The English word “knapping” means making tools by chipping stones. This was originally to be the title of the performance shown by Domini- ka Knapik during last year’s Divine Comedy Festival, which eventually appeared in the Festival’s reper- toire as Agon.
Photo: Klaudyna Schubert
However, the very term knapping in the context of the work of a dancer, choreographer and director begs to be used. Over the years of presence on Polish and international stages, Dominika Knapik has shown that she can develop movement tools thanks to which the bodies of performers begin to tell various stories and emotions. Starting with the plays of Samuel Beckett, through the Olympics in 1936, all the way to the story of a difficult encounter between perfection, work and motherhood. In this theatre, everything can be translated into movement.
This story begins with death. Dominika Knapik dies while working on the next show, and her adult son Feliks has to go through the bereavement of his mother. The dancer during Agon tells the story of her life from a surprising perspective. In this way, she analyses herself as a mother and a choreographer, exploring the tensions between the two roles. She also wonders what happened to the perfectionist she used to be as a result of the baby being born. At the same time, as Katarzyna Waligóra notes: “In the production, the identity conflict turns out to have a different, deeper dimension. In Agon, languages are exchanged and fused: (…) childbirth is spoken of as a sport-ing achievement, something completely dependent on the condition of the body, and creative work is described in the language of pregnancy and motherhood”2. Hence, the performance contains informationabout over 180 pregnancies that the performer has had, which signifies an impressive number of artistic collaborations undertaken by her.
She started out with ballet, then she was admitted to the National Academy of Theatre Arts in Kraków. However, her dream studies and roles in school plays did not bring her a quick success. As she says herself: “I finished school, it seemed to me that soon I would be working in the theatre. But I heard that I was not blonde, that my voice was hoarse and that I was really weird”3. The turning point for her was the return to dancing. It started with a project carried out as part of a scholarship in Stary Browar in Poznań, where she staged a solo entitled How do you like me? (2007). It was also then that she, together with Wojtek Klimczyk, founded the Harakiri Farmers artistic initiative, as part of which she created several important dance performances, including We are oh so lucky (2009), presented at many festivals, prepared in collaboration with Ana Brzezińska. Dominika Knapik choreographed it and played the role of Lucky from Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. For the group it was an attempt at finding a new theatrical language combining movement, word and image. Their dance performance Keret (2008) based on the works of Etgar Keret was staged in Poznan in the space of the former synagogue, which at the time housed the municipal swimming pool. This ironic story received the first prize in the“New Situations” competition during the 2008 Malta Theatre Festival. Dominika Knapik also created the performance Moscow (2011), inspired by the figure of Vivien Leigh.
As a dancer, Dominika Knapik often focuses on her own body, working through her emotions and movements preserved in it on thestage. The performer herself became the main protagonist of the plays How do you like me?, Not me and Agon. In each of them, she also touched upon the topic of femininity, seen from many points of view and experienced in various ways. She wondered about the social perception of the female body,shaping it by culture – juxtaposing in Not I a strong presence of the body with femininity reduced in Samuel Beckett to the mouth uttering the words. Recently, she has been examining the condition of a working mother. At the same time, Knapik is developing her choreographic career. At the time of her debut in Poland, it was a relatively new market – up till then thisprofession was associated with working on a specific dance scene inscribed in the structure of the performance. With the development of the performer’s career, the way of thinking about movement in theatre changed – more and more often the work of the choreographer concerned the entire performance, strongly penetrating the fabric of the dramatic theatre. Movement has become an important carrier of meanings and emotions forrecipients who are used to, and maybe even tired of words. It turned out that theatre was not only literature. This allowed the choreographer to embark on more and more interesting projects.
Her cooperation with director and playwright Iga Gańczarczyk turned out to be very important for her. Together they created the already mentioned performance Not I (2011). She also collaborated with her as a choreographer on the stage on a fairy tale Winter’s Tales (2012),the politically engaged Negroes (2015) and the performance You’ve Clearly Never Been A 13-Year-Old Girl, Sir (2014) created togetherwith teenagers. During these collaborations the artist created and enriched her unique dance language.
We could see the full list of Dominika Knapik’s theatrical collaborations displayed on the wall during Agon. It includes themost recognised Polish directors: Anna Smolar, Maja Kleczewska, Monika Strzępka, Jan Klata, Remigiusz Brzyk, Paweł Miśkiewicz, Bartosz Szydłowski.
The beginning of the cooperation with Ewelina Marciniak turned out to be a big breakthrough in her career. Together with theset designer Katarzyna Borkowska, they were one of the first strong women’s groups in the country. Knapik and Marciniak prepared thefollowing performances: Amateurs (2012), Morphine (2014), The Portrait of a Lady (2015), Death and the Maiden (2015) and Leni Riefenstahl. Oblivion Episodes (2016). After the last performance, the audience remembered monumental choreographies prepared by Knapik for the Ruchomy Kolektyw (Mobile Collective) playing the parts of athletes participating in the 1936 Olympics, and then the SudaneseNubian tribe. The growing prestige of the dancer is also evidenced by the fact that she was nominated for Polityka’s Passports in 2015. In the justification of this decision, Anna Burzyńska wrote: “for teaching the body to think and the thought – to move”4. And after a few years of break, Knapik resumed cooperation with Marciniak, creating the choreography for the performance Der Boxer awarded with the prestigious German Der Faust.
Direction was quickly added to the list of professions performed by the artist. Already in 2011, she produced her first original performance, The Optimist’s Testament, based on a text by Sławomir Mrożek, shown at the Łaźnia Nowa Theatre. Bang bang (2016) was added to this list –a performance referring to the film story of Thelma and Louise, Camp Cataract (2017) based on a short story by Jane Bowles, the balletThe Afternoon of a Faun (2017) and A Woman of Wonder (2019) staginga text of a famous interwar writerMaria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska.
“Ballet education also influences what kind of choreography I do. I am obsessed with the purity of movement. Regardless of what kind of movement I make, it is very important to me that it is precise.”5, says Knapik. Indeed, her choreographies are characterized by a strong focus on gestures, stripping movement of everything that is superfluous and reducing everyday human expression to expressive, highly formalised sequences of codes. Knapik’s choreographies refer the viewer to the world of everyday associations, and at the same time make reality strange and amazing. The choreographer herself emphasizes that she treats the actors as“dancing emotional states”6, emphasising that every gesture, movement and form of external action starts with emotions and is their expression. Codified gestures, cleared of numerous interruptions, paradoxically give us a closer and stronger insight into the world of feelings of the performed character.
In Agon the dancer creates her presence on stage in a similar way. However, as it turns out at the end of the performance, the emotions hidden in the movements do not belong to Feliks, and the initially developed framework of the performance turns out to be a trap set for the audience. Thestory of death fulfils the role of a therapeutic fairy tale told by Dominika herself. In the last part of the performance we return to the present. Feliks is three years old, the performer, looking at her life with his eyes, is trying to work through the remorse associated with numerous theatre trips andfrequent absences from home. The task set for her is successful – as the therapeutic application says – two dimensions of her personalitybecome integrated.
The theme of therapy was also used by the director in her next play Ticks and Other Games, which, like Agon, was the result of thecollaboration with playwright Patrycja Kowanieńska. The artists, together with actors from the Wrocław Mime Theatre, create a situation of collective therapy on the stage. Its participants, in turn, are characters cut out – together with their problems and disorders – from the pages ofChekhov’s dramas. Regardless of the herapeutic effect they achieve, this meeting seems to be another artistic challenge, and the toolsdeveloped during rehearsals and workshops are another example of the effectiveness of knapping in the Polish theatre.
1 During the meeting recorded by Boska Komedia TV, playwright Patrycja Kowańska speaks about that (https:// playkrakow.com/vods/vod.418 )
2 Katarzyna Waligóra, Motherly solo about Agon by Dominika Knapik ( https:// taniecpolska.pl/krytyka/matczyne-solo- o-agonie-dominiki-knapik/?fbclid=IwAR3- Ed9-l4bd4Q4M98g139selPRhBdtlWbjISzYUBfWt lYUlwn6perSLK-s)
3 Rafał Romanowski, I am not
a blonde. An interview with Dominika Knapik, „Gazeta Wyborcza – Kraków” No. 49/2005, https://encyklopediateatru.pl/ artykuly/9476/nie-jestem-blondynka
4 https://www.polityka.pl/ tygodnikpolityka/kultura/paszporty/ 1642945,1,teatr-nominowani-dominika- knapik.read
5 Marta Michalak, Hybrid Artist, “Didaskalia” 2012, No. 107, www.encyklopediateatru.pl/ artykuly/137468/artystka-hybrydyczna
6 Mateusz Węgrzyn, Project performance: Choreographer. An interview with Dominika Knapik, https://www. dwutygodnik.com/artykul/6205-projekt- spektakl-choreografka.html
Photo: Klaudyna Schubert