History of Poznań Opera Ballet
The Beginnings (1919-1939)
The history of Poznań Opera Ballet began in 1919 with the outset of the Opera House itself. The company numbered only 13 people then, including the manager. Among them were: Helena Sławińska, Władysława Kuleszyna, Leokadia Kacperska, Janina Cieślak, Wacław Wierzbicki, Marian Winter, Roman Morawski and Lucjan Chrzanowski. After the restoration of Poland’s sovereignty in 1918, the first ballet evening in Poznań, entitled Polish Fields, was conceived by a dancer, a choreographer and the first manager of Poznań Opera Ballet Michał Kulesza. The ballets staged in the season 1920/1921 included: A Cupid’s Gag, The Caucasian Episode, The Doll’s Fortune-teller, Serenade and Divertissement III.
After two seasons the leadership of the company was taken by Roman Morawski who staged: Cavalry Stopover, Ukrainian Dances, Coppelia, Oj, ułani, ułani, Divertissement IV, With Spring, and The Song of Life. In season 1923/1924 the choreographies for Poznań ballet were created by Jan Ciepliński, a graduate of Warsaw Ballet School. Despite staying in Poznań just for one season, he carried out The Fairy Tale, Lithuanian Rhapsody, Divertissement V, The Carnival, Afternoon of a Faun, The Steppes, Divertissement VII, The Doll’s Fortune-teller and Zephyrus and Chloris.
Ciepliński left before the beginning of the next season and the company was thus overtaken by Maksymilian Statkiewicz, known for his performances with Sergius Diagilew’s Ballets Russes. Statkiewicz came back to Poland in 1924 and became involved with Poznań Opera House where he not only created an outstanding ballet company but also gained reputation of one of the best ballet master of mid-war Poland. In years 1924–1930 and between 1933 and 1939 he created choreographies to 19 ballet performances. In February 1925 he staged Szopenian as well as completed a brand new ballet evening, combining The Doll’s Fortune-teller withBorodin’s Some Polovtsian Dances. The1928 Scheherazade received massive acclaim from both the audience and the critics. Wedding in the Village was staged in December of the same year. In 1929, encouraged by the success of Scheherazade, Statkiewicz realized two premieres, namely The Tatras by Nowowiejski and Pan Twardowski by Różycki.
Maksymilian Statkiewicz left Poznań for three years in 1930. During this time the ballet company had three directors: Józef Ciesielski who staged performances of Harlequin’s Millions and The Hungarian Rhapsody, Konrad Ostrowski and Helena Grossówna-Cieślińska. Back in Poznań in 1934 Statkiewicz staged An Italian Caprice.
In April 1938 Poznań Opera Ballet as the first group in Poland staged Karol Szymanowski’s Harnasie as well as Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird. The theater in Poznań was the fifth in Europe (after Prague, Paris, Belgrade and Hamburg) to stage Szymanowski’s work. Jerzy Kapliński was entrusted with the title role, Zofia Grabowska performed as the Bride, Mieczysław Sawicki danced the part of the Groom, while Statkiewicz himself portrayed the Father. The performance met with a substantial enthusiasm among the audience and the critics. The rendition in Poznań was watched by composer’s sister, Stanisława Szymanowska-Korwin, who uttered great approval of the spectacle, claiming it the best performance she had so far seen.
During the last season before the outbreak of the Second World War, Harnasie was staged 10 more times and a premiere of Statkiewicz’s The Doll’s Fortune-teller cameto fruition. When the Second World War broke out, Maksymilian Statkiewicz along with his wife and prima ballerina Zofia Grabowska were displaced and after the Germans had taken it over, Poznań Opera House became known as Grosses Haus.
After the War
In 1945 about a dozen members of the former ballet company reported to Zygmunt Wojciechowski who had began to restore Poznań Opera House teams in February. Zygmunt Wojciechowski asked Bronisław Mikołajczyk to complete a new ballet company. Stanisław Miszczyk appeared “under the Pegasus” in 1945 and became known not only for creating choreographies but also for founding the Opera Ballet School. As it turned out, one of the attendants was the soon-to-be the most eminent Polish prima ballerina Olga Sawicka. Jerzy Kapliński, the memorable Harnaś from Szymanowski’s ballet, came back to Poznań along with Barbara Bitterówna at the end of 1945. He took the leadership of the company the same year. The first post-war ballet evening took place on April 6th, 1946 and comprised of The Fairy Tale, The Trifling and Divertissement IX. In course of 4 years Kapliński staged 11 ballets.
Between the seasons 1949/1950 and 1962/1963 the post of the manager of the ballet company was held by many key figures of the Polish post-war dance history. To wit: Eugeniusz Papliński, who conceived a new version of Tadeusz Szeligowski’s ballet The Peacock and the Girl; Leon Wójcikowski – the choreographer of Dyl Sowizdrzał, The Spanish Suite, The Seasons and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice; Stanisław Miszczyk who having come back to Poznań staged the first after war Swan Lake; Feliks Parnell (Różycki’s Pan Twardowski), Jerzy Gogół (Sleeping Beauty – Polish world premiere of Tchaikovsky’s ballet, The Song of the Earth and Love, the Magician), Zygmunt Patkowski and Władysław Milon (Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet).
Robert Satanowski became Poznań Opera House General Director in 1963 and invited Conrad Drzewiecki to become the new manager of the ballet company. Due to Drzewiecki’s talent and charisma, Poznań became the hub of Polish ballet life for the next 10 years. In Poznań Opera House Drzewiecki staged 25 choreographies, incessantly experimenting and surprising.
After Conrad Drzewiecki’s departure, the managers of Poznań Opra Ballet included Barbara Kasprowicz (Giselle, The Nutcracker and Don Quixote) and Henryk Konwiński (Romeo and Juliet, La peri compilation, Epitaph and Carmen). Emil Wesołowski led the company for one season and finalized Serenade and The Countess. The part of the Countess was performed by Ewa Pawlak who became the company director a few months later. In 1988 Mirosław Różalski, Drzewiecki’s long-term assistant, took over the company, having left Polish Dance Theatre. “Under the Pegasus” he staged: The House of Bernarda Alba, Quasimodo, Curtain Up!, Amadeus, Eden Cafe and Viva Strauss. In later years the performances were staged by guest choreographers Zofia Rudnicka (Peter and the Wolf), Ewa Wycichowska (Rite of Spring), Conrad Drzewiecki (Szymanowski’s Etude in B minor, Karłowicz’s Songs and The Miraculous Mandarin byBartók).
Between tradition and modernity
Liliana Kowalska beat Maksymilian Statkiewicz’s record of holding the office of Poznań Opera Ballet manager for the longest time – she ruled the company for 15 years, since 1995 till 2009. The repertoire was formed together with Sławomir Pietras, the then incumbent General Director of Poznań Opera House. Kowalska staged the total of 27 premiere evenings which numbered 60 ballets. Among them such classical ballets like Swan Lake, Giselle, La Sylphide, The Nutcracker, Don Quixote, and Coppelia. The second trend comprised of 20th century ballets like Afternoon of a Faun, The Three-Cornered Hat, Firebird, Pan Twardowski, or Harnasie. Third direction led to premiere ballets such as The Ballet Triptych to the music of Krzysztof Penderecki, Chopin Danced at Night, Lie To Me, Kiss Me To, Marek Różycki’s Ballets. Other staged acts included: Zorba, the Greek, Stanisław and Anna Oświęcimowie, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. Accomplished choreographers were invited to collaborate on performances, nevertheless the young talents were given a chance as well.
Liliana Kowalska’s successor – Jacek Przybyłowicz held the office from 2009 through 2014. He would collaborate with artists of various backgrounds and genres. At that time, the ballets to be seen on the stage included Creation of the World by Uwe Scholz, La Sylphide by August Bournoville, or Krzysztof Pastor’s Dangerous Relationships. Przybyłowicz created the performance entitled Black & White: A Few Short Sequences which was a part of a ballet evening (other parts included Itzik Galili’s Black & White: Things I Told Nobody and Black & White: Butterflies choreographed by Rami Be’er) and Infolia, which he staged soon after his resignation from the office. Between 2014 and 2018 the post was held by Tomasz Kajdański, a dancer and a choreographer involved with German theaters. He staged the ballets Anna Karenina, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and a spectacle Kafka / Schulz: Revelations and Heresies.
A dancer and a choreographer Robert Bondara has been in charge of Poznań Opera Ballet since 2018/2019 season.