Pol­ish Na­tional Bal­let dances to its own tune

The Washington Post Sunday - - DANCE - BY SARAH KAUF­MAN sarah.kauf­man@wash­post.com

The Pol­ish Na­tional Bal­let is mak­ing its Washington de­but this week, but its neo­clas­si­cal style may look fa­mil­iar to long­time dance­go­ers. Its artis­tic di­rec­tor, Krzyszt of Pas­tor, was a res­i­dent chore­og­ra­pher of the Washington Bal­let in the late 1990s.

Much has changed in the more than 15 years since Pas­tor, 58, was last cre­at­ing his stylish and mu­si­cally as­tute bal­lets here. (One es­pe­cially mem­o­rable work was the im­pas­sioned “Sonata,” from 1999, ac­com­pa­nied by Brahms.) For one thing, the in­ter­na­tional bal­let at­trac­tions have grown richer, with re­cent vis­its by the Scot­tish Bal­let and Eng­land’s Royal Bal­let, which may be why tick­ets haven’t been selling well for the Pol­ish troupe. It per­forms here just once, on Tues­day at the Kennedy Cen­ter; a planned sec­ond show was can­celed due to poor sales.

But greater change has been hap­pen­ing in Poland. With the sleek, sharp aes­thetic of the Pol­ish pro­gram, Pas­tor aims to po­et­i­cally seize the spirit of the times in his home­land.

“Poland is a dy­namic coun­try that is look­ing for­ward, with con­tem­po­rary dance,” Pas­tor said in a re­cent phone in­ter­view from his com­pany’s head­quar­ters in War­saw. “In Amer­ica, there is the thought that we are a lit­tle bit be­hind. But we are a chang­ing so­ci­ety, and we want to try dif­fer­ent things.”

The reper­toire for this trip, which brought the com­pany to New York’s Joyce Theater last week, in­cludes two Pas­tor works: “Ada­gio & Scherzo,” with mu­sic by Shu­bert, and “Mov­ing Rooms,” per­formed to move­ments from Al­fred Sch­nit­tke’s dis­qui­et­ing Con­certo Grosso No. 1 and ex­cerpts from a harpsichord con­certo by Pol­ish com­poser Hen­ryk Gorecki.

Is­raeli chore­og­ra­pher Em­manuel Gat’s “Rite of Spring,” a treat­ment of the Stravin­sky score, rounds out the pro­gram. In this work for two men and three women, Gat “was ob­vi­ously inspired by the salsa,” said Pas­tor. “He was in Brazil watch­ing peo­ple danc­ing. One woman is al­ways with­out a part­ner. ... It’s kind of a pe­cu­liar thing. Also, the light­ing plays a ma­jor role.”

Since tak­ing the helm of the Pol­ish Na­tional Bal­let in 2009, Pas­tor has had to fit new de­signs, mu­sic and chore­o­graphic ideas into a struc­ture that has ex­isted in some form since 1785, when King Stanis­laus Au­gust founded the com­pany. Its home is the huge, many-columned Wielki Theater, which boasts a 1,000mem­ber staff for its dra­matic theater, bal­let, opera and or­ches­tra, Pas­tor said. The bal­let com­pany has 86 dancers on year-round, state­funded salaries. And be­fore Pas­tor ar­rived, it bore the strong im­print of Rus­sian clas­si­cal bal­let, he said.

“I don’t want to de­stroy this tra­di­tion; of course, Rus­sian bal­let is still on a high level,” Pas­tor said. “But now we have the in­flu­ence of a Western and Amer­i­can way of danc­ing.”

Pas­tor was some­thing of a new­comer to War­saw when he took charge of the com­pany. He had grown up in the north­ern city of Gdansk and left Poland at age 26 for France’s Lyon Opera Bal­let. He later spent a decade danc­ing with Am­s­ter­dam’s mod­ern-spir­ited, for­ward­look­ing Dutch Na­tional Bal­let, and was for sev­eral years its res­i­dent chore­og­ra­pher.

Un­der Pas­tor, no longer do dancers from Rus­sia, Be­larus and Ukraine fill the ranks of the Pol­ish Na­tional Bal­let. Its an­nual au­di­tions draw about 600 ap­pli­cants from around the world, he said. And although 65 per­cent of his dancers are Pol­ish, oth­ers hail from Western coun­tries as well as from Eastern Europe. Afew come from Aus­tralia and Ja­pan. Two are Amer­i­can, though they aren’t on this trip. Pas­tor said costs lim­ited him to bring­ing only 25 dancers.

Elvi Moore, the for­mer gen­eral di­rec­tor of the Washington Bal­let, or­ga­nized the trip through her Lau­rel Fund for the Per­form­ing Arts. (The fund has in the past brought the Dance Theatre of Har­lem to Washington; it also fi­nances arts schol­ar­ships.) The Pol­ish Em­bassy and other Pol­ish cul­ture or­ga­ni­za­tions also of­fered sup­port.

Moore and Washington Bal­let’s late found­ing di­rec­tor, Mary Day, knew Pas­tor when he first be­gan mak­ing dances in Am­s­ter­dam. They had kept up a con­nec­tion to the Dutch Na­tional Bal­let af­ter dis­cov­er­ing Sin­ga­pore-born Choo San Goh there many years ago. Goh be­came the Washington Bal­let’s ac­claimed res­i­dent chore­og­ra­pher in the 1970s and ’80s. Af­ter Goh died in 1987, Day and Moore brought other Dutch Na­tional Bal­let chore­og­ra­phers to Washington, and Pas­tor was one of these.

A decade ago, this D.C.-Am­s­ter­dam pipeline helped the stand­out Washington Bal­let dancer Michelle Jimenez se­cure a job with the Dutch troupe, where she be­came Pas­tor’s “muse,” he said. He cre­ated his “Mov­ing Rooms” for her.

Pas­tor’s work “is so ex­cit­ing and in­no­va­tive, and he uses the bal­let tech­nique in some very in­ter­est­ing ideas,” said Moore. She saw the Jof­frey Bal­let per­form Pas­tor’s well-re­ceived “Romeo and Juliet” in April and had seen short ex­cerpts of his pieces at Hous­ton’s Dance Salad fes­ti­val.

“I was just re­ally blown away, and I wanted Washington au­di­ences to see him, so I said, ‘Well, I guess I’ll have to bring you.’ ”

Pas­tor’s rep­u­ta­tion as a bal­let re­former has been spread­ing. In 2011 he was named artis­tic di­rec­tor of the Lithua­nian Na­tional Opera and Bal­let, in Vil­nius, though he says his role is more ad­vi­sory than hands-on. As in War­saw, he has launched chore­o­graphic work­shops in Vil­nius, “which is quite sat­is­fy­ing,” he said. “It makes the dancers feel more cre­ative, and cre­ates an en­vi­ron­ment of com­mon work. A nice energy comes out of it.”

His Washington home­com­ing will no doubt be emo­tional, he said. But also prac­ti­cal: “We’d like to show that we are chang­ing in Eastern Europe.”

EWA KRASUCKA

Adam Kozal and Aneta Zbrzez­niak in Pol­ish Na­tional Bal­let Artis­tic Di­rec­tor Krzysztof Pas­tor’s “Mov­ing Rooms,” which the troupe will per­form Tues­day at the Kennedy Cen­ter.

Krzysztof Pas­tor

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