Polish Dance Platform 2012some distant reflections


The key to any and every content of art lies in its technique…

Theodor Adorno


The statement by the jury declared that the platform presented twelve works selected out of ninety-six submissions. In addition to this, the guests were invited to attend four presentations held by three artists and one art collective. The performative character of some of these presentations provides ground to consider these as performances as well, in addition to the twelve selected performances mentioned above. The program also included a fine event, a kind exchange platform, where guests could meet Polish artists. And eventually the platform program was wrapped up with a panel discussion (indeed one must not forget the after-party here).

Here I want to emphasize the importance of not considering the mentioned events as simply supplemental to the exhibition proper and neither isolating the latter but rather approaching the platform with all its details as one whole.  A certain parallel can be drawn between this dance platform and an art exhibition project, where the works of art and the environment in which they are displayed are deeply connected, and one can speak of some intentions more or less readable out of the entire exhibition. Of course the works exhibited at Polish Dance Platform or at least some of their characteristics must necessarily be articulated. But let us first briefly observe the environment or the context in which those works were presented.

There are two general points that can provide a certain perspective that will guide our further reflection. The first is the statement by the jury and the second is the above-mentioned panel discussion entitled Future of the Polish Dance Platform. Different as they were these two however interrelate on a discursive level. In an ambiguously vague manner the description of the procedure of selection introduced in the statement says that ‘choices were made only based on the aesthetic value of the submitted works’ and that ‘the most important criterion for selection was always the artistic quality of the work, not the quantity of dancers on stage’, and nor the size of the performance. The fact that these very notions of aesthetic value, artistic quality, and especially originality strongly call for a definition, and as concepts they are constantly being questioned and disputed, makes it difficult to imagine these working as such or as they are, without any (contextual) deliberation or theoretical elaboration.

It was therefore not surprising that this ambiguous vagueness was what triggered one of the central foci during the panel discussion, namely one that can be put as a question of ‘what must be done next to improve the procedure of selection and develop more openly the criterions for it?’ Yet another issue was put on the table, related to the mission of the platform and what the latter was to represent. And also here one looks to the statement where in strongly negative way it is stated, that ‘the jury in their verdict did not try to give a representative image of the Polish dance scene’. But then what was to be represented in the jury’s selection, if anything at all? And did the attempt not to convey a representative art scene eventually work? And if it did, then again the question of the mission of the platform arises with yet more strength. And the question if the representativeness here could be at all avoided seems to me rather rhetorical…

To my mind, and I’m making my point here, what was represented is just the Polish dance scene, or as I would precisely put it – the current scene of contemporary choreography in Poland. And by the current scene I mean here both actual artistic production and the conditions in which this production is developed and realized as well as evaluated and (re)presented. These conditions are necessarily socio-political, economical, refer to education and indeed include theoretical and critical discourses. So to represent this scene is more about its self-representation in its current state, which of course includes a certain political statement and a claim for openness towards a wider context. In this light the fact that the guests of the exhibition have been invited to discuss the future of the Polish Dance Platform is quite indicative and needs to be appreciated. Let’s be optimistic and hope it will have its continuation that will certainly influence the whole procedure of assembling the next Platform in 2014. But let me leave these demagogical speculations and finally come closer to the essential part of the platform – the shows.

It is hard to speak of certain tendencies that can be outlined from the whole exhibition; however some shared features present in many of the works could be stressed. One of them is that there is an obvious element of exhaustion. Enabled on both corporeal and conceptual levels this exhaustion is applied (directed) both to the artist and to the audience. In many ways the body of the artist is often that which is being subjected to this exhaustion. The later in different instances is achieved by different means: through persistent and perpetual rhythmic movement as in Displaced and Perforated by Alex Baczyński-Jenkins, or as it appears in New(Dis)Order by Ramona Nagabczyńska which constitutes an intense interaction of three bodies, or through an over-tensioned control of the body movement as in Lost in details by Aleksandra Borys. This exhaustion then takes up certain subversive and transformative functions that transform not only the body itself but the very idea of the acting body on stage: the performer’s body as conventionally considered as a never-exhausting and ever-acting machine-like entity. The image of the physically tired, exhausted, hard-breathing body on the stage seems to remind us that what is perceived is a real human body, a body that is treated in such a way that exposes its actual capacities.

But often this exhaustive gesture (I am attempting to avoid the military term strategy of exhaustion that is not so far from what is meant here) also grips immediately over certain concepts and discourses, exposing the established standard ways of their reception. So for instance in When I Don’t Dance 
I Collect Crystal Balls by Magdalena Chowaniec and 
Mathieu Grenier, the virtuosity and performativity are played up in such a way that these can compel the viewer to reexamine them as given categories and reconsider their relation to the contemporaneity. Tautologically said, the performing of two professionals is virtuously performed throughout the whole performance. However, if in the second part we meet Barbara and William as two professional dancers exhibiting perfect skills in any dance genre, explaining its meanings and nuances to the audience that is not exactly prepared to receive these ideas, posing riddles, making jokes and sharing their stories and sentiments about their professional path, then in the first part they are not certainly dancers but two performers. Here they perform in white slightly discomforting bathrobes, still exhibiting perfect skills but this time in completing hard acrobatic-like tasks meaningless in the vulgar terms of dancing. The relations between the dance couple are put in the forefront of the performance and intensify in relation to the audience. Through this relationality categories such as dancing, performing, choreography, success, actuality, contemporaneity are put conflict, and this conflict problematizes the position of the performer.

In a different manner this kind of performing of a performer quite dramatically appears in Live on Stage, a performance by Janusz Orlik, which was not presented in the exhibition but deserves a mention here. Again, an exhaustive combination of clownery, dancing, and singing is rendered into such acting where these categories appear at issue. Yet what Orlik has presented in the exhibition was of the opposite approach to the previously described couples. The Rite of Spring staged in a way that may seem to refer to an orthodox attitude in terms of choreography, remarkably treats the narrative of Le Sacre du Printemps subversively putting the emphasis on sacrificed femininity invisible on stage, but exposed through its very invisibility, that was formally completed through enactment by three solely male performers. This notable contrast in his two performances, namely Live on Stage and The Rite of Spring, only speaks for large diversity in Orlik’s artistic attitude and interests.

In this context I would mention also Agata Mazckievic, whose artistic approach is directed outwards, onto theatre at large. It would be underestimation to highlight solely the aspect of social critique in her works overlooking other critical elements and concerns about the function of the theatre and performer, to say nothing of her virtuosity indeed. It is not the purely social issues are set as a subject of her works but the way these issues can be and are being explored within the art institution. This delicate reflexive nuance makes difference in all those instances when a certain social issue is made a topic of a work, however it is explored by virtue of given artistic means without questioning the latters’ effectiveness to fulfill such a function. Yet it is not thematically, but through the techniques of performing and the structure of the performance that the mentioned artistic means and the very institution in which these are enabled become central issues in her works. One example is her recent solo work Polska, where this combination of critique directed to the social sphere and at the same time to the artistic domain is perfected. And what is critical here is not simply the staging of the elements of popular culture but the ways of exploring these elements on the stage and the techniques by which their relation to artistic practices is articulated. So, expectant mother Agata Mazckievic appeared at the Open Studio Presentations, an extra event in the platform, where she presented her current project Don Kiewicz i Sanczo Waniec, in fact confirming her devotion to adopted strategies and approach.  And I wonder if Polska would be selected by the jury in case of possibility of its performing.

Coming back to the issue of the performer it is important to mention here OOPS, a performance by Anita Wach, which is built in a form of a dialog between the performer and the stage. Yet everyone knows that stages never speak, this one speaks here, and quite intelligently, gently disclosing the idea of enlightenment and how it was explored by critical minds, namely Kant and Foucault. But the epoch of reason is disclosed from the perspective of failure, mistake, or rather the mechanism of mistake, in which everything gets perpetually caught, turning life into ‘an endless process of correcting mistakes, revolving around the repetition of one and the same mistake – to correct the mistake’. Without retelling here the whole brilliantly shaped conception I just want to emphasize the manner in which this dialog was actualized. Firstly it is to say, it was less a dialog than a monologue-like speech held by the personified stage addressed rather to the audience than to the performer, for with the later the speaking-stage was in kind of an obligatory interaction. Secondly, despite all the seriousness of the topic(s) explored in the performance, the audience at large was not excluded or ignored there, in terms of either engagement or reception. At least, to completely experience the performance one did not necessarily need to be familiar with the philosophy of Kant or Foucault – alongside with the attitude of the latter to the former, nor with name of Allan Greenspam. Furthermore, the narrative was shaped in such a way, that one would get an impression of living in the wake of all these historical and philosophical moments and events, a strong feeling of the now so deeply connected with and rooted in then. In addition, the audience had a chance to be involved in a kind of family dispute within the theatre and become aware of some internal concerns concealed in most cases.

Not to summarize but to finally resume I would stress the strong self-defining character of works, some of which were mentioned here. This element of self-definition, which might be considered as one of the characteristic of what is perceived as contemporary in arts at large, is present in those works and makes them claim for a certain discrete perspective from which one can approach them. This was not indeed the only, but one of the reasons motivated this writing.


H.A. on Polish Dance Platform 2012

For visiting Polish Dance Platform 2012  homepage  click here.

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