Saturday, November 18, 2017

CHRISTMAS: "My Favorite Things - Shopping Polish for Christmas"

by Staś Kmieć
reprinted from the November 2017 issue of 
The Polish American Journal

* Click on link (in red) to direct you to online shopping pages

It should be easy to select a gift for me for Christmas, a birthday, or any other occasion – find something Polish!  But, I guess not so easy is what to get?  I have acquired so many books, CDs, DVDs and artifacts over the years and many travels that one may not want to risk getting something I already have.  When I receive something Polish, I am overjoyed.
These days, there is so much out there to choose from, and lots of stuff to pass over like pierogi sealers, and pseudo-Polish cookbooks by non-Poles or culinary experts intent on modernizing the ingredients of treasured classics. 
I will often purchase a coffee table book, like Beata Zatorska’s Rose Petal Jam: A Summer in Poland or the follow-up Sugared Orange: A Winter in Poland for a family member or someone whose interests appreciate Polish themes. These books go beyond the norm and in addition to great recipes, provide thoughtful and thought-provoking stories, history and information, with an artistic layout of photographic images.
For me, if it’s Polish, it needs to be unique and ring true to the culture.  I have been compiling an extensive “wish list” of items from Poland and from American import websites of “My Favorite Things.” Though it is rare for me to receive a Polish gift, from this list I can at least buy gifts for myself.
The Polish American Journal On-Line Gift and Bookstore offers an array of items to enable you to shop Polish for Christmas.  To ensure timely delivery, make sure to order early!
Any item in the PolArt catalog is available directly from PAJ, as well. You can check the website and order these items by contacting: or call 1(800) 422-1275.
Dolls and Action Figures
An assortment of folk costumed dolls and historical action figures will instill a sense of Polish pride and knowledge to any boy or girl. 

Among the many doll collectibles, a newer item drew my attention.  The Polskie Stroje Ludowe (Polish Folk Costumes) series of dolls is an extraordinary guide in the Polish language to the traditions of specific regions. The detailed porcelain doll comes with an informative booklet of folk rituals, habits of everyday life, forgotten dances, open-air museums, and a description of the costume.  Available are Podhalanka from Polish Highlands, Bamberka from Poznań, and Krzczonowianka from Lublin region.
As the accompaniment to a gift of a historical novel such as Henryk Sienkiewicz’s 17th century Trilogy, or Alex Storozynski’s The Peasant Prince, you could include a military action figure of Tadeusz Kościuszko, a Polish Hussar from 17th Century, King Władysław Jagiełło, an 1810 Wisła Legion Lancer, a 1944 AK Soldier, Marshall Józef Piłsudski or the literary characters of Michał Wołodyjowski and nobleman Onufry Zagłoba. (

Coloring Books
A Polish dance coloring book for children which is formatted with music and verses on the
left-hand pages and a sketch of a dance couple ready for coloring on the right-hand pages. The back of the book has corresponding dance moves for Chodzony, Polonez, Mazur, Krakowiak, Kujawiak, Oberek, Trojak, and Polka Lubelska clearly diagrammed for each song. (
Polskie Stroje Ludowe - Traditional Polish Costumes
Children will become familiar with the regional folk costumes of Poland – the left side of the two-page spread contains a full color image of the pair from the region, while the right side has a ready-to-color drawing of the same pair. (
Kolorowanki Folkowa - Coloring Book of Polish Folk Designs
For the adult who wants to unwind and relax after the pressures of a grueling day at work comes this Polish-themed coloring book.  Ideal for older students (12-14 years) the book is folk tour around Poland – beginning with nine of the most well-known folk costumes and then takes you to six Polish folk regions, featuring art and artifacts from each region. Color the Lublin Easter pisanki, the Kujawy chest, the Kraków szopka and Opole ceramics. (
Board Games
For the older youngster who’s learning Polish, here are some Polish-language Board games that will exercise language skills, while making history and culture fun!
Slawni Polacy - Famous Poles
Odkryj Wawel - Discover Wawel
Bitwa pod Grunwaldem - Battle of Grunwald
Kocham Polske - I Love Poland
Czerwony Kapturek – Little Red Riding Hood (a children’s game) (
For those who seek Polish recipes or like to settle down with a “good read,” PAJ Bookstore offers an array of cookbooks, historical novels, cultural and history books.
Historical Novels
Jadwiga’s Crossing. The challenges and joys of the trans-Atlantic crossing made by millions
of European immigrants in the late nineteenth century are explored in this meticulously researched work by Richard and Aloysius Lutz – a must-read for Polish-Americans.  Viewed through the eyes of newlyweds Paul and Jadwiga Adamik, this compelling tale depicts the hardships encountered by a group of Polish immigrants. Readers are introduced to Poles and Polish folklore from several regions of then-partitioned Poland, as well as the tensions that existed between Poles and the three nations that occupied Poland in the nineteenth century: Prussia, Russia, and Austria.

By James Conroyd Martin
Sweeping in scope with a backdrop of Poland’s stormy history, James Conroyd Martin has written four novels that will transport you to another time and another place.
The Boy Who Wanted Wings. A dark Tatar raised by a Polish peasant family, wishes to become a Polish hussar. When he meets the daughter of the noble who owns the land that his parents work, he falls hopelessly in love. Though she returns his love, race and class differences make this quest as impossible as that of becoming a hussar.
Push Not the RiverBased on the real diary of a Polish countess who lived through the rise and fall of the Third of May Constitution years, this romantic novel paints the portrait of the metamorphosis of a nation. 
Against a Crimson Sky In this sequel to Push Not the River, Martin takes the characters 20 years into the fascinating Napoleonic era, highlighting the exploits of the glorious Polish lancers.
The Warsaw Conspiracy. Completing the trilogy, the family saga continues – this time set against the November Rising (1830-1831).

Each novel stands alone, or you can get the “Trilogy Package” at an exclusive PAJ price. Vivid, romantic, and thrillingly paced, the novels have been called “Poland’s Gone with the Wind.”
PAJ’s Sophie Hodorowicz Knab provides an important contribution to World War II history, based on extensive research – archival records from the U.S. and Europe, family records, war crime trial testimonies, diaries, and previously unpublished victim accounts.  Written by the daughter of Polish forced laborers, Knab’s factual account gives a voice to the women who were taken from their homes as young as 12 years old and subjected to slave labor conditions, starvation, sexual exploitation, forced abortions and child separation — all while Nazi propaganda depicted them as well-cared-for volunteers. Knab explains how it all happened, from the beginning of occupation in Poland to liberation in an unflinching, detailed portrait of a forgotten group of Nazi forced labor survivors.
Borrowing from his mother’s extensive 1968 cookbook, The Art of Polish Cooking (also available from PAJ), recipes are adapted by the husband-wife team – Laura and Peter Zeranski into an easy-to follow format and are accentuated by tantalizing images by photographer Bob Rock.  The two cookbooks offer new recipes, as well such favorites as Pope John Paul II’s favorite dessert – the crème cakes called kremówki.
In this expanded edition, PAJ’s Sophie Hodorowicz Knab offers recipes for favorite Polish foods combined with the history and cultural traditions that created them. Arranged according to the cycle of seasons, this cookbook with over 100 recipes explores life in the Polish countryside through the year. I will open it to any page and just start reading; it is a valuable resource for anyone wanting insight into the reason and meaning behind traditional Polish village cooking,  It’s like having your Babcia in the kitchen with you!
It’s the cookbook many of us grew up with before ethnic cooking became popular, and it’s a classic!  First published in United States in 1948, it was the first complete book of Polish cookery in the English language and hasn’t lost a bit of its charm or relevance.  For anyone beginning their collection, this is the perfect “first Polish cookbook.”  

Bolesławiec Pottery
“Bolesławiec” is the collective term for pottery produced in Bolesławiec, Poland – also known as “Polish pottery” or “Polish stoneware.”  The town itself is often called Miasto Ceramiki (town of ceramics).
For centuries one of the premier art forms in Europe has been the ceramics created in the southwestern Śląsk region. The durable and functional creamy white and blue stoneware pieces are unique and easily identifiable.  It is impossible to talk about the town without talking about the ceramics that have been produced there for over a thousand years. There has been a resurgence in the popularity of Boleslawiec ceramic art in the United States, and many of my American friends collect them.
Why Polish pottery? There is no other, more durable or versatile stoneware available. The pottery is microwavable, oven-safe, dishwasher safe, freezer safe, lead and cadmium free.  It’s been tested by the FDA and is food safe. The glaze on the pottery allows for easy separation of foods – cutting down on the need for oils and allowing healthier cooking and even easier clean-up
Aprons and Towels
What better way to cook your Polish dishes than in a White Eagle embroidered 2-pocket red apron? (Other styles available). New, larger kitchen towels are also available in  a variety of embroided phrases and patterns, from “Polish Chef” to “I Love Kielbasa”.
A Polish Christmas
Creating your own Polish family traditions is an important way of continuing our heritage.  With each Christmas comes a decorated tree and the Wigilia Christmas Eve dinner.  Continue or begin including customs and ornaments to make your Christmas “Polish.”
A Polish Christmas Eve by Rev. Czeslaw Krysa
Learn about Wigilia, the Christmas Eve dinner and how to make Polish paper ornaments and traditional dishes. This book is a quick and easy reference, step-by-step guide and international collection of customs, stories, recipes, carols and decorations with glossary, pronunciation guide, and a regional map of Poland. (
The breaking of the Christmas opłatek is a custom that began in Poland in the 10th century and is practiced by people of Polish ancestry around the world. It is considered the most ancient and beloved of Polish traditions.
The wafer symbolizes the unity of the family, which many consider to be the main pillar of society. According to beliefs, the bond of unity should exist between family members. The wafer also symbolizes forgiveness and reconciliation.
Practice sharing the Christmas wafer with family and guests. Many people place a piece in each Christmas Card they mail.
In Poland, the making of straw ornaments dates to the time when the only available
materials for decorations were those that were found on the farm. During the beginning of the Christmas season, homes were creatively and ornately decorated using straw, paper, yarn, and cloth ornaments. These ornaments are very different from modern Christmas decorations. The designs include stars, wreaths, reindeer figures, pine cone shapes, and bell shapes.

In addition to the traditional glass-blown Polish ornaments Polish Pottery and folk dancer ornaments can make your tree a point of conversation and truly unique. (

Check out the PAJ Catalog for more items:

Thursday, November 16, 2017

ARTS: Polish-themed Indecent Airs on PBS – November 17

by Staś Kmieć
PBS will air Paula Vogel's Indecent on November 17 as part of its Great Performances series.  The play with music won Tony Awards for Best Direction and Lighting Design and was captured by eight high-definition cameras just before its final Broadway performance on August 6.  It was reviewed in PAJ’s August issue.

Indecent is based on events surrounding Polish-Jewish writer Sholem Asch’s groundbreaking 1907 Yiddish masterwork God of Vengeance – from its inception in Warsaw and its evolution throughout Europe to its explosive run on Broadway in 1923 and beyond. The run was cut short when the cast and producer were arrested on obscenity charges.
Based on the real-life “Ararat” Jewish Kleinkunst Theatre of Łódz, a theater troupe of actors rise from the ashes to tell the story behind their play.
PBS – November 17, 9:00 pm (check local listings for time and additional showings)
Review: Indecent on Broadway
reprinted from the August 2017 issue of 
The Polish American Journal
The new Broadway play Indecent takes an impressionistic look at a controversial moment in Broadway history. 

The play is based on the events surrounding Polish-Jewish writer Sholem Asch’s groundbreaking 1907 Yiddish masterwork God of Vengeance (Got fun nekome) – from its inception in Warsaw, Poland and its evolution throughout Europe and the Lower East Side to its explosive run on the Great White Way in 1923, and beyond.  In Europe, the play was popular enough to be translated into Polish, German, Russian, Hebrew, Italian, Czech and Norwegian. 

It was a controversial play when it was translated into English and bowed at the Apollo Theatre on West 42nd St.  Set in a brothel, the play includes Jewish prostitutes, the first lesbian kiss on a Broadway stage, and the hurling of a Torah across the stage. The run was cut short by six weeks when the cast and producer were arrested, jailed, indicted and convicted on obscenity charges.  The conviction was successfully appealed.  Later, it was performed as an act of artistic affirmation in an attic in the Łódz Ghetto of German-occupied Poland during World War II.

With music and humor, Indecent explores the loss of Yiddish theater and the ever-changing mores of audiences.  Playwright Paula Vogel, also a Pulitzer winner is marking her Broadway debut and provides the voice and structure from which the story can be told.  Indecent examines artistic struggles, but it is an immigrant story about a time in America when immigrants were being pushed out.

The superb 7-member ensemble portrays multiple roles and is accompanied by a klezmer band of 3 onstage musicians – playing a variety of instruments.  The production is enhanced by the intricate and often symbolic direction by Rebecca Taichman and choreography by David Dorfman.   Some of the characters are composites, while most are real-life figures.  Screen projections guide the audience through the constant shift in personae.

Based on the real-life "Ararat" Jewish Kleinkunst Theatre of Łódź, a theater troupe of actors rising from the ashes tell the story behind God of Vengeance.  The fictional Lemml, a former tailor and now stage manager, who functions as the narrator/master of ceremonies, along with the imagined company of Vera, Otto, Halina, Mendel, Chana and Avram (portrayed by Richard Topol, Mimi Lieber, Tom Nellis, Katrina Lenk, Steven Rattazzi, Adina Verson and Max Gordon Moore) propel the story – making an indelible and lingering impression.
The production received three Tony Award nominations, with Rebecca Taichman winning in the "Best Direction of a Play category and Christopher Akerlind for "Lighting Design."
Indecent will end its run at the Cort Theatre on August 6 and is sure to enjoy subsequent new stagings at regional theaters across the United States.

ARTS: Loving Vincent – the World’s First Oil-Painted Film

by Staś Kmieć

reprinted from the November 2017 issue of The Polish American Journal

Actor Robert Gulaczyk is Vincent van Gogh
It took seven years and 65,000 hand-painted frames to turn a live action feature into a one-of-kind animated film about the last days of Vincent Van Gogh.  Loving Vincent is the first fully oil-painted feature film.


Co-director Dorota Kobiela, a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, was a painter working in animation and frustrated by a career that revolved around working on other people’s projects. Determined to make something of her own, she set out to combine her passion for painting and film. As a university student, she studied the intersection of psychology and art, writing her thesis on the letters of van Gogh. Using this as a starting point, she came up with an idea for a seven-minute short film about the last day of van Gogh’s life.

She intended to paint the entire film herself; however once she expanded the project into a feature film, the task of writing and directing was such that she had to incorporate 95 painters from throughout Europe to complete the project..

One line from van Gogh’s letter – “We cannot speak other than by our paintings” – became the guiding principal of Loving Vincent.  “I took it literally,” said Kobiela.. “I thought, ‘This is so amazing if I could actually do exactly that and make his paintings speak and tell his story.'”
The directors would use 94 of the artist’s paintings as the film’s settings, while also bringing to life the painting’s real-life subjects – friends and acquaintances of the artist – to piece together the mystery of van Gogh’s last days before his tragic death.
For two weeks, the 95-minute feature was shot with the cast – including notable actors like Saoirse Ronan and Chris O’Dowd and Polish actor Robert Gulaczyk – largely against green screens. Another two weeks were spent in Poland shooting backdrops and working with body doubles to gather the rest of the footage needed.
The directors composited the  live-action footage with van Gogh’s paintings, and used computer-generated animation to give the still-life backdrop a three-dimensional realism. Once they had a final cut, painting began.  For most of the film, the directors wanted actual hand-brushed strokes that captured van Gogh’s style. Computer animation would be unacceptable.

Loving Vincent. was released in U.S. theaters on September 22 – capturing the world of van Gogh in a cinematic experience like no other.

Official Trailer:

ARTS REVIEW: Two Crowns – a Docudrama about St. Maximillian Kolbe

by Staś Kmieć
reprinted from the November 2017 issue of The Polish American Journal

"We can build many churches, but if we do not have our own media, these churches will be empty." – St. Maximillian Maria Kolbe

This line stated in the new Polish-language docudrama Dwie Korony (Two Crowns) - with English subtitles,  is significant in that the forward-thinking Kolbe was referring to spreading the teachings of Church through a mass-distributed booklet magazine.  It can also refer to the message this film has the potential of spreading worldwide. 

The film by Michał Kondrat, which premiered in New York, prior to its official opening in Poland, is well-made and informative.  It is more “History Channel” docudrama, than feature film in its style.  The documentary aspects are intriguing and have a high educational value.  Archival footage is utilized; still photographs come to life through 3D enhancement; and the animation aspects contribute greatly to the narrative.  The film features anecdotes from people who knew Kolbe, the director's commentary, and scenes depicting moments from the life of the future Polish saint.

Live action sequences have been staged to connect the story and to cut through the dryness of the documentary format – often incorporating elements of humor. Due to the structure, characters are not able to fully develop and remain one-dimensional.  Nevertheless, Adam Woronowicz imbues a pious charisma and steadfast heroism into his role as Kolbe.  Perhaps, the most poignant scene of the film is when Fr, Kolbe leads the fellow starvation inmates in a cycle of prayer. 

Of particular note is the solitary piano composition by Robert Jansen – movingly played by Bartek Szysz.

It is surprising that many people, even the youth in Poland do not know about Kolbe.  Much of the information in the film can be found in Tomasz P. Terlikowski’s “Biography of the Holy Martyr," but now it is visualized for another generation.  Terlikowski appears in commentary sections, as well.

As a sort of “tour guide, Kondrat explores the history and elements of Kolbe's life, casting a new light on the motives, dilemmas and his difficult choices, while highlighting moments in the Franciscan’s biography.

Maximillian Kolbe, the Franciscan priest who gave his life as a prisoner in Auschwitz led an extraordinary life. It is interesting that he understood the essence of the mass media and the role of language as spoken to the faithful. An expressive, courageous and passionate publicist, he developed missions and literary media in both Poland and Japan. 

Kolbe was nicknamed“Crazy Max,” because he was always working on new ideas. At age 21(1912), he presented his patent for a spaceship. He also built a radio station and prepared a plan for defending the Polish city of Lwów.

Two Crowns  is piece of evangelical cinema that depicts a man of ideas; a man of blood and bones, who was endowed with extraordinary spirituality and respect for his neighbor. 

The Official Trailer: 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

KULTURA: Polonia on Display - The XVII International Festival of Polonia Folk Ensembles

Polonia on Display
The International Festival of Polonia Folk Ensembles returns to Rzeszów
by Staś Kmieć

This article appeared in two parts in the September and October issues of The Polish American Journal print edition –
Dressed in costumes from eastern Podlasie, 
Matthew Schmit and Amy Robertson 
from Lajkonik Polish Folk Ensemble 
of Tuscon, Arizona dance at the
 open-air skansen museum in Kolbuszowa
Over 1100 participants of thirty-seven groups from the Americas, Australia, Asia and Europe attended the 17th International Festival of Polish Folk Ensembles (XVII Światowy Festiwal Polonijnych Zespołów Folklorystycznych) in Rzeszów, Poland.  Representing 14 countries and 5 continents, they were a part of one of the largest events of its kind in the world - giving them the opportunity to  learn more about the culture of their ancestral country, while forming a lasting bond with other Poles from abroad.

"The Festival gives a sense of community and leaves an unforgettable impression,” said longtime Festival Director Mariusz Grudzień.  The ensembles were selected by a "qualifying selection panel" – the staff at Oddzial Rzeszowski Stowarzyszenie Wspolnota Polska. At least 8 couples and a 45-minute program were required by video submission in costume; and you must meet the deadline.

Folklore is an important shared identity – a connection through history and culture, and a symbol of ties to one’s country of origin and its traditions.  The joint presentations allow participants to integrate and learn from each other.

I have experienced the festival – 3 times as a spectator and twice as a performer; accomplishing the daunting task of bringing my ensemble to perform in 1986. With the evolution of technology, I was once again transplanted to that place of Polonia connection and comradery through the internet transmission of the final two major concerts and through clips posted on Facebook. Vicariously, I was able to once again relive the magic of Rzeszów.

History of the Festival
The Polish Song and Dance Ensemble – Krakus from Geng-Zwartberg, Belgium, under the direction of Bronisław and Wanda Stal, came on a performance tour of Rzeszów back in 1967. From a conversation with Czesław Świątoniowski - director of the Provincial Culture Center, the idea of systematic meetings of Polish artistic ensembles in this city was given birth. 

When the first festival debuted in 1969, 13 groups performed – 12 from Europe and one from the United States – Boston’s Krakowiak Dancers.  The chief initiators were: Świątoniowski, journalist Lubomir Radłowski, and choreographer and cultural animator Roman Broż.
Participants at an early Festival

At that time under Communism, knowledge and resources regarding folk song and dance were limited, and the quality of performances varied. To enable groups to present a program with an eye to authenticity, workshop classes were given. Eventually, a training program - Studium Folklorystyczne was established – first in Tuchola, then Płock, and later it transferred to Lublin under Stanisław Leszczyński. A more recent edition - Polonijne Studium Choreograficzne was formed in Rzeszów by Alicja Haszczak.  This resource continued to bring the presentation at festivals to a higher level.  It was this validation of the knowledge they had achieved that the ensembles wanted to share with their counterparts from around the world.

The next festivals gained momentum, and their development was fueled by the desire of ensembles to showcase their successes and compare their skills. At the second Festival, ten more troupes participated, and at the next one the number increased to 27 groups. Over the years, the number has grown, and the seventh festival reached its peak with 46 groups.  At the 1989 VIII Festival, two troupes from Lithuania took part.  At the next festival, from behind the eastern border, other groups from the former Soviet Union followed.

The XVII Edition
The 17th Festival took place between July 19-26. The schedule was packed with performances, events, rehearsals, workshops and training opportunities for dancers to enhance their folk skills and knowledge.
The troupes were divided into six groups (zgrupowanie) stationed in host cities during the days prior to the festival.

Dressed in Kurpie Zielony costume. 
Agnieszka Mleczko-Ratliff of the 
Ojczyzna Polish Dancers of Baltimore, 
Maryland marches in the parade of 
Polonia Ensembles in Rzeszów 
The groups attending the Festival were:  Australia: Kujawy-Sydney, Kukułeczka-Perth;Belarus: Karolinka-Brześć, Lehici -Grodno; Brazil: Mazury-Mallet, Wisła-Kurytyba; Czech Republic:  Olza-Czeski Cieszyn, Suszanie-Sucha Górna;Canada: Lechowia-Mississauga, Polanie-Calgary, Polonez-Vancouver, Akademia Białego Orła-Montreal, Iskry-Winnipeg, Łowicz-Edmonton, Polonez-Edmonton, Polonez-Hamilton, Tatry-Windsor; Germany: Polonia-Hanower; Great Britain: Karolinka-London, Orlęta-Londyn, Polonez-Manchester; Lithuania:  Perła-Niemenczyn, Wilia-Wilno; Moldavia: Polacy Budżaka-Komrat; Russia: Korale-Krasnojarsk, Korale-St.Petersburg; Switzerland: Lasowiacy-Winterthur;Sweden: Polonez-Stockholm; Ukraine: Polanie znad Dniepru-Kiev; USA: Dolina-Minneapolis, Lajkonik -Chicago, Lajkonik-Tucson, Ojczyzna-Baltimore, Polanie-Detroit, Polonia-Chicago, Rodacy-Hamtramck, Wesoły Lud-Chicago.

The Rzeszów region and the Subcarpathian district have special ties with Polonia. Over the years, many people have migrated from southeast Poland for a better life. The most popular destination – the United States.

The event was organized by the Rzeszów branch of the Stowarzyszenie Wspólnota Polska (Association of the Community of Poland) in co-operation with the Ministry of Culture and the National Heritage of the Republic of Poland, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Marshall and Municipal Offices of Rzeszow, and the Podkarpackie Voivodeship.  Honorary Patronage of the festival was taken by President Andrzej Duda.

Dennis Klima, Choreographer of Ojczyzna-Baltimore
greets parade onlookers
The event began with a colorful corridor of the costumed dancers who paraded through the streets, and ended at the Market Square, where the opening took place.  Participants were welcomed by the city authorities with the symbolic “bread and salt,” and received symbolic keys to the city.  A welcome concert followed with the Polish-Ukrainian Dagadan band, along with guests who had traditional songs from different regions of Poland, folk songs from Ukraine and Lemko, interwoven with jazz, electronics and a song recorded in Chinese.

Through the week, the zgrupowanie performed smaller concerts in the square.  They were accompanied by the Podkarpacie Jarmark Fair, where artisans from all over the region exhibited and sold their wares.

The participants had the opportunity to visit many interesting places in the region including: the Castle Museum in Łancut, Museum of Folk Construction in Sanok, Museum of Folk Culture in Kolbuszowa, Arboretum and Department of Physiography in Bolestraszyce, and the Museum of Poles Rescuing Jews during World War II in Markowa.

The Festival concluded with two large concerts under the direction of Janusz Chojecki.  “Koncert Tanców Zamieszkania” was renamed “Folklor Narodów Świata” (Folklore of the Nations) and was intended to display national dances and choreography specific to the countries of residence.  The participants stood on the stage holding in their hands the flag of their country - the national symbol that was raised over the heads of the gathered.  The following day, each group performed a chosen folk dance at the over 3-hour Gala Concert under the theme “Karczma na Podzamczu” (The Divided Inn).

The Road to Rzeszów
It is a demanding task not only from the artistic standpoint, but also from logistic one – to bring all the costumes and props which are needed during the performances in Poland involves a lot of planning and finances.

“We decided to go with fewer longer dances, to reduce the number of costumes that we had to transport,” said Danny Pogoda, the artistic director of the Polonez Polish Canadian Folk Ensemble of Hamilton, Canada.  “As it was, we had 10 extra hockey bags of costumes, which were very expensive.”  One Australian group paid $12,000 to transport their costumes.

The longest trip was encountered by the Russian group – Korale. Its members had to travel for five days by train – over 3,728 miles to reach the festival from the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk. 

The largest amount of ensembles came from Canada with nine; second was the United States with eight.  Five groups were first-timers.  The veterans of the festival were Olza-Czech Republic, who took part 14 times,Wesoły Lud-Chicago: 11 and Wilia-Lithuania for the 10th time. The youngest active participant of was 16 years old and the oldest - 89 years old.

“This year was Canada’s Polonez Ensemble’s third festival,” said Pogoda.  Pogoda was a dancer in theWawel Dance Group from St, Catharines, Ontario for 25 years under the tutelage of Lena Kaczmarczyk – one of the original members of Śląsk.  “I do a lot of research for our dances through the internet and various books and videos.”

We had just finished our dinner show at U Zajca and had all went outside as they set up a bonfire so we could roast kiełbasy,” said Kathy Wachon – who accompanied the group. “Having a wooden stage there, the dancers decided they wanted to perform their Sądecki suite for fun. This was such a great group to go with; they genuinely have fun together.”

Back for their second festival was the Lajkonik Polish Folk Ensemble of Tuscon, Arizona. Far from the big Polish communities North and East, Lajkonik presents Polish culture in quite a remote area of the United States, attracting a membership consisting primarily of non-Polish friends.  

They presented Dances from Podlasie and a Fosse Broadway tribute at the smaller concerts.  At the final concerts they displayed a Suite of Rzeszów Dances choreographed by Artistic Director Matthew Schmit (based on the teaching of specialist Edward Hoffman) and Bronco de Sonora, a Mexican Suite from the Sonora Desert bordering with their state.

‪”The Festival is a life changing experience, especially when it comes to the love of Polish culture,” said founder and director Joanna Schmit.  “Seeing such a broad variety of dances and costumes presented by so many other professional level groups from all over the world makes young people truly realize the beauty of Polish culture and turns their liking into loving Polish dance.  This festival is a fuel for new true ambassadors of Polish culture abroad.”

Matthew and his assistant Amy got engaged in Poland.  He proposed in the Kościół Mariacki Tower in Kraków, just before the Festival.

Wesoły Lud – Chicago
Wesoły Lud Polish Folk Dance Company of the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America celebrated its 40th Anniversary in 2017 with a Gala Concert in April and continued its celebration in Rzeszów.

They presented an Opoczno suite, originally choreographed by Sławomir Mazurkiewicz, and adapted by Artistic Director and Choreographer Richard Jaminski, who also choreographed the fun-filled "Fiddlemania” – A Polish American Chicago Polka.  The Founder, Manager and Honorary Artistic Director/Choreographer - Micheline Jaminski is a product of Alliance College and its folk group – Kujawiaki; she is currently Vice President of PRCUA.  Richard was a dancer with the Bandoska Ensemble of Rzeszów and had been sent by his director Bożena Niżańska to be the choreographer of Rzeszowiacy in Chicago in 1985.

“The Rzeszow Festival is the Olympics of Polish Folk Dance Culture,” said Micheline Jaminski.  “It is an honor to qualify, a privilege to participate, and an amazing experience for the participants, as well as the audience.”
Wesoły Lud attends Sunday Mass at Rzeszów Cathedral.
Ojczyzna Polish Dancers of Baltimore, Maryland attended the festival for the first time.  At the final concerts they performed a Texas Two Step to Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Passionate Kisses,” and Dances from Sącz. Choreographer Dennis Klima, a graduate of the Studium Folklorystyczne in Lublin wanted to make sure the presentation was polished and authentic – down to how te women tied their kerchiefs.  He wanted to honor his instructor in this region – Michalina Wojtas, who he knew would be in attendance.

‪”The Festival was lots of fun, but also long hours of practice. The majority of our group had never experienced anything like it, therefore they weren't sure what to expect,” said Malgorzata Bondyra, Ojczyzna’s Managing Director. “For some, the hardest were “noisy” nights, while others rather enjoyed that. Dozens of dancers from around the world gathered each night in front of our residence to listen to the Olza kapela folk band play mountain style tunes. Very often, their music didn't end until 4 or5 am!”

‪The Dolina Polish Folk Dancers of Minnesota has attended the Festival 9 times and presented a Kurpie Suite choreographed by Director Edward Rajtar – also a Lublin Course graduate, and an Appalachian Mountain Suite.  Choreographed by Donald La Course and utilizing Clogging technique, the suite was most authentic depiction of American folk dance to be presented.

“As always, it was a great experience meeting new people, re-connecting with old friends, choreographers and instructors” said Rajtar.  “It’s a justification for the years of doing this, and rekindles the passion to continue.”  
Jarek Luiken from the Dolina Polish Folk Dancers of Minnesota jumps in a heel-click in the American Appalachian Suite
The Tale of Two Lemkos 
Łemkowie are an ethnic sub-group inhabiting a stretch of the Carpathian Mountains known as Lemkivshchyna, but are also situated throughout Poland, due to relocation after WWII.  Lemkivshchyna became part of Poland in medieval Piast times. Lemkos became an ethnic minority as part of the Austria province of the Polish partition of Galicia in 1772.

As in history, the Lemko path is varied.  Two ensembles paid tribute to this unique culture.  Wisła from Kurytyba, Brazil showed a slick, polished, styled and stylized Ukrainian-esque dance – borrowing more from Russia’s overly imagined Moiseyev Dance Company than traditional dance. It was brilliantly entertaining.

The Karolinka Polish Folk Song and Dance Company of London translated the Lemko culture into an artistically prepared stage presentation.  It rang true and was an honest representation of the Lemko people.
Romek Kutereba and Alex Leckie
of London's Karolinka Polish Folk 
Song and Dance Company 

“Every few years Karolinka takes on a new project. We choose a lesser known region and start to prepare a new suite to present especially at the Festival,” said Artistic Director Jola Kutereba.  “We made use of the knowledge of Lemko ethnographer Jerzy Starzyński – who we invited to London to teach Karolinka.”

They picked the Nowy Sącz area of Lemko to concentrate on, and Starzyński helped them research the costumes to be specific to that locale. Aneta Ormanczyk, one of the ensemble’s upcoming instructors took the task of assembling the information and transferring it into choreography.

Jola continues the legacy of the ensemble’s founder, her mother – Pani Maura; she is a graduate of Studium Folklorystyczne and continues at other training courses in Poland. “It is really important for Karolinka to be authentic in its presentation of regional and national Polskie tańce,” she said.  “The social history of dance plays just as important a role as the technical and folk aspect in the recreation of dances.”

* due to space limitations the commentary did not appear in the print edition
As I was not able to view the smaller concerts of the zgrupowanie, any opinion and conclusions can be drawn only based on the final concerts.  Watching the festival from an internet perspective, I was struck by the old saying: “one step forward; two steps back.”  The mode was less on traditional and focused on entertainment at the cost of authenticity.

The level of technical prowess in lighting, sound and set staging, as well as the dancer’s technique far exceeds the kaleidoscopic folk marathons of the past, but in many cases the substance and content was uneven and greatly lacking. There was the great, the good and the very questionable.

I understand the international politics involved regarding former territories of Poland and transplanted Poles from the war.  The eastern groups, in particular, showed their dances, rather than Polish repertoire or were stylized beyond recognition. The emphasis was heavy on Ukrainian and Lithuanian themes. 

In addition to multiple repetitions of the same kujawiak – “Już nie będziesz moja” to accommodate all the dance groups, there was the segue-way “earworm” music of the Lemko tune “Тече вода коломутна” (Tecze woda kałamutna), that was continuously repeated as a transition throughout the program and between each zgupowanie break. This broke the flow of the program.

The two pseudo-Góralskie mountain dances – full of showmanship and tricks had no base in Podhalańskie folklore.  One actually used recorded Disco Polo – Góral pop tunes as its accompaniment. There was a lovely choreographic novelty – a beautifully costumed walc with no base in authentic Polish folk culture, except that it was danced to Mazowsze and Śląsk songs.  Another group mimicked a near-perfect replica of a dance confection from Śląsk’s repertoire – Chustkowy.

At the earlier festivals, they might not have known the difference – information was limited, but now with all the training courses and material available, there are no excuses.

In the Dances of the World concert, other than the endless display of plaid shirts, denim, cowboy boots and hats, many groups were performing dances with no connection to their country.

Noted instructors in Poland have questioned the material of some of the presentations and wonder why no one wants to listen to constructive criticism? Does the new generation not care about authenticity and accuracy, only their own artistic interpretation?  In this “Dancing with the Stars” era of flash, I hope this trend will be dealt with in the future.

I am certain the organizers are pleased that there are still large numbers of groups willing to travel and participate, and that young people are still interested in being Polish and proud of their heritage.

Those groups that stayed the course – shined and maintained a top standing. 

Golden Jubilee
2017 marks 48 years since the first festival and in order to celebrate its golden 50th jubilee, there is talk to move up the triennial festival to 2019 – just for this occasion.

The festival has attracted a particularly older generation of emigrants, according to which the event has become an element that motivates Polish youth to take over national and folk traditions. Besides religion, it is one of the few factors that unites Poles on foreign soil.

The Festival has raised the need for organizing folk festivals in North America. It was in Rzeszów that in 1974 the idea of organizing Polish festivals in the United States of America was born.  In July 1983, during the next festival, the Polish Folk Dance Association of the Americas (PFDAA) was founded.  Polonia festivals in England, France, Canada, Lithuania, Russia, Sweden and Ukraine have also had similar inspirations.

Danny Pogoda summarized:  "After attending the Festival and seeing over 1100 dancers performing together, it is easy to appreciate the words to the contemporary song " Bo wszyscy Polacy, to jedna rodzina" (because all Poles are one family).