Go Deeper

Dada von Bzdülöw Theatre and the brief history of modern dance in Poland

Posted September 13th, 2007

Yesterday, Nick and I talked with Leszek Bzdyl and Kasia Chmielewska, directors of Dada von Bzdülöw Theatre, which they founded together in 1993, in Gdansk, Poland. Leszek started by giving us a quick lesson in modern Polish history. Modern dance, he told us, “…has only existed in Poland for sixteen or seventeen years.” Bzdyl explained that Poland’s communist regime allotted state funding for the teaching and production of ballet and other traditional and classical art forms, but that contemporary and experimental art were not offered this kind of support. The end of the Cold War and the subsequent establishment of a republic allowed contemporary artists to establish their work within Poland, and to travel and see art throughout Europe, to join the creative community in Western Europe.


Photo by Matthew Hollerbush

Modern Dance in Poland and the beginning of Dada
Chmielewska described how artists in Poland suddenly had access to resources and influences that they previously had without, and how this generated a great wave of art that dealt with political and social repression during the communist regime. The goal with Dada, she said, was to do something that sort of counter balanced that trend, to make art that was not entirely serious, that was not solely devoted to big political themes. “That’s why we are called Dada,” she said.

This raised the question we’d all wanted to ask for months: what does Dada von Bzdülöw mean? Dada, Bzdyl told us, just means Dada, like the movement. The “von” is there to suggest a person’s name, particularly a noble person; Bzdülöw is a pseudo-Germanic version of his surname, Bzdyl—it’s also a reference to Polish history. “So it’s really just a joke. It’s a punk, counter-culture thing. Dada von Bzdülöw is a silly name. It’s about being free of the big ideas about the political situation of Poland to which artists typically dedicate their work.”


Witold Gombrowicz
The work of twentieth century Polish novelist and playwright Witold Gombrowicz is the inspiration for Dada’s Several Witty Observations, which the company will perform at Christ Church Neighborhood House from now until the end of the Festival.

Chmielewska and Bzdyl explained the hugeness of Gombrowicz to us—like a Salinger or Fitzgerald in the U.S., Gombrowicz is thought of as the voice of his generation. Gombrowicz spent a good deal of his career as a writer in Argentina, where he sought exile during the war, much like Garcia Lorca did in the 1930s. He became the voice for a liberal intellect that purportedly could not exist in Poland during this period.

For several years, Gombrowicz wrote a daily memoir, which was published in various Polish newspapers at the time. Unlike other writers at the time, he did not pursue a linear narrative in these memoirs. He avoided following a particular theme—his path was seemingly random, obscure, and difficult to understand. “He was a kind of intellectual grasshopper,” said Bzdyl.


Several Witty Observations

Like Gombrowicz’s memoirs, Several Witty Observations has that same idiosyncratic appeal of bouncing from one idea to the next. Chmielewska explained that Gombrowicz’s seemed often to focus on the banal—he would write an entire memoir stemming from how he felt when, while eating at a restaurant, he happened to notice his waiter’s hand. What did the hand mean, what did it remind him of, where had it been—these were all of the things that came to mind, and his choice was to write about one small thing like this after the next, rather than composing any kind of larger argument or thesis. In Several Witty Observations, the objective was to mimic this style through dance, by creating a series of short, poignant dances that seem to focus on the mundane.

See for yourself. Several Witty Observations made its U.S. premiere in 2006 at La Mama Experimental Theatre Club in New York, and made its Philadelphia premiere last night at Christ Church Neighborhood House. Several Witty Observations will continue at Christ Church at 8pm through the end of the Festival.
Click here to purchase tickets.

All photos by Matthew Hollerbush