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Interview with Jacek Luminski, Director of  the Bytom Festival and Silesian Dance Theatre

by Dance Factory (Festival Newspaper)

July 2006 -- Bytom, Poland

Dance Factory (festival newspaper): Silesian Dance Theatre is almost 15 years old, and the first Bytom Contemporary Dance Conference was 12 years ago. You and your company must have seen exciting and sometimes hard times.

Well indeed, during those 12 years many things have happened. Although there is still a lack of theory and dance history classes in Poland, during the Conference we get the chance to schedule a series of lectures, both for those who want to write about dance professionally and for those who just love dancing. Many well-known critics and dance historians have visited us from all over the world, who can show us the main ways to think about dance writing. And this year Arnd Wasemann [the chief editor of Ballet-Tanz] is coming, so we are very lucky to have such key people here and we are considering whether to publish the lectures. I think that could be very useful and interesting for both students and dancers.

For performances, from the very beginning we wanted to show what is going on in the dance world today. We have shown shocking and drastic productions, sometimes close to performance art. But we also present traditional pieces and the Conference has been always open for different kinds of things. The point was that these two weeks should show the diversity of dance - one can’t present just one style. And over the years, I think we have managed to achieve our goal.

This year for the first time we decided to feature works by leading companies from Belgium, such as Michele Anne De Mey. It is significant because we are celebrating the Anniversary of cultural co-operation between Belgium and Poland and the Belgian Minister of Culture, the Ambassador and other important people will attend.  Overall, we try to discuss and be ahead of new trends, which can be challenging, but that is the way it should be. We have always tried to show well-known artists, those you can see on TV or read about in the newspaper, because there is often a difference between imagination and reality: some things can be better or worse than we expect and it is necessary to make these comparisons.

What is the quality of Polish dance theatre compared with international dance?

I still think that there is no dance theatre in Poland yet, although there are different attempts to create dance theatre. I believe some people from dance want to copy the rest of the world, because it is the fastest way to be visible, as world trends are much more important than national roots. I think there is still much to be done before achieving real dance theatre in Poland. The various examples are better or worse, and artists are adaptable and energetic, but we are still at the beginning. And we still are not financed from the national budget: contemporary dance companies do not get any money, and 5 or 8 thousand zloty [$1-2 thousand] is not enough to run a theatre.  All those involved in the field need to cooperate and fight for financial support.

As far as I see dance in Poland is not considered equal with, for example, dramatic theatre. Do you think the media undervalue dance?

Yes, I agree with that. But the problem is that the media in Poland, and not just the media, are centralized. Events in Warsaw are the most important and the rest of the country doesn’t really matter. For example Polish Culture TV, which theoretically is a cultural channel, seems not to be very curious about what is going on around the country. They look for people from Warsaw to write about Bytom, and those people don’t even talk to us about it. So if those kinds of media are trying to create the image of dance in Poland, I am not surprised that right now the situation is not good. We must change attitudes to many things and not only to dance. Theatre is in a better situation so far, but the art form, the media representation and administration still suffer from centralization and a lack of professionalism – a common malaise in Poland.

After what you just said the picture seems pessimistic. But there is this Conference that does much to try to change the situation, not only thanks to the many workshops for critics and dance historians. There is also the new High School of Performing Arts.

This idea has been around for some time and finally we managed to get funds from the European Union to start the School. The program is developing dynamically and we hope to formally open in September 2007 or January 2008, with a pilot project already running.

Am I right that it will be the first school in Poland to educate contemporary dancers?

Yes, but you must be clear that we won’t be treating dancers like puppets. A dancer should be a creator and needs a wide knowledge to do that – this school should provide him with that knowledge. The school will focus on dance and also physical theatre, the kind of theatre that Jerzy Grotowski created – the style that is practically non-existent in Polish Theatre schools today. Of course people who used to work with Grotowski have their workshops, often abroad, but sometimes in Poland as well – Gardzienice is the best example. We want to work with those people and that is why Tomasz Rodowicz and Janusz Oprynski teach in our school.

Currently, there are also a range of dance classes – different levels and styles: contemporary, modern and ballet. We introduce students to the basics of classical ballet but in a different way to others. We don’t want them to learn ballet by force but to understand some ballet mechanics. We also feature classes with diverse Polish folk music. All these elements are presented together with theoretical classes [anthropology, aesthetics, knowledge of culture, drama forms, dance theatre forms, the history of criticism]. These two aspects of education should work together, to encourage creative thinking and creative acting connected with folk culture. I still believe that if something is connected with tradition, it provides a firm and durable foundation. The school will focus on high quality teaching and seek to prove that dance is a field that trains not only the body but also the mind.

Our school will be independent, although we will work in cooperation with Adam Mickiewicz University in Pozna? and Silesian University in Katowice. We will share lecturers so our students are able to continue their studies in the different facilities. In addition, university students who wish to will be able to participate in our dance classes. We are also considering the creation of a research institute between our school and Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, sometime in the future.

Can you give advice for those young people coming to the Conference who want to be dancers in the future?

First of all they have to be persistent – right from the start.  It is also important to think about how to enter the dance field: nothing is new, but the unique characteristic is personality and developing their own voice.

Thank you for the interview and good luck with the Festival and all your projects.

Thank you.

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