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Jack Anderson

Polish Playfulness


Rafal Dziemidok and Leszek Bzdyl. Photo by Iwona & Jaroslaw Cieslikowscy

Dada von Bzdülöw Theatre
La MaMa Annex Theater, 74A East Fourth Street, East Village
Nov. 16-26, 2006
Thursdays through Sundays (but not Nov. 23) at 7:30 p.m., $20, $15 students
Tickets: (212) 475-7110 or www.lamama.org
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, Nov. 18, 2006

The Dada von Bzdülöw Theatre of Gdansk has made its American debut with Leszek Bzdyl's "Several Witty Observations à la Gombrowicz." No one need know anything about Gombrowicz to enjoy these choreographic observations, presented in association with the Polish Cultural Institute.

But Gombrowicz was an interesting figure and 20th-century Polish culture is worth investigating. Poland has long been trampled over or sat upon by one political power or another. So it is not surprising that, perhaps in self-defense, much modern Polish literature became worldly and sardonic, including the novels and diaries of Witold Gombrowicz (1904-1969), who lived much of his life in self-imposed exile in Argentina and France, producing irreverent commentaries on social conventions. Other Polish writers, including the poets Zbigniew Herbert, and Wislawa Szymborska, remained in their native country writing poetry notable for its satire and irony, parable and paradox.

"Several Witty Observations," a product of this general cultural tradition, began in the lobby before the theater doors opened when Bzdyl, a man with lots of dark hair and wearing a dark suit, sprawled on the floor, stuck his head into a wastebasket, and moved spectators about as if he were choreographing the audience.

Once people entered the auditorium, they beheld Katarzyna Chmielewska in an imposing red gown raising her legs in impressively high slow extensions. Her costume and dignity made her resemble someone from a dance by Martha Graham. The taped accompaniment was an ingenious score by Mikolaj Trzaska that combined jazz riffs, melancholy saxophone tootlings, and drumming rhythms with street noises and occasional bits of unidentified and untranslated speech, presumably in Polish. No translation was necessary. The choreography spoke for itself in these encounters between Bzdyl, Chmielewska and Rafal Dziemidok, a burly balding dancer.

Leszek Bzdyl. Photo by Iwona & Jaroslaw Cieslikowscy

Events occurred, as if following their own kinetic logic. Nothing made literal sense, but neither did anything look out of place and eccentricity seemed the norm.

Here are some of the things that happened:

Dziemidok sidled cautiously up to Chmielewska and she tugged at his ear. Bzdyl came between them, she left, and the two men fought battles that included martial-arts kicks.

While Dziemidok watched, Bzdyl and Chmielewska danced an agile duet that prompted a possibly aroused Dziemidok to remove his belt. What followed was not a bit of Polish porn. Instead, Dziemidok tied his belt around his head.

After Bzdyl entered in the Grahamesque robe, he stripped to his underwear, crawled on the floor, spread his arms in a cruciform pose, and rose to dance, sometimes lightly, but sometimes battling the air, and finally wrapping the robe around him like a sarong.

Chmielewska and Dziemidok danced solos with their backs to the audience, as if there were an unseen audience at the rear of the stage.

Chmielewska wiggled through what looked like a sassy cabaret routine that caused the two men to embrace each other in increasingly complicated entanglements that eventually turned hugging into wrestling.

All three performers presented dancegoers with slips of paper filled with rows of zeros and ones, plus two words in English: "the calf." Who knows why? Yet that seemed appropriate at that time.

So did everything else that happened in this hour-long collection of eccentric, but never strident, nonsense, all of it born from the idiosyncrasies of human behavior.

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