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”.
Time/Body/Mind. The festival of constant change
Reading the list of artists and ensembles invited to the Ciało/Umysł Festival in the last 26 years is a truly fascinating activity.
In 1995, during the festival’s first edition, organized not yet under the name “Ciało/Umysł” (“Body/Mind”), we could notice the foundations of the emerging dance milieu. There was Leszek Bzdyl from Dada von Bzdülӧw, and there were Iwona Olszowska and Marta Pietruszka, too, who had brought up generations of dancers in Krakow. There was obviously Edyta Kozak with the NEI Theater, but Marek Wasążnik, previously associated with the Silesian Dance Theater in Bytom, also performed under the same company’s name. In the 1990s, the Festival constituted a map of a new territory, a new field of art – contemporary dance, which was entering Poland with a fresh impetus.
The festival, in general, is an institution. The aim of the institution is to “establish”, the institution is “a form of social order” that designates “social relations”, as Marta Keil, a researcher and curator, writes in the book titled Reclaiming the Obvious devoted to festivals. Ciało/Umysł or the National Contemporary Dance Conference and the Festival of Dance Art in Bytom integrated the milieu, or to say even more – they simply created it. These festivals were the beginnings of what an art sociologist, following the theory of Pierre Bourdieu, would call the field of dance. It was at these events that future or aspiring critics and curators appeared; they showed what was happening on the dance scene and stimulated the artists.
In 2005, the Ciało/Umysł Festival was visited by, apart from, among others, Jérôme Bel, Sasha Waltz with Körper, a great performance presented at the Grand Theatre – Polish National Opera. I still remember how excited I was with this show; at that time I was only beginning to write about theater and dance. The festival in the first decade of the 21st century was Poland’s window to the world; it expressed the country’s European and global cultural aspirations. This phenomenon did not take place in a vacuum – it is then that Heiner Goebbels and Robert Wilson came to the Dramatic Theater in Warsaw, while Pina Bausch visited Wrocław.
Later, the festival gravitated towards a seasonal production house, a laboratory for new art, a meeting platform – a number of functions that Polish dance somehow lacked.
Better tomorrow was yesterday?
The beginning of the third decade of the 21st century puts us in yet another situation. Over the past ten years, it seemed that the institutionalization of dance in Poland was progressing; that, in short, it is going to get better and better, that dance artists gain publicity, dance can already be studied in Poland, a ministerial institution was established to systematically respond to the needs of choreographers and dancers, and that, in the long run, the only thing needed was the increase of funding.
However, excluding dance from the previous ministerial “Theater and Dance” subsidy program has not turned out to be any remedy for its financial ills; it rather exposed conservative caution and the lack of a broader perspective of the state patronage. The current government withdrew the vague promise made by the previous authorities that “someday” the Institute of Dance would separate itself from the present Institute of Music and Dance. Instead, the Institute of Music and Dance received the additional adjective “National” in its name, the position of the deputy director responsible for dance was lowered, and a separate dance program council was abolished. Today, the National Institute of Music and Dance is primarily an institution responsible for distributing ministerial money, which avoids all authorial activities.
Closing of the Stary Browar Nowy Taniec program, carried out by the Grażyna Kulczyk Foundation, which promoted a number of artists of the young generation (who is now becoming the middle generation), left a big hole behind. Along with it disappeared the block of Stary Browar Nowy Taniec in Malta, perhaps the most interesting part of this festival’s program in recent years.
Half-brother – theater
Of course, dance is still stuck in an intense, though somewhat toxic relationship with the theater, its half-brother. In the last decade, the theater has rediscovered dance, choreographers and the body – and has become fascinated with them again. Choreographers and dancers have become desirable collaborators of directors, more and more often presented as full-fledged co-creators of performative projects. Dance performances are much cheaper than performances by big theater stars, and yet they provide theatrical institutions with an aura of freshness, Europeanness and sex appeal. It’s hard not to notice that dance derives some benefits from it, too, though. Two city theaters in Warsaw that present dance performances as if “on the side”, produce more of them per year than the only two public stages in Poland that statutorily deal with contemporary dance.
I have no doubts whatsoever that the institution of a theater festival is also in a deep crisis. In the theater, faith in festival co-productions has declined; today they rarely get to lead a regular stage life after their premiere. Moreover, the basic function theoretically fulfilled by festivals in recent years, that is creating a hierarchy or reflecting the map of Polish theater, is also lagging behind; most often they only show the idiosyncrasies of the authors of their programs and a certain collective, sleepy routine of the dance milieu. Not including The Curse of Oliver Frljić (2017) – the most discussed play of recent years, or the successful first European adaptation of the most famous European novel saga by Elena Ferrante My brilliant friend directed by Weronika Szczawińska (2018) in the programs of the majority of most important Polish festivals clearly shows that the decision-makers are afraid of a political confrontation and that they have lost track of what’s really important. Curators of theater festivals are in a terribly weak position, if not reduced to bland advisory bodies at all. Responsibility for decisions is diluted as much as possible. Exaggerated publicity is, surprisingly enough, also undesirable – if it doesn’t get too loud, then it’s good, because at least no one is protesting and no one is outraged.
The festival for hard times
Seen from this perspective, Ciało/Umysł may appear as a truly distinctive festival in which roles are clearly defined, whose program is single-handedly curated, and which fights for its visibility. However, the present time forces dance festivals to take on the tasks that they used to handle back in the days before some of today’s spectators were even born. What are these tasks? Firstly, creating an alternative production model that would give a chance to creators who find it difficult to function in the current cooperation networks. “The system of financing dance and choreography in Poland rewards mostly those who have already been rewarded, and since it is so tight, it obliges them to continuous self-promotion” – wrote Łukasz Wójcicki recently in “Dwutygodnik”. It’s a simple formula: the less known artist is, the more difficult it is to get into mainstream art financing, and the less mainstream s/he is, the less unexposed s/he remains. In this way, the less known artists get stuck on the margins for years”- summed up Wójcicki. And although “rewarding the already rewarded” is a mechanism of accumulation of prestige that is present not only in dance, but in art in general, here, due to the modesty of budgets, it may take on a particularly brutal dimension. That’s why it is worth checking those artistic margins in order to find new qualities and ensure equality of opportunities for all.
Secondly, the festival’s task today may be to build a platform for visibility; when the mind-body relationship becomes visible as never before in the practice of psychotherapy, yoga or mindfulness, the art that places this relationship in the center can also count on thousands of new viewers. Thirdly, festivals should build progressive international networks of cooperation at a time when Polish cultural decision-makers want to plunge us into a sweet and dull dream about ourselves.
The festival – including the Ciało/Umysł Festival – moves on. From the euphoria of meeting two decades ago, through the fatigue of the “festivalization” of culture, to the not yet fully developed maturity. The Slovenian playwright, critic and dance historian Rok Vevar wrote about a festival, following the steps of Michel Foucault, as a heterotopia, torn out of traditional time, comparing it on the one hand to a fair – a separate and impermanent place, and on the other, to a library or archive, also torn out of traditional time, but focused on the accumulation – in the form of texts, sources, experiences. The festive character of the festival is by no means an everyday reality of culture, but it can show that a different order of art, a different way of acting and thinking is possible; that our experiences are not entirely in vain.
Witold Mrozek (1986) – a journalist, essayist, playwright. A graduate of theater studies at the Jagiellonian University. Since 2012, he has been a permanent associate of Gazeta Wyborcza. He was the editor of the book titled New Dance. Body Revolutions (Wydawnictwo Krytyki Politycznej 2012), at present he finishes a book about censorship in the newest Polish theater.