BTT (White Dance Theatre) of Izadora Weiss


The Biały Teatr Tańca of Izadora Weiss (White Dance Theatre) was established in autumn 2016 as a continuation of the Baltic Dance Theatre that had been created and led for 8 years by one of the most talented Polish choreographers. The former name was connected with the Baltic Opera that previously cooperated with this company with a great success among audiences from Gdansk, Warsaw, Cracow, Poznan as well as from abroad where Izadora Weiss’ productions were recognised and praised by professional critics as the most interesting phenomena in the world of dance in the recent years. Her choreography draws from many sources including Jiri Kylián who had been her teacher and mentor and whom she considers as her Master and looks up to. But the dance language she uses in her productions that are usually based on great works of the world literature, is quite original and created by Izadora Weiss over many years of her search for the truth about human beings and our emotions. The essential for her work is binding expression of a body to music. She usually prepares her choreography to personally selected and edited soundtracks based on the compositions of great composers starting with Mozart and Saint - Colombe up to Mahler and Penderecki. Her faithfulness to music is accompanied by her faithfulness to human values. In her belief the contemporary world betrays these values and allows chaos to rule achievements of many heroes and tragic protectors of dignity. Stage beauty of her productions is admired by audience but perfectly designed movements are used by Izadora Weiss to show a man and his struggle against duality of his nature spread between desires and a yearning to be loved and his moral responsibility and conscience ruled by internal sense of law and honour.

When this idealism and resulting from it artistic consequences was threatened by the new management of the Baltic Opera which decided that ballet should return to its ancillary function in opera productions and to presenting the classical productions Izadora Weiss decided to begin a fight for saving its dance theatre and to find a worthy headquarter for further work. Since she received an invitation to one of the most prestigious dance events which is the Diaghilev International Festival of Arts in Saint Petersburg she suddenly found herself in need of some institutional support for her company that was deprived of a stage. The same company was then renamed to Biały Teatr Tańca (BTT) which enabled Izadora to keep the acronym and logo she had come up with several years ago.

This support was delivered by the Ludvig van Beethoven Association. Madame Elżbieta Penderecka has created a working place and conditions for the dancers and made possible presentation of four productions to the Sankt Petersburg audience and the most recognised dance specialists who attend this festival from all over the world. The company has been also supported by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute and the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage is considering creation of a new BTT in Warsaw. That gives that Izadora Weiss and her company’s work will remain available to the Polish audience and continue to be an ambassador of the Polish dance theatre in the world.

In Sankt Petersburg BTT is going to present „Light” on the stage in the Hermitage Theatre due to the World Exhibition of Vermeer’s Paintings.

Light


A starting point for this story is The Milkmaid painted by Vermeer. The same painting was a subject for a concise poem by Wisława Szymborska, the Nobel Prize winner, about fundamental importance of the moment presented on the painting. It contains defence of meaning of life and a bitter protest against chaos and destruction which makes it memorable and provokes reflection on power of surviving resulting from simple daily activities. It is their beauty and ability to use them for wise allegories creates immortal bases not only for Flemish paintings but any art. Against inhuman trends preferring destruction of forms and values, against fascination with abstraction and technology, against dehumanisation of the arts we still believe that its true calling is to tell a story about a man, his needs and desires, his fears and despair, his hope that his death will not take everything and turn him into meaningless dust.
The choreographically told story of Izadora Weiss begins when a living idyllically artists allows himself to “slip”. A crack in a safe cocoon allows evil to enter the world. Allegoric devils begin an avalanche of troubles. There’s a Girl that seems to have been always exposed to violence of the surrounding world. Her tormentors led by the Evil One destroy everything valuable standing on their way. Even when there is a human impulse to have a normal life, evil only pretends to be losing. It returns at opportune moment and similarly to a virus attacking a weakened body and destroys those who are not strong enough to resist. And eventually it kills what we love. The choreographer overcomes temptation to preach. She believes what Szymborska put in words – our chance to survive is art and hidden there values. Even if they have been eradicated in our life.
The next day three latest choreographies by Izadora Weiss will be presented by BTT in the Alexandrinsky Theatre. The common theme for all of them is a reflection on a price we have to pay for moments of passion. In these stories the price is a death of a loved one.

Phaedra


transformed by Izadora Weiss with a use of dance into a moving performance about impossible love, guilt and helplessness in the face of desires bred by incomprehensible sources, about deceit and death who seems to be the only escape from this cursed trap. This sophisticated production preformed to the Xth Symphony by Gustav Mahler talks about hierarchy in life and art resulting in so much injustice but being an incredible drive to overcome fears and weaknesses at the same time.

Death and Girl


In this show performed to Franc Schubert music Izadora Weiss shows a choreography presenting fictional story of a Girl who believed that had managed to tame and convince Death herself. She has no idea that she will be tricked and attacked in the most unexpected way by the One that cannot be tamed or bargained with.

Tristan & Isolde


This is the latest production of BTT. A classical story is transformed in a moving show where as usual in case of Izadora Weiss, human passions and admiration for a man trying to fight against their dark powers dominate. The plot is just an excuse to reveal the truth about emotions with incredible artistic expression of the dancers who have been already recognised and appreciated in the world. Izadora Weiss does not retells the story from Wagner’s opera but creates her own vision of unfortunate love using selected compositions by Krzysztof Penderecki mixed with the contemporary variations on his music performed by Jonny Greenwood. Their joined album was a great sensation in the world of music. An incredible intuition of Weiss has allowed her to create a new quality with this personally created soundtrack and to adjust it surprisingly to a tragic story of lovers whose love was more important to them than the world around and who paid the ultimate price.




Izadora Weiss: A Tempest on the Baltic shore

by Graham Watts



For six years, the conjoined Polish cities of Gdańsk, Sopot and Gdynia have enjoyed a delightful secret that few outside Poland have been able to share.   That the Baltic Dance Theatre started as recently as 2010 is surprising for those of us who have followed the accelerating fortunes of this remarkable company, driven by its passionate artistic director, Izadora Weiss.    Their prolific output of exceptional modern dance theatre suggests a much longer lifespan.

Baltic Dance Theatre has also performed work by other contemporary choreographers, notably Wojciech Misiuro and Patrick Delcroix, and thanks to a very special relationship with Weiss, the company has a clutch of classic works by Jiří Kylián.   However, it is Weiss's own unique brand of expressive choreography with clear narrative purpose that has come to define this innovative modern dance company on the Baltic coast.

Weiss's choreographic career began early, not so long after her double graduation as a Ministry of Culture and National Heritage scholar, when, in 1996, she made Three Dreams for the Grand Theatre in Poznań, a work inspired by Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Shakespeare plays have come to be a leit motif throughout her career and Weiss was to return again to the text of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Baltic Dance Theatre with huge success.

But, the early years of her choreographic career were largely centred on producing dance for performance in operas.   Weiss has produced choreographies for around 30 operas, all over Poland, including Aida (three times), Eugene Onegin and The Magic Flute (twice each), Salome and Carmen. It is a learning curve that explains a great deal about the intuitive musicality in her choreography.

Every choreographer needs a big breakthrough, a tipping point that elevates their work onto a higher stage; and this moment came for Weiss when she made her second solo choreography (not as dance for opera) by taking on the exacting challenge of Krzysztof Penderecki's Violin Concerto No 1, again for the Poznań Grand Theatre, in 1998.    It so happened that the Czech maestro, Jiří Kylián - acknowledged as one of the great choreographers of the modern age - saw this performance and immediately appreciated the talent that lay behind the dance.  He invited Weiss to join him at Nederlands Dans Theater to further her choreographic studies.  At that time, Kylián was approaching the end of a quarter-century stint as artistic director at NDT, although he was to continue for a further eleven years as resident choreographer.

Speaking to me recently, Kylián described what he saw in the young Polish choreographer: "She is a seeker, which is not always easy for her, but she is a believer, too; a quality that always allows her to prevail and produce true and thrilling creations.   I saw that she can speak to the audience with great conviction and that this comes from the bottom of her heart".

Over the next few years, Weiss regularly commuted from Warsaw to Amsterdam, taking master classes in choreography, learning not only from Kylián himself but also by working alongside other outstanding choreographers in his NDT orbit, such as Hans van Manen, Ohad Naharin, Paul Lightfoot and Sol León.

Another milestone came quickly when Weiss choreographed Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, as arranged and performed by the virtuoso English violinist, Nigel Kennedy, for the Malta Festival, in 2000.   Kennedy was another to be immediately impressed with her choreography, so much so that he offered to write the music for a future project.    But, her next choreography away from the opera divertissements took five years to come to fruition, being ...from heaven, a work set to music by the Polish film score composer, Michał Lorenc.

The early years of the twenty-first century were spent variously learning her art at the Nederlands Dans Theater and making dance for operatic performances around Poland; a journey that was eventually to lead to the Baltic Opera House where, in 2008, whilst preparing a project for the Warsaw Dance Theatre, Weiss was invited to become director of the ballet company; an appointment marked by the premiere of 4&4, which Weiss herself described as '...pitting myself with a perfect musical form.'   Eight years after her first encounter with Nigel Kennedy, she returned to his rendition of The Four Seasons, now in a new recording by the Berlin Philharmonic, as the basis for the first half of 4&4, with a libretto written (as usual) by Weiss herself to represent the seasons of life.

Writing in Dziennik Bałtycki, the Polish poet and journalist, Jarosław Zalesiński described 4&4 as Weiss's 'showcase as a choreographer', noting that she was now  '...responsible for the 'readjustment' of the Gdańsk ballet'; and, although the Opera House's ballet company was still eighteen months away from becoming BDT, Zalesiński was already certain that Weiss was changing its face, turning it away from opera ballet to modern dance theatre.    He concluded perceptively: '...I have become convinced that the Gdańsk ballet has entered an interesting path'.

The second part of 4&4 is sub-titled Four Attempts at Taming Death, in which Weiss articulates the mystery of how life ends.  'All of us will once try to push the moment of death away, just like the dancers here try to prolong their "five minutes" and avert their destinies', she said.   Thus, her final dance in 4&4 is - as Weiss asserted - 'an apotheosis of life against all the odds.  It is a message that people have inexhaustible hidden strength and will to live.'    This heightened desire for expressionism would be further developed in her repertoire to come.   And, just as Weiss revisited the music of an earlier work for 4&4, so she would return, in 2013, to Schubert's Death and the Maiden (used in Four Attempts at Taming Death) for its own bespoke choreography.

After 4&4, Weiss's next project was to revisit Eurasia, a full-length work, which had premiered at the Capitol Theatre in Wrocław, in 2007.    As the title signifies, Eurasia examines the interface between Europe and Asia.  Weiss described this reinterpretation of her own work as '...not a sightseeing tour but a search for cultural distinctiveness...trying to find the similarities and differences between East and West'.    Issues of intolerance, loneliness and alienation are central to her exploration of the social and inter-personal dynamics amongst a culturally-diverse group of young people and these issues are fundamental concerns to which Weiss’s choreography often returns.

Eurasia II begins with a solitary female figure: imposing and ghostly, wearing a torn tutu.   It is an opening statement that was described by critic Justyna Świerczyńska, thus:  '...instead of Swan Lake we watch something totally different - a dancing corpse.  A vivid symbol of dying Europe.'   Thus, Świerczyńska sums up Weiss's uncanny ability to make sweeping statements with simple choreographic clarity.

Weiss believes that the essential need to create is a human condition born of these issues of intolerance and isolation.  She sees it as the '...real foundation of a person's life', perhaps even the reason why life's struggle is worthwhile.   Speaking of this in the context of Eurasia II, Weiss said: '...in art the need to create has become a real eccentricity and bravery, as for some, destruction and ugliness are the only mature truths in the theatre.  Many abuse that today.  I create what I love and what I believe in, regardless of current trends'.

Just as Zalesiński had predicted, the work on 4&4 and Eurasia II had set in train the evolution of a modern dance company at the Baltic Opera and the choreographer's next project was - in many ways - a cipher for its future repertoire. Weiss followed the path of hundreds of choreographers before her by selecting Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet as her next source of inspiration.  But, being Weiss, she didn't set the story in sixteenth century Verona but delivered a modern tale of uncompromising realism.

Her narrative transports the star-crossed lovers to modern-day Northern Iraq.   In place of the Capulet and Montague families, Weiss's Juliet is an Iraqi Shia Muslim and her Romeo is an American soldier.   The updated narrative, as noted by the Polish critic, Barbara Badyra in Polska Iokalna, writing about the premiere in May 2009,  is about '...the right of an individual to be free.'

Although Weiss used the force fatale of the Pavane from Sergei Prokofiev's eponymous ballet score to open the second act of her Romeo and Juliet, the rest of the score was another composite of musical fragments from Phillip Glass, Beethoven, Liza Gerrard and the Argentine film score composer, Gustavo Santaolalla.    The successful staging had much to do with the strong multimedia focus on digital projections that brought to life aspects of Islamic society through Arabic script and imagery.

Later that year, Weiss undertook her last work to be made away from Baltic Dance Theatre (to date) - and it also marked her own final performance as a dancer - when producing and choreographing Handel's triptych, Tre Donne, Tre Destini, as a 'monodrama' vehicle for the Polish-Ukrainian classical singer, Olga Pasichnyk, and the Warsaw Chamber Opera.   The major Polish newspaper, Rzeczpospolita, considered this production as one of the most important events in Polish music and theatre for 2009.

Since then, until now, Weiss's artistic output has been confined to Gdańsk and, from 1 March 2010, her time has been fully occupied as the founding artistic director of Baltic Dance Theatre.   Her inaugural work for BDT was Out, another story about the impact of alienation, specifically about a female acquiescing to male ideology and domination.   However, Weiss was at pains to make clear that this was not an intentionally feminist work but one designed to articulate the contempt suffered by all minorities.

Weiss wrote at the time: 'It is interesting that what used to be a minority in the recent past is now a majority, and the other way around...it is very typical of these changes to be accompanied by more or less fanatical condemnation of the minority groups or notorious recluses by the unanimous majority.'     We can see from her words, back in 2010, that this was a personal crusade.  'I have suffered as an incorrigibly socially alienated person ever since I was a child...if I make a spectacle about alienation, others (like me) will be happy because they will know that they are not alone...' .

'Out reaches deeper and much further than current feminist arguments, playing between the graves and the universe,' wrote Tadeusz Skutnik in Polska, while in Twoja Gazeta, Andrzej Orlowski described the premiere as a '...spectacle with an intellectual lining'.

Weiss again turned to a hugely varied musical tapestry to determine the underlying atmosphere for Out, using fragments from no less than thirteen composers, ranging from Bach and Vivaldi, to the modern Polish composer, Henryk Górecki and Alicia Keys.    But, there was to be only one musical choice for her next choreography since - in 2011 - my personal introduction to the company and Weiss’s choreography came in her visceral, feminist interpretation of Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, delivered in the monumental recording by Deutsche Gramophone of the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar conducted by Gustavo Dudamel

In an interview with Klara Krev of Gazeta Wyborcza at the time of the premiere of The Rite of Spring, Weiss spoke about her concern with the deification of virginity.   'If only a virgin is worthy of holiness,' she said, 'does this mean that all other women are whores'.    Her interpretation of Stravinsky's music is a protest against male violence, inspired by a local incident in which an infant schoolgirl was molested by an unsupervised class of boys. This had a profound impact on Weiss (perhaps accentuated because her own daughter was of a similar age).

Weiss grabs the challenging, visceral power of Stravinsky’s rhythms and clings on for a roller-coaster ride, excelling especially in the kaleidoscopic patterns and formations of the group dances. Opening with seven men showering and dressing, the ritual moves into a group flirtation with seven girls but this is certainly no Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. They are all to become chosen ones, victims of uncomfortable, serial abuse, forcibly dressed in sexy clothing and stripped to their underwear. The women are kicked, slapped and grabbed by the throat but always fight back, asserting their independence with greater vehemence as the tension grows. One boy tries in vain to protect his girlfriend from this mob abuse but he is ultimately enticed back into the pack. In the most discomforting sequence, a semi-naked girl is liberally squirted by each man with a milky liquid, clearly intended to represent semen. The final sacrificial dance ends with a disturbingly brutal mass murder.

Three more small works followed quickly: Waiting For... (2011), another exercise in creating tension and emotion in a contemporary setting with choreography based on a mixed score of composers that Weiss returns to often (Glass, Vivaldi, Marin Marais, Gershwin);  and inter-personal relationships came to the fore again in Windows (2012), an unashamed homage to the steps and gestural significance in Kylián's work, again utilising the music of Marais, alongside extracts from compositions by Mozart and Bach; and, then, Cool Fire (2013), with music from Nigel Kennedy and Jimi Hendrix, which is literally a mix of classical Cool and disco-flavoured Fire, leading to a creative synthesis of both in the concluding scene.   Agniewska Sosnowska (writing in Teatralia) described Cool Fire as '... conveying a universal truth: dancing as part of our life with its beauty and power, needs partnership, not partition and struggle'.

This led to Baltic Dance Theatre's most ambitious project to date, with Weiss returning to A Midsummer Night's Dream for her inspiration.   Her own libretto remained faithful to Shakespeare's magical tale of love lost and found in a night of midsummer madness and she has created a masterpiece of dance theatre, which I was delighted to nominate as the Best World Premiere of 2013 in Dance Europe magazine.

I was not alone in bringing admiration for Weiss's work from overseas.  The Parisian critic, Laura Cappelle (writing for the Financial Times) described Weiss as '...a rare and fresh choreographic talent', and BDT as '…a company to follow as it matures'.   Bruce Marriott - editor of the international online magazine DanceTabs - wrote that Weiss has '...an ability to couple dance and drama in ways we all understand,' adding: 'There is a hunger and freshness at BDT which I look forward to tracking - we all like following winners'.

Weiss turned to the joyful, often frantic Balkan rhythms of Goran Bregović as her driving force.   Initially, she planned to use just his crazy trumpet tunes for Bottom and the crude mechanicals but gradually, having listened to the richness of his output, Weiss decided to base the whole work on Bregović’s music.  'It was like gluing stained-glass windows together', she explained in an interview with Przemysław Guida (Gazeta Wyborcza) at the time of the premiere.    Another breakthrough was to engage leading Polish fashion designer, Gosia Baczyńska, to design the costumes for A Midsummer Night's Dream.   The final integration of choreography, music and costume design was a remarkable, harmonious fusion that delivered a brilliant spectacle of dance theatre.

Later in 2013, Weiss returned to another favourite piece of music in Schubert's Death and the Maiden, seen again in a modern setting, this time an army barracks. The twist in her mesmerising dance macabre is that death is a woman.   The brief story of a maiden who believed that she could plead with death factored in a number of themes that had held sway in Weiss's repertoire to date, beginning with the complex challenge of the music and the central ideas of death and betrayal. 

014 saw the Baltic Dance Theatre reflect the mercantile trading links that had once constituted the Hanseatic League, an economic trading community that linked merchants from the Netherlands up through Danzig (the former name of Gdańsk) and onwards through the Eastern Baltic towards Novgorod, from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries.   This long association with the Dutch has left its mark on the old city of Gdańsk, like freckles on the face of a much-loved friend, in the proliferation of tall, narrow buildings topped off by a rich variety of picturesque Dutch gables.

In its ambitious Netherlands project, the BDT created two back-to-back programmes, each comprising three works.  The first brought together Clash by Patrick Delcroix (a dancer with Nederlands Dans Theater for 17 years, between 1986 and 2003) with two new works by Weiss (Fun and Light); the second programme pitched a third new work by the BDT director (Body Master) with two works by Kylián (Sarabande and Falling Angels), which joined his Six Dances, already in the BDT repertoire.

The Netherlands programme boldly reaffirmed what was already clear without ever having been precisely articulated: that the Baltic Dance Theatre had taken Nederlands Dans Theater as its model and Jiri Kylián as its mentor; but, nonetheless, Weiss continued to evolve her own unique and powerful brand of choreography with a movement style that is distinctively neoclassical and governed by musicality, delivering concepts that are either overtly based or themed on narrative. 

Light was inspired by Wisława Szymborska's poem that was, in turn, motivated by seeing Vermeer's painting of The Milkmaid in the Rijksmuseum.  The opening spectacle conjures a vivid and evocative animation of the painting, brought to life, with Weiss's imagination captured - as was Szymborska’s - by what lay outside the scope of the canvas and what may have transpired after the moments captured therein.    The subject may be new but Weiss once again returned to familiar territory with the music of Phillip Glass. 

Szymborska's poem asserts that so long as Vermeer's maid continues to pour milk, the world will not end; and Weiss shows us what happens when the milkmaid ceases to pour.  It is dance theatre that continues the choreographer's predilection for narrative that concentrates on the abuse of power in the (male/female) master/servant relationship, here exploring the consequent descent into evil.

Fun - a work made by Weiss in just a couple of weeks and utilising the same set as Light - also deals with the ongoing balance of power between the genders.  It is a battle of the sexes that Weiss explores through the rituals of courtship in an uneven scenario of two guys and three girls.   In this case, Weiss seems to optimistically emphasise the strength gained by a woman's sense of independence.  Perhaps because it was made in a hurry, Weiss built on her past collaborations with Nigel Kennedy, again using his recording of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, supplemented by Julia Fischer's recording of Paganini's Caprice for the finale.

Body Master continued Weiss's serial themed approach to the dynamics of power in master/servant relationships, here enhanced by the effective use of puppetry and developed to explore the ironic consequences of changes to that balance of power.   Weiss's self-devised libretto is loosely based on the life of Gordon Craig, an English pioneer of modernist theatre who was a lover of the iconic American dancer, Isadora Duncan.   Once more the choreographer turned to a patchwork tapestry of musical fragments to underline her narrative intentions.

The theatrical concept of the Body Master seemed to have a special significance in this programme, alongside work by Kylián, the man that Weiss still refers to as "Maestro".   Since every aspect of the Netherlands programme might usefully have been sub-titled 'Between Master and Pupil' given the longstanding relationships between Kylián and Weiss (and, for that matter, Delcroix, too!), it seemed as if art was imitating life.

The Netherlands project was again critically acclaimed by dance writers from overseas.   Cappelle described Light as 'stunning' while I wrote that 'Izadora Weiss could be considered as one of the most imaginative and exciting choreographers of the new generation,' adding that, 'her choreography and this excellent company deserved to go global'.

Weiss's big project of 2015 was a return to Shakespeare in her exhilarating production of The Tempest.    It was a huge undertaking that had defeated many choreographers before her, not the least, Rudolf Nureyev who had two attempts at it, in 1977 and 1982.  For her part, Weiss cleverly navigated the narrative with clarity, distilling the plot's essence into 80 minutes of absorbing dance theatre, developed in a non-linear approach, punctuated by flashbacks and heavy on symbolism, achieving a production that I described after the premiere as '...a masterpiece of simplicity that captures The Tempest's magical wonder of theatrical illusion'.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Weiss's production was her selection of a score based on Mahler's first symphony, extended by the famous adagio from the composer's fifth symphony (both as conducted by Leonard Bernstein).  It proved - as all her music choices tend to be - an inspired choice that serves the plot's diverse moods with faithful authenticity; restrained, dark, stormy, energetic and romantic.  Mahler's familiar music provides evocative and descriptive themes for each of the key characters and luscious melodies for the dance events.

'Weiss is taking Baltic Dance Theatre on a journey that needs to be seen outside as well as inside Poland,' declared veteran British dance critic, Jann Parry (DanceTabs) in a sentiment echoed by the close of my own contemporaneous review for Dancing Times: 'Outstanding full-length dance theatre is alive and kicking in Gdańsk and this skilfully constructed adaptation of The Tempest deserves to be seen beyond the Baltic shores'.

The company's touring has largely been inside Poland, with regular visits to Warsaw each year, alongside others to Poznań and Kraków.   International trips have been few, to date, involving performances in Germany Bangkok and Istanbul.   The company eventually made its long-awaited British debut with Weiss's interpretation of Racine's Phaedre, in November 2015 at a one-off gala performance in London.

Phaedra had premiered in Warsaw and captured further positive support from more British critics. Writing in the Sunday Express, the veteran critic, Jeffery Taylor concluded that ‘…Izadora Weiss has started tongues wagging…and has the audience’s interests at heart’. The Times’ dance critic, Donald Hutera, wrote that Phaedre was ‘meticulously crafted’; and, in Dance Europe, asserted that ‘…the dancing was tight, driven and full of conviction – there was a real sense of both choreographer and performers being completely absorbed in what they were doing’.

The burgeoning success of Baltic Dance Theatre in just six years is a testament to the clear and unequivocal artistic vision of its leader.   But, Weiss would be the first to acknowledge that she is the leader of a team and her vision has been developed with the help and support of a close-knit family.

The direction, choreography, librettos and often the set design are all Weiss’s own work but a small group of ever-present collaborators are closely integrated with her overall goals.   First among equals is her regular designer, Hanna Szymczak, responsible for the costumes in most works since Romeo and Juliet, and then there is Piotr Miszkiewicz, her regular lighting designer; and the two longest-standing dancers, Elźbieta Czajkowska-Kłos and Filip Michalak, both of whom now occupy key roles as her assistant choreographers.

As with all dance companies, there has been a churn with dancers moving on and new ones emerging through auditions.  BDT has grown now to encompass 24 dancers, making it easily one of the largest contemporary dance companies in the world.  Some of the dancers who led the early works, such as Michał Labus and Marzena Socha have moved on.  The company has become more international in its composition with new dancers arriving from around the world.   Today, there is an exciting mix of experience and continuity from the company's core of homegrown dancers (Michalak, Czajkowska-Kłos, Beata Giza) and an exciting influx from overseas, such as Tura Gómez Coll (one of many excellent Spanish dancers now at BDT), Sayaka Haruna (Japan), Alexander Khudimov (the Ukraine) and Emma Jane Howley (Australia).

Amelia Forrest, an American dancer, created the role of Hippolyta in A Midsummer Night's Dream and the Milkmaid in Light.   After leaving BDT, in 2014, she is now making work in London.   I asked her for some reflections on her time working with Weiss and BDT.  'Izadora has a rare talent for narrative work,' Forrest told me.   'I truly connected with her movement and style.  She has always had a sensitivity to detail and gave me the opportunities I needed to discover myself as an artist.  I'm grateful to have been a part of her journey and know that she will only continue to grow'.

On the eve of the premiere of her latest work, Tristan and Isolde, Weiss is in demand.   Not only is there fast-growing international interest in her choreography, carried on the positive and favourable reviews of the succession of international dance critics that have come to seek out her work in Gdańsk; but there is also renewed interest elsewhere in Poland. 

Having seen her work on annual BDT visits to the Opera House in Warsaw, Krzysztof Pastor has recently commissioned Weiss to make a piece for the Polish National Ballet, of which he is director, for the 2016/17 season.   I asked what had attracted him to her choreography.  'What I liked', he told me, 'is her ability to clearly - and in an original way - tell a story like in her Phaedre'.  He continued: 'In her Rite of Spring and Death and the Maiden, Izadora took on challenging social/human subjects.  She is even reaching for comedy, consciously and successfully, balancing on the edge of kitsch, as in her interpretation of A Midsummer Night's Dream. She is very musical, obviously determined and is developing a recognisable style of choreography, which is grounded, often repetitive, physical and very dynamic'.

'Izadora Weiss is inexhaustible with her choreographic ideas', wrote Zalesiński, and she has averaged 2 or 3 new works each year for BDT.   Another Polish critic, Justyna Świerczyńska wrote that her '... realisations are always subtly depicted stories, great choreography, fantastic music and an impressive set design'. 

Izadora's own mantra for her choreographic vision is both simple and compelling.   'In spite of the fact that beauty is not successful in media, that it is not shocking and that it is easy to mock, I am always going to try to protect it on stage'. 

The future looks bright for both Izadora Weiss and Baltic Dance Theatre, wherever either she or it may be.   The company and her repertoire have come a very long way in a short time and it is exciting to imagine how bright and international their conjoined future may become.  It started as a brave new concept for the Baltic Opera, replacing ballet with modern dance; but steadily growing audiences and growing international acclaim have, in the words of Jiri Kylián,  '...put Poland firmly on the dance map of Europe, thanks to Izadora'.

© Graham Watts OBE


About the author


Graham Watts is a freelance dance writer and critic. He writes regularly for Dancing Times, Dance Europe, Danza Europa, Londondance.com, Dancetabs.com, Bachtrack.com, Shinshokan Dance Magazine (Japan) and has written for other magazines and websites in Europe, Japan and the USA. He regularly writes features for Sadler’s Wells, the Edinburgh International Festival, London Coliseum, La Scala and other theatres, festivals and galas around the world. Graham has a Master of Arts module in Dance Writing and Criticism from the University of Chichester (2005). He has been a professional mentor of aspiring dance writers through the Resolution Review programme of The Place in London, since 2009 and also lectures on dance writing at the Royal Academy of Dance. He is Chairman of the Dance Section of the Critics’ Circle in the United Kingdom and of the UK National Dance Awards (both roles since 2011) and he was Secretary in 2009/10. He is a member of the UNESCO International Dance Council, the Society for Dance Research and Dance UK. His book, ‘Agony & Ecstasy’, written with the Czech ballerina, Daria Klimentová, was published in March 2013. He has interviewed many of the greatest names in dance including Maya Plisetskaya, Vladimir Vasiliev, Boris Eifman, Alexei Ratmansky, Andris Liepa, Sir Peter Wright, David Bintley, Irek Mukhamedov, Alina Cojocaru and Dame Gillian Lynne. Graham was Captain of the British Sabre team at the Barcelona Olympic Games, winning a Commonwealth medal in 1990. He was the Manager of the British Fencing Team at the Athens and Beijing Olympic Games. He was appointed OBE (Officer of the British Empire) in 2008.