Monday, November 15, 2010

REVIEW: Mazowsze - The National Song and Dance Ensemble of Poland

A Nod to the Past with a Look to the Future

by Staś Kmieć

Mira Zimińska-Sygietyńska, co-founder of Mazowsze once said "There are three stars of Mazowsze - the dancers, the singers and the costumes." The famed Polish company did not disappoint with a
vivacious performance on November 14th at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, which opened their current North American tour. An extension of that assessment would include the memorable compositions based on folk tumes by Tadeusz Sygietyński and the masterful choreography – the majority of which is by Witold Zapała.

The formula of Mazowsze has changed little over the years and familiar favorites are always a "wel
come friend” – worth waiting for, such as Elwira Kamińska's Krakowiak masterpiece, the romance and lift of Zbigniew Kiliński's Kujawiak and the epic scope of Zapała's Mazur from the Duchy of Warsaw period.

The current program includes three new selections. The remainder is drawn from the company's vast repertoire, although in some cases in an abbreviated form. There is the same richness of style; the technical prowess of the performers has evolved over the years.

As the program presented was Christmas in Warsaw, many of the folk melodies that Mazowsze is known for were missing. In their place were majestically performed kolędy carols.

The new costumes for Songs from Racibórz were presented as a cross-section of the area including the uniformed miner Górnik, the men in their yellow doeskin leather pants (jelenioki) and wide-brimmed kania hats, and the maidens attired in a white-embroidered loose jacket (kaftan – “jakla”) with rich brocade aprons and galanda wreaths of artificial flowers. The married woman's representation included the head kerchief (chustka – “purpurka”) and characteristic beads adorned with a cross (korale z krzyżkiem).

The songs with musical arrangement by Tadeusz Niećko were gentle and pleasant tothe ear. The suite included the regional tunes “W Starym Piecu,” “Zachodzi S
oneczko,” “Piosenka o Raciborzu” and a medley of Waloszki (waltzes).

Chopin's Rondo à la Krakowiak paid homage to the famed artist's 200th anniversary and to the rich tradition of Polish folk-style ballets. The 50-year old stylized ballet costumes were found in the wardrobe's archive. They had been intended for a U.S. Tour when the company was to present a represenation of the classic 19th century Polish ballet Wesele w Ojcowie. The project was abandoned and the costumes lay in storage. Cleaned and refurbished, they now debut in this folk tale.

A delicate pastoral scene with Romantic era gestures and épaulement sets the stage with a scarecrow (Strach na wróble) in the background providing the tone of calm. A lively procession of Krakowiacy enters and the cwal sliding step and hołubiec clicks match the temperament of the composition. The choreography gives a chance for the dancers, many who have trained in ballet from an early age to dance in this classical style.

Visually stunning, Życzenie G-dur op. 74 (the Maiden's Wish) also by Chopin, was exquistely staged, and
costumed in period attire.

With the untimely death of Tadeusz Sygietyński in 1955, Mazowsze considered ceasing its operations; in 1997 when the company lost their beloved Mira, again they were again faced with an uncertsain future;
directorships followed with varying degrees of impact and effect. Today a new artistic director Ryszard Grąbowski – the offspring of two of Mazowsze's finest performers is at the helm with the task of making the company relevant to today's audience. How to attract a younger audience in a Poland lost in the conventions of computer technology and the phenomenon of mainstream entertainment and commercialism.

Master choreographer Witold
, whose name is now synomymous with Mazows
ze had an early connection with the company first as its premier soloist and later as its unifyi
ng force as the chief choreographer. He has shaped the
any with unique visual arrangements and style and is the link to its origins and the
continuation of its artistic vision.

He has an assistant/ballet mistress Wioletta Milczuk, who has learned all the repertoire and will b
e the "
keeper of the flame" for the next generation.

Mazowsze has entertained us for years, and despite a fresh artistic interpretaion of village life, it is often regarded as a living cultural archive and a relic of the past. It has a complicated legacy to contend with and today it strives to balance its “nod to the past” with a “look forward to the future.” Sto Lat Zapała; long live Mazowsze!

The tour is presented courtesy of 2Luck Concepts.

Review appears in the December issue of The Polish American Journal