Perhaps the history of ballet has never seen a bigger and more publicized revolution than the world premiere of The Rite of Spring at Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris on 29 May 1913. It is difficult to say what was more shocking: Igor Stravinsky?s innovative music, surprising choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky, or Nicholas Roerich?s decorations and costumes that were far from traditional. However, as renowned French critic Jacques Rivi?re bravely announced then, one thing was certain: on that evening, whether you like it or not, a new aesthetics of dance and ballet performance was born. Music was no longer limited to providing a fairy-tale background for dancers; decorations were no longer idyllic paintings; costumes had nothing in common with shining swans; and the dancers? bodies and movement, freed of classical constraints, served to express emotions to the fullest. The significance and impact of this revolution is testified by the fact that all the following generations of choreographers, while not avoiding classical elements, applied Nijinsky?s ideas extensively, developing and enriching them with their own talents and personalities. Some of the fans of Nijinsky?s philosophy of ballet include Maurice Béjart, Pina Bausch, John Neumeier, Kenneth McMillan, Hans van Manen, Imre Eck, Jiři Kylián and Martha Graham. All of them, Graham in particular, reached for The Rite of Spring and by applying their imagination, knowledge and intuition, they left their mark on this ballet, setting the bar even higher.
Graham developed an interest in The Rite of Spring later in her creative career. Earlier, her choreographies referred more to emotional conditions and complex feelings than to themes with a specific plot. Her dance technique, which focuses on involving the entire body in the process of creating, presenting and commenting emotional dilemmas ? even at the cost of aesthetics and grace of movement ? very accurately and suggestively portrayed the characters? frame of mind. Each grimace of the dancer, each part of the body and each move, even if crude and brutal, and muscle work ? the more visible the better ? served to express emotions and to describe the internal dilemmas of humans. This ?idea of corporeality? is also emphasized by the costumes in Graham?s works ? often scanty and symbolic, close to the body, or loose tunics that add dynamics to dancers? movement.
Martha Graham?s The Rite of Spring, a personal interpretation of the theme, is just like that. It is not clear today whether she was tempted more by the legend of this ballet or by Stravinsky?s score, so much in line with her philosophy of dance. Still, the piece remains a source of fascination and delight, and the dance technique she created invariably impresses the audiences and provides inspiration for new generations of choreographers and dancers.
It was beyond doubt an inspiration for legendary Polish choreographer Conrad Drzewiecki, the author of Poland?s first stage adaptation of Wojciech Kilar?s Krzesany (1977). Maybe he was not a great revolutionist, but he was certainly the one who transformed Polish ballet. Henryk Konwiński, the author of Krzesany that will premiere in Łódź, says that Drzewiecki brought contemporary dance technique to Poland, providing an eye-opener, and infected him with choreography. That was a good thing to happen.
Before Konwiński focused on choreography, he was an outstanding dancer. After debuting as Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet at the Poznań Opera, he successfully danced side by side with Polish ballet stars, such as Olga Sawicka, Barbara Karczmarewicz and Anna Deręgowska. As a dancer, he worked under the eye of Polish choreography masters Feliks Parnell, Teresa Kujawa, Witold Borkowski, Eugeniusz Papliński and Conrad Drzewiecki, which was a great opportunity to gain choreographic experience. He put it to practice for the first time while creating choreography for Gombrowicz?s Operetta, realised with Janusz Nyczak at the NURT Theatre in 1965. Then came the Walpurgis Night in Gounod?s Faust and Verdi?s Aida at the Silesian Opera in Bytom, and TV programmes Alfabet rozrywki and Żywoty instrumentów. Konwiński?s first full-size ballet, Andrei Petrov?s Genesis, was performed at the Silesian Opera in Bytom. Konwiński?s choreographic projects are presented on nearly all musical stages in Poland. It is difficult to count them all; some claim that their number is close to 200. What is most important is the fact that they include a wide range of works, from classics like Prokofiev?s Romeo and Juliet, Tchaikovsky?s Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, and Hérold / Lanchbery?s La fille mal gardée, to his own ballets, such as Szeligowski?s Epitaph on the Death of Karol Szymanowski, Szymanowski?s Stabat Mater and Harnasie, Mozart?s Symphony in G Minor, Strauss?s Charm, Karłowicz?s Songs, Visions Dreams Collisions, and dozens of choreographies for musical and dramatic theatres.
Konwiński?s choreographic ideas were much influenced by his meetings with artistic legends Maurice Béjart, Alicja Alonso and Jiří Kylián, whom he had a chance to observe at work. However, he admits that his choreographic style always results from the music. His works are based on classics freely combined with other kinds of movement.
Krzesany in Łódź is Konwiński?s third meeting with his favourite composer Wojciech Kilar. The previous two took place at the Silesian Opera in Bytom. The ballets Upstairs-Downstairs (with music pieces Riff, Generique and Upstairs-Downstairs) and Ad Montes ? Tatra Ballets (with Choral Prelude, Kościelec, Krzesany and a fragment of Hoary Fog) reveal unconventional choreographic imagination and the ability to harmoniously blend classical and contemporary dance techniques. They have become an example of great consistency in interpreting the theme by the composer and choreographer. Kilar once said that he particularly valued in Konwiński?s works what was close to him in art in general: the ability to present the most important, complex meanings in a rich and sophisticated form, but in a simple, direct and persuasive way ? a rare combination of deep expression with good communication.
To end the 2015/2016 season, the Grand Theatre in Łódź will host an extraordinary evening ? an on-stage meeting of two exceptional composers Igor Stravinksy and Wojciech Kilar with ballet legends Martha Graham and Henryk Konwiński. The Rite of Spring and Krzesany will be performed on 18 June by the theatre?s ballet company and orchestra conducted by Tadeusz Kozłowski. The next performances will take place on 19?21 June, and in October 2016.