Foreign Exchange

BEING A POLISH modern dance company is a bit of an anomaly. For years during the communist era, ballet was the form of choice in Eastern Europe. Only after the parting of the iron curtain in the late '80s was the modernism of, say, Martha Graham and José Limón--already historical techniques in the United States--introduced to Poland.

But that was then, this is now. The Silesian Dance Theatre (or the more percussive-sounding Slaski Teatr Tanca in Polish) was founded in 1991 and is today Poland's premiere contemporary troupe. And it makes its area debut this weekend, topping off a six-week creative residency spent in the Twin Cities.

Director/choreographer Jacek Luminski grew up in post-war Poland, a country which lost most of its Jewish citizenry (over 3 million people) in Nazi concentration camps. As a dance historian with a passion for folk forms, he spent years painstakingly researching throughout the Polish countryside, talking to survivors about Jewish dance and music.

"People would say, 'don't even try, because there is nothing left in this country,'" he recalls. "But still you could find people who would tell you about the past. So I never gave up."

Working from a home base in Bytom--an industrial city in the southern part of the country (it's been called the Detroit of Poland)--Luminski incorporates elements from these Jewish folk traditions, such as free-flowing upper torso movement and choreography driven by irregular tempo rubato song forms, into SDT's contemporary vocabulary. From what we've seen, SDT dancers are young, strong, and gorgeously lyrical.

The troupe has toured widely and regularly brings international dance artists into Poland in order to broaden its contact with the mainstream of modern dance. While in Minnesota, company members studied various techniques--contact improvisation, Alexander, Feldenkrais and Pilates--that are uncommon in their homeland. The group also participated in a choreographic exchange: Local dancemaker Sam Costa, who heads the 10,000 Dances company, created a piece for Silesian while Luminski choreographed a work for seven local artists.

Luminski says the exchange propelled him "to another realm of thinking about dancing. Working with the people here, I was trying to push them as well into my way of thinking, to challenge them." And both choreographers agree that differences in process, cultural background, and dance training were some of the exciting challenges of the project.

"Working with Sam Costa was very fruitful [for the dancers], I think, because it is another approach that they have not been familiar with until now," Luminski says in measured, slightly halting English. "It's my goal to expose them to many different approaches in order for them to be more flexible, knowledgeable, and aware that this is what happens in the world of dance."

Silesian Dance Theater and guest artists will premiere new works, along with dances from the SDT repertory, this Wednesday through Sunday in Studio 6A at Hennepin Center for the Arts in Minneapolis. For tickets call 375-7622.

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