Poland: Polish National Ballet

In March 2009, the world-renowned Polish choreographer Krzysztof Pastor took to the helm of the Teatri Wielki’s [Grand Theatre] ballet company in Warsaw. Under his management, the Polish National Opera’s ballet received artistic autonomy; the Minister of Culture, Bogdan Zdrojewski, made the troupe ballet company a separate entity in the theatre’s structure and elevated it to the equal partner of fellow resident company, the Polish National Opera.

Pastor began his ballet training with the Polish National Ballet School in his hometown of Gdansk. He then joined the Polish Dance Theatre in Poznan and four years later, moved to the Grand Theatre of Lodz. He was awarded the prestigious Gloria Artis Gold Medal for service to culture, recognising his choreographic achievements around the world and his efforts to promote ballet in Poland.

‘I think the kind of repertoire I want to introduce here in Poland, the way I want to work with the dancers, the physicality, discipline and work ethic is very important,’ Pastor says.

Pastor is also resident choreographer at the Dutch National Ballet. One initiative inspired by his work in the Netherlands was the introduction of choreography workshops, which Pastor says prove popular not just for his audience – who are then more likely to buy tickets to new works – but also for the dancers, for whom the workshops provide a step forward in their continued professional development.

‘We have quite a few talented people coming out of these workshops and creating new work,’ Pastor says, ‘but they are also good for people who want to try something else, so participants can try other jobs across staging, lighting, and directing as well as choreography.’

The first year of these workshops, 2009, produced works by Eduard Bablidze, Robert Bondara, Jacek Tyski, Karol Urbanski, and Natalia Wojciechowska. In 2010, in recognition of Bondara’s new project – The Garden’s Gates – Pastor commissioned the young choreographer. Bondara designed the full-length ballet Persona to music by Arvo Pärt, Pawel Szymanski, and Aldona Nawrocka; the world premiere was part of the third Days of Dance festival at the Teatr Wielki.

Since Pastor’s arrival, changes in employment policy have also been implemented. ‘I have to deal with the very important issue of dancers’ retirement,’ he says. ‘The dancers have to leave the profession quite early; women at 40 years old and men at 45.’

There is no current pension provision available for dancers of this age so Pastor introduced what he describes as a ‘professional transition system’, inspired by a structure he had observed at Dutch National Ballet.

The dancers who have retired since his arrival have been deployed within the company and beyond: ‘I was able to place some dancers here in theatre administration, one person works with the orchestra, another is now a director and has started a ballet company in a different city.’

Pastor’s artistic vision for the company is ambitious and forward thinking; premieres and new commissions feature high on his agenda. In May 2014, Marius Petipa and Alexei Fadeyechev’s new work, Don Quixote, will have its premiere and in November, there will be a presentation of Soldiers’ Mass choreographed by Jiri Kylian.

‘Our first premiere is Hamlet by Jacek Tyski. He is still a dancer with the company,’ says Pastor. ‘This came out of the choreographer workshops we run, with the storyline based on the Shakespeare play. The second premiere in March 2014 is Romeo and Juliet, the piece I originally choreographed for the Scottish Ballet in Edinburgh in 2008. I am taking it to Joffrey Ballet in Chicago at the end of April 2014. It’s an important collaboration. The co-production and sharing of the costs allow us to make other interesting works.’

‘We are also running the Days of Dance festival where we try to show companies from abroad. The audiences like to see something new, something avant-garde, something they can discuss even something for them to disagree with.’