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"Czterdzieści" by the Polish Dance Theatre – wise and witty tale instead of congratulatory card.
A quote from Jo Strømgren: “Life is written on thousands of loose sheets” sounds honest but also coquettishly. In his spectacle “Czterdzieści” those sheets are creating consist narration about the fate of a woman from a certain country in Europe, continent torn apart during past 40 years by more or less revolutionary changes. This woman is Polish, she lives in the countryside, but it is easy imaginable she could be for example from Czech Republic or…

The story of Urszula (fantastic Urszula Bernat-Jałocha) begins in 1973 and ends 40 years later. It is frayed, full of gaps, ordinary how ordinary can be the existence of a little girl who creates imaginary life for herself, different to the one she is actually living. Life of Urszula is full of understatements, hidden family issues. Images of another, better world and the desire to solve home mysteries are pushing the young girl to leave the country and travel to the mythical France - Mecca for all Polish romantics (gorgeous scene of romantic poet-lover).  

Myths from nineteenth century are mixing with those of twentieth century. Urszula is discovering the taste of living in exile which appears not that charming and colourful at all…

Everyday life can be brutal. She is a stranger. In her village she was an outsider because of her raven-black hair and slightly darker complexion than Slavic white. Among foreigners she is an outsider for her different accent and for not being outgoing enough. She meets a guy who is similar to her… Soon it turns out he speaks Polish. He is an outsider as well. They come back to Urszula’s village. But the village also went through changes… even though the ghosts of the past are still haunting. A daughter is born, who – alike her mother – is different. History likes to repeat itself. She dances all the time, but it is brand new kind of dance. People around cannot understand it. After years she will be understood by the group of lesbian musicians playing on baroque instruments, with one of which she is going to disappear… And Urszula? She lives on… She is only 40 years old.  

Many Poles can indentify themselves with this touching story, as well as recognize in it reflections of their own life… Jo Strømgren points out certain dates which however are not the parts of a great common history, but only of a private biography of his protagonist. He is telling about everyday life, into which national myths and stereotypes are weaved, where seriousness is mixed with laughter and solemn things sometimes seems grotesque. Choreographer and a playwright at the same time has a distance to his story, he is looking at his characters from the outside. He is connecting loose sheets of the story into coherent whole and tries to find joint places between the fate of an individual and the history of community, just like the history of Polish Dance Theatre, itinerant ensemble, other than reality in which it functioned through the years… 

Strømgren creates theatre not only from the cards of history: he does that by linking various genres and theatrical conventions, different dance techniques and music styles. Every prop, every sound theme has it’s meaning: cry of a bird will accompany breakthrough episodes of Urszula’s life till the end of the spectacle, white cane of the blind girl can be a banner, or it can also replace the rifle and other way round – rifle could be used as a cane. Nothing is accidental in this tense with meanings spectacle. It is ruled by iron reason. That makes it difficult to read it at first because it is like “the book of life” (magnificent scene when Urszula is pasting cards given by her husband). Those who have seen all performances by Polish Dance Theatre can track the echoes from some of them, for example “Epitaph For Don Juan” (suitcases and journey), “Eternal Songs” (Adam and Eve’s duet), “Tango with Lady M.” (excellent tango sequence performed by Agnieszka Fertała and Andrzej Adamczak)… Jo Strømgren brilliantly casted dancers of the Polish Dance Theatre, who must also become actors. For in his piece all the divisions disappear.

Instead of pompous congratulatory card for its jubilee Polish Dance Theatre gave the audience wise tale about life, that sometimes it’s terrifying and grim, and sometimes merry and witty. Multidimensional.  

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