Zbigniew Juchnowski was a ballet soloist, choreographer and educator. He was born on December 4, 1932 in Brest-on-the-Bug. When he was 14, his family moved to Gdańsk, where he began studying ballet at Janina Jarzynówna-Sobczak’s newly established school. A few years later, he began performing at the Baltic Philharmonic’s Opera Studio. Between 1950 and 1952, he was a member of the Song and Dance Ensemble of the Polish Army, followed by a stint with the Song and Dance Ensemble of the Cracow Military District, and a subsequent collaboration with the Silesian Opera House.
In 1954, he joined the company of the Grand Theatre – National Opera in Warsaw, where he made his debut as Abraham, Montecchi’s servant in Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, choreographed by Jerzy Gogol. Soon afterwards, he danced the part of Benvolio in the same production. From 1966 to 1979, he was a soloist of the National Opera’s ballet company. He created such roles as the Evil Spirit in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, choreographed by Vladimir Burmejstra, and later Rothbart in Raissa Kuznetsova’s choreography of the same piece; Severyan in Prokofiev’s The Tale of the Stone Stone Flower, choreographed by Alexander Tomsky; Hilarion in Adolphe Adam’s Giselle featuring traditional choreography by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, Bryaxis in Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe choreographed by Alfred Rodrigues, the Devil in Stanisław Miszczyk’s Mr Twardowski and Giovanni in Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini choreographed by Alexei Chichinadze. He was also an excellent character dancer, as first demonstrated in 1957 in George Bizet’s Carmen, where he appeared alongside Liliana Wolska and Stanisław Szymański, choreographed by Stanisław Miszczyk. From then on, he was frequently cast by choreographers in ballets featuring stylized Spanish folklore – he appeared as the Miller in Manuel de Falla’s Three Cornered Hat, choreographed by Françoise Adret; Espado in Ludwig Minkus’s Don Quixote and the Spanish dance in Prokofiev’s Cinderella (both choreographed by Alexei Chichinadze); in Ravel’s Bolero, choreographed by Witold Borkowski; Don Carlos in Teresa Kujawa’s Goya to the music of Joaquin Rodrigo; and as the Kettle-Ex-Toreador in the ballet piece System of Doctor Tar and Professor Feather by Witold Gruca to music by Stefan Kisielewski.
Juchnowski was also noted for his acting skills, in particular his vis comica, which he put on display when playing female roles: Jędzunia in Augustyn Bloch’s A Very Sleeping Beauty, choreographed by Witold Gruca; the Headmistress in Johann Strauss’ Graduation Ball, choreographed by David Lichine; or the hilarious Widow Simone in Frederick Ashton’s The Wayward Daughter, set to the music by Ferdinad Hérold.
Juchnowski appeared in 896 performances in Warsaw theatres, crowning his career with dramatic and pantomime roles such as the Duke of Courland in Giselle and Clara’s Father in Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, choreographed by Andrzej Glegolski. Beginning in the 1970s, he served as assistant choreographer (under Witold Gruca), first in the 1975 production of Halka at the Grand Theatre in Warsaw, and then in the creation of several ballets pieces, including Tadeusz Baird’s Symphony No. 3, Mieczysław Karłowicz’s Stanisław and Anna Oświęcim, and Karol Kurpiński and Józef Damse’s Wedding at Ojców.
As an independent choreographer, Juchnowski collaborated with a number of dramatic theater companies, including the Pomeranian Land Theatre in Grudziądz, where he contributed to the production of Alexei Arbuzov’s An Old-fashioned Comedy (directed by Alicja Choińska, 1979), the Adam Mickiewicz Theatre in Częstochowa (Maria Koszyc and Emil Zegadłowicz’s The House of Cards, directed by Ryszard Krzyszycha, 1979), and the Płock Theatre in Płock (Maria Koszyc and Emil Zegadłowicz’s The House of Cards; Pierre Beaumarchais’s The Mad Day, or the Marriage of Figaro, directed by Jarosław Kuszewski). In addition, he choreographed the opera The Pearl Fishers by George Bizet in 1981, produced at the Cracow Music Theatre. That same year, he also worked with the State Opera in Bydgoszcz, where he helped develop Stanisław Moniuszko’s Halka.
In 1988, he choreographed Krzysztof Penderecki’s opera Black Mask for the Grand Theatre in Warsaw, and a year later took part in the ballet night Our Nijinsky, which consisted of seven choreographic compositions inspired by the career and ballets of Waclaw Nijinsky. The bill featured The Spirit of the Rose to the music of Carl Maria von Weber..
Shortly thereafter, he collaborated with Maria Fołtyn on a production of Moniuszko’s The Haunted Manor at the Cracow Opera and Operetta, and then as a guest artist at the Roma Musical Theatre, where he served as Conrad Drzewiecki’s assistant in the production of Bizet’s Carmen (1995) and the ballet Snow White, choreographed by Kama Akucewicz and featuring music by Bogdan Pawlowski (1996).
Juchnowski also translated his stage experience into film work, appearing as Alvarez in the 1973 television production of Patrick Quentin’s This Impossible Love, directed by Anna Minkiewicz. A few years later, he served as Ryszard Rydzewski’s choreographic consultant for the film Watercolors, where he played the role of Trombone, a dance teacher. He also choreographed television plays such as Alfred de Musset’s A Venetian Night, directed by Maria Wachowiak (featuring dance parts performed by Danuta Borzecka, Danuta Piasecka and Jerzy Makarowski) and Ten Thirty on a Summer Night by Marguerite Duras, directed by Daniel Bargiełowski. In 1987, he choreographed the feature film Three Steps Away from Love by Ryszard Rydzewski, composing the dance of Romeo and Juliet to the music of Peter Tchaikovsky, performed by Beata Więch and Arkadiusz Stępień, and performing in an excerpt from the ballet Giselle alongside Ewa Głowacka and Mariusz Małecki.
Juchnowski was a long-time teacher of classical dance and ballet repertoire at the Warsaw Ballet School.
In recognition of his merits to Polish culture, he was decorated with the Karol Szymanowski Medal (1999), Knight’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta (1985) and Bronze Cross of Merit “Meritorious to Culture Gloria Artis” (2007), among others.
He died on March 19, 2020.