience. There will be no happy ending, despite the cathartic effects of wind and water, gradually taking over the onstage world.

Today, when I think back to the performance by Macras and Dorky Park from 14 years ago, I am amazed by its topical, not to say – prophetic nature. The refugee crisis and the consequences of the European colonial policy, which had its origins as far back as several hundred years ago, are just two of many possible threads. They are the fears and dangers of the reality of the world as a global village in which all menaces spread faster than human thought, however, that are now coming to the fore for me. The final part of the show, which today could be related to the climate catastrophe unfolding before our eyes, no matter how much we would like to close them,  dots the ‘i’s and crosses the ‘t’s. This is what the Ciało/Umysł Festival has always been like – when needed, it is engaging and opening wounds, and at other times – it provides encouragement and strength.

During each of the 20 editions so far, there have been spectacles-phenomena that will be etched on the audience’s memory forever. What’s important is that apart from the premieres of young Polish artists (produced also in collaboration with the apap and Open Latitudes networks) and emerging choreographers from Europe representing the Aerowaves network, the festival has presented the works of the world-renowned artists shown during the most important dance events around the world, e.g. at the Viennese ImPulsTanz Festival. Educating the audience in the field of dance theater, conceptual dance and performance has therefore laid the foundations of the Warsaw-based festival from the very beginning. Thanks to it, the audience’s awareness of what can be the subject of a dance performance and what can be defined as the dance itself is being constantly developed, making the answer to the above-mentioned question obvious: everything (although in 1995, when the festival was launched under a different name, it was not like that at all). Dance is both aesthetics and politics, nudity and costumes, movement and stillness, spectacular dance performances and improvisations, but also intimate works (including solo) focused on form and corporeality. Over the last 25 years, the festival has clearly proven that there are no holds barred in dance and that skeptics of certain conventions have become much more open to them over time. For me, it has become an accelerated school of dance education and a platform for meetings with other dance enthusiasts and artists. However, it is always the body that comes to the fore there; the body which, as in Sasha Waltz’s works, is open to experiences, responsive, diverse, human, and even non-human, accepting the viewers’ gazes and actively engaging them in a dialogue.

Julia Hoczyk – a theatrologist, dance critic and theorist, an editor. She has published her critical texts in, among others, “Didaskalia”, “Teatr”, “Opcje”, “” and on website. In 2005-2010, she was the editor of “Scena” – a periodical devoted to theater culture and education, and in 2008-2011 – “Kultura Enter”, online monthly, in 2011-2018 – the editor-in-chief of ran by Instytut Muzyki i Tańca (the Institute of Music and Dance), dedicated to information, promotion and documentation of dance. She deals with the issues of corporeality and gender in Polish and world contemporary dance. She conducts guest lectures and meetings on contemporary dance and butō. She has collaborated with the Theater Academy, where in 2010-2015 she conducted classes in the analysis of contemporary dance. In 2019, at the Dance Art Center in Warsaw, she developed the curatorial project Around Dance, Choreography, Performance – Various Approaches to Contemporary Dance. She works in the Documentation and Publication Department of the Institute of Music and Dance.