The history of dance concealed in the body | Anna Królica

Podcast / 10 min / e-Scena

  • Udostępnij:
godz. 11:00

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”.

Anna Królica

The history of dance concealed in the body


For many years, dance struggled with the absence of its own narratives in official archives and museums. This was due to its non-verbal nature, which entailed the impossibility of inscribing it into the existing standards, that is, enclosing simultaneously its experience and perception in words. Today – as Inge Baxmann writes – “the body is being rediscovered as a place of memory […]. This is because sensory, emotional, and perceptual experiences are stored in movements, gestures, and rhythm. This knowledge is based on oral and gestural traditions and materializes itself in non-verbal expressions or artifacts. Tacit knowledge[1] has never been included in the Western historiography, locating itself on the margins of the European understanding of culture”[2]


In the contemporary humanistic discourse, however, the body is increasingly seen as a dynamic, performative construct. It becomes a project, testifies to the status, co-creates a multiplicity of identities and personalities. It carries stories and feelings and therefore becomes a peculiar example of an archive.


When looking at the history of Ciało/Umysł Festival, it can be noticed that the themes of memory and history, as well as the reconstructions of old performances, have been reoccurring throughout various editions of the event, even though this is most likely related to the individual preferences of the creators. The jubilee edition of the festival provokes me to begin my case studies with the body as archive of Edyta Kozak, a curator, and founder of the festival, but also an artist: a choreographer and dancer with experience in ballet and contemporary dance. The performance Dancing for You Longer than One Minute (2009) by Edyta Kozak and Roland Rowiński, which was presented at the festival, too, included numerous references to the concept of the body as archive. The performance takes the form of a rehearsal and a series of conversations between the director and the artist. Thanks to this, it not only immediately forms an autobiographical story about the past but also expresses the artist’s need to find new inspirations. Thanks to this formula, various stages in Kozak’s life are recalled, in addition to the ongoing dialogue, which forms a specific interpretation of the aesthetics of classical dance and its manifestations. This part of the performance is neatly interwoven with authentic archival recordings of fragments of ballet performances featuring Edyta Kozak. In this video material, we can see her in white tulle dresses, but along this, Kozak also re-enacts her earlier roles and arranges scenes from the Giselle libretto by Adolphe Charles Adam, and she does it live with the active participation of the audience. Throughout the performance, various quotes from famous dance performances are recalled and re-enacted both in the global and local context, which also resembles the act of moving around the archives and taking new recordings off the shelves, as well as co-creating (participating in) the history of dance. There is a quotation from Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, as choreographed by Pina Bausch in her Frühlingsopher (1975), and then, as another thematic and aesthetic turn, some references to spectacles Hold Your Horses (2008)[3] by Magdalena Chowaniec and The Show Must Go On by Jérôme Bel[4] appear. Dancing for You Longer than One Minute by Kozak/Rowiński is a kind of journey through the history of dance and its turning points, understood as changes in its aesthetics and establishing a new theme.


Another kind of game with the archive and history concealed in the body is conducted by Fabián Barba, a choreographer, and dancer from Ecuador, who studies in Brussels at the prestigious P.A.R.T.S. As part of the 10th edition of Ciało/Umysł, he performed A Mary Wigman Dance Evening (2009), recalling the dance icon of the 1920s and 30s, who was at the forefront of the German expressive dance (Ausdruckstanz). Apart from re-enacting her choreographies, perfectly learned, repeated, and translated into the male body, there was something much more crucial happening during that process. It seems that Fabián Barba really got to the bottom of the story hidden in his body.


The artist’s idea for the premiere of A Mary Wigman Dance Evening was born at P.A.R.T.S., while watching historical recordings of Mary Wigman. During the first viewing of these records, the students found the dance language of Wigman to be far from modern and completely beyond the spectrum of their bodily experience. Despite the perceived inadequacy and the peculiar effect of alienation, Fabián Barba kept on thinking about these recordings. As he says: “My relationship with this dance was difficult. Looking back at it, I think I found something familiar and estranging at the same time there. It was an ambivalent relationship. It was then that I started to feel the dance training that I had received in Quito more profoundly”.[5]


In the process of reconstruction of Mary Wigman’s choreographies, Fabián Barba used Wigman’s videos, photographs, descriptions, and notes, but – most importantly from the body as archive perspective – he learned from her students: Susanne Linke, Irene Sieben, and Katharine Sehnert, all of whom have choreographies and gestures “inscribed” in their own bodies. This becomes significant especially in the context of the transmission of choreography from one body to another. Both the motor and body memories of Wigman’s students prove that their bodies are their peculiar living carriers. Barba’s goal was to recreate a performance from the 1930s. This outlines several angles from which the concept of the body as archive could be viewed. It also activates a certain level of personal retrospective considerations regarding Wigman’s training and Barba’s own feeling that he’s familiar with it. To unravel this mystery, it is worth recalling that the influence and transfer of the ideas of ​​German expressive dance were international in scope. At the beginning of the 20th century, the exchange of artistic ideas between artists and important centers in Europe and the world developed dynamically. European artists made numerous trips overseas – Wigman and her ensemble toured America three times. In the United States, there was her school established and ran by Hanya Holm, while her techniques were taught by many dancers, the so-called “Wigman followers”. These peculiar “expressive dance ambassadors” traveled around South America to teach – they reached Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, and Argentina. Wigman herself never visited Ecuador, but her students laid the foundations for modern dance in the German expressionism version there. Barba studied German expressive dance in Ecuador, which was brought there by Wigman students and later transformed in a local context. That’s why the recordings of Wigman’s dance watched many years later resonated in Barba to such an extent, creating a feeling of familiarity and alienation at the same time. Through the task of reconstruction of these choreographies, he reached the core of his own history hidden in his body, extracting a previously known movement code from oblivion. After all, it was his first dance language, which he abandoned and exchanged for another one once he started his European education, but following Wigman’s training, however, he managed to reconnect with his own movement roots.


The experience of extracting Isadora Duncan’s concept of movement from the body memory is referred to by Jérôme Bel in Isadora (2019)[6]. The choreographer invited Elisabeth Schwartz, a student of Julia Levien and one of the third generation artists continuing the dance tradition of Isadora Duncan to collaborate on it. On stage, Schwartz talks about Duncan and re-enacts her dance routines, encouraging the audience to actively participate in them. In the case of Elisabeth Schwartz, we’re again dealing with a choreographic archive embedded in her body. When it comes to this project, there’s also room for a traditional archive, which was certainly thoroughly studied by Catherine Gallant, the researcher of Isadora Duncan’s work, who was supporting Bel in the process of creating the performance.


Throughout more than 20 years of its existence, Ciało/Umysł Festival has repeatedly evoked and thematized the subject of memory – both in individual performances and during a 2011 edition, which had “history” as its leading curatorial theme. Edyta Kozak told me in a yet unpublished interview: “For me, the body as archive is something more than the body itself, as it’s an experience whose medium is the body that simultaneously remains in contact with the past in the present ”. Such understanding of the concept of the body as archive allows for a continuous dialogue with previous generations and with the present.



[1] The term “tacit knowledge” was coined by a chemist and philosopher Michael Polanyi. This knowledge is understood as something dynamic that is constantly changing along with the appropriate forms of activity and communication. See Michael Polanyi: The Tacit Dimension, New York: Anchor 1967, and: Mikhail Dua: Tacit Knowing. Michael Polanyi’s Exposition of Scientific Knowledge, Munich: Utz 2004.


[2] Inge Baxmann, Der Körper ale Archiv. Dom schwierigen Verhälter zwischen Bewegung und Geschichte, w: Wissen in Bewegung Perspektiven der künstlerischen und wissenschaftlichen Forschung im Tanz, ed. by Sabine Gehm, Pirkko Husemann , Katharina von Wilcke (Hg.), own translation, Bielefeld, 2007, p. 217

[3] Also presented at Ciało/Umysł Festival in 2008.

[4] A festival co-production in 2008, in line with the formats of performances staged by the choreographer in various countries.

[5] Acts of Translating, An Interview with Fabian Barba in: „Tanzheft zwie”., Zeitgenossenschaft Contemporaneity, November 2009, own translation, p. 38

[6] Presented at C/U Festival in 2020.