Sunday, September 20, 2009

DANCE: Restaging of Works by Famed Polish Choreographers to appear in “Fall for Dance” Festival" – NYC

by Staś Kmieć
New York City Center’s Fall for Dance Festival (September 22 – October 3, 2009) will include eight companies presenting Ballets Russes classics or contemporary interpretations of these great works.

The company’s famed impresario Serge Diaghilev had knowledge of the arts that allowed him to select the most promising young choreographers, the most talented young composers, and artists to design the sets and costumes.The artists were not only Russian, but came from other countries, including many from Poland. Due to a policy during Poland’s Partition period, the powers were set to smother any signs of culture of the enslaved nation.

The names of Polish dancers and choreographers did however resound throughout the world in connection with the art of foreign countries. In Russia, however, these names assumed a Russian persona.

Russian Ballet was enhanced in dance and choreography of the legendary Wacław Niżyński(Vaslav Nijinsky) and his sister Bronisława Niżyńska (Bronislava Nijinska), who were associated with the Ballet Russes.

The program of Fall for Dance will include faithful stagings of: Nijinska’s Les Biches by Ballet West; Nijinsky’s Afternoon of a Faun, performed by Boston Ballet; and the famous The Dying Swan, performed by Diana Vishneva, prima ballerina of the Mariinsky Theatre. The Dying Swan was immortalized by the legendary Anna Pavlova, who also has a Polish background,.

Pavlova started her own company she employed numerous Polish dancers and added many ethnic dances discovered during her travels to the repertoire including Polish, Mexican Japanese and Indian dancing.

With striking shapes and probing themes, choreographer Bronisława Niżyńska helped remake ballet for the 20th century. Though she was a prolific and acclaimed with an unusually long career, Niżyńskais not well-known. She was eclipsed by the notoriety of her older brother, whose radical choreography revivified ballet and whose tortured life made him the subject of gossip and media attention.

Born to Polish dancers dancers Tomasz Niżyński and Eleonora Bereda, the siblings attended the Imperial Ballet School of St. Petersburg’s Maryinsky Theatre and accepted into the company. They broke away to join Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, where they performed mainly in Paris. Later, Nijinska rejoined Ballets Russes in Paris and filled Leonid Massine’s choreographer post, where she found her creative voice. Initially bogged down by heavy Russian-themed works, she created two seemingly frivolous pieces: Les Biches and Le Train Bleu. Frequently called “choreographic cocktails,” these Riviera-set ballets are the dance equivalent of a jaunty Noel Coward comedy. Coco Chanel even designed the costumes.

Les Biches is a society satire with glamorous poses and demanding quick footwork. Niżyńska is considered to have wielded more influence than she was credited for, and that George Balanchine, among others, borrowed her movement motifs. Niżyńska was concerned as a choreographer with formal composition and the use of gesture and geometric form.

Niżyńska was the first artistic director of The Polish Ballet between 1937 and 1938. She created five new ballets which were premiered by the company at the Paris Exposition Internationale. In these works Niżyńskamerged Polish national dance forms with classical and modernist ballet. The Polish Ballet won the Grand Prix and Niżyńska won the Grand Prix for choreography. The company toured Europe, including London and the World’s Fair in New York City.

Wacław Niżyński was born in Kiev, Ukraine, christened in Warsaw, and considered himself to be a Pole despite difficulties in properly speaking the language as a result of his childhood in Russia's interior where his parents worked. In a letter to the Polish Opera star Reszke, Niżyński wrote "My mother gave me milk and the Polish language, which is why I am a Pole. (...) I can not speak it well because I was not allowed to speak it". Polish was the only language the famed ballet star would ever pray in.

His ballet L'après-midi d'un faune (The Afternoon of a Faun) utilized a score by Claude Debussy. Inspired by the poem by Stéphane Mallarmé, the style of the ballet was deliberately archaic. It is considered one of the first modern ballets and proved to be controversial, in fact scandalous in its sexuality. Due to its hostile reception the ballet was only in the repertoire for a few years before being forgotten and assumed lost. In the late 1980s dance notation specialists reconstructed the ballet from Niżyński's own notebooks, his dance notation and the photographs of the dancers that were taken shortly after the first performance.

Fall for Dance FestivalNew York City Center (September 22 – October 3, 2009)