Challenging gender stereotypes through dance

By James Keller

Made in Polska inadvertently examines the interaction of Polish contemporary dance with its Canadian counterpart, while engaging in a very deliberate discussion about gender in dance.

Choreographed by Polish dancer Wojciech Mochniej, Dancers’ Studio West’s newest production seeks to bring Polish dance to Canadian audiences. According to Mochniej, who has taught at the University of Calgary for the past 10 years, the fact the work was created in a Canadian context undoubtedly influences the finished product.

"What I see so far [in Canadian dance] is the clearness in their way of thinking, even if the work is a little abstract," he says. "Most choreographers here use the body as a main medium or main instrument. Dance supports their abstract way of thinking."

Mochniej adds that part of the challenge in creating for Canadian audiences is making it relevant to them, which comes as much from technique as it does from themes and messages.

"I look for another dimension of inspiration that comes from the Canadian way of thinking and Canadian thoughts," he says. "I think another dimension will help me have better communication with the public, something that people are prepared to receive. Besides forcing them to receive ‘Polish technique,’ I try to find a way we can be received here, searching for a Canadian way of communications."

Where Polish contemporary dance differs from our own, according to Mochniej, is in the ideas of physicality and in the heavy influence of Polish theatre. And although Mochniej cautions against casting Polish dance with broad generalizations, he does offer a brief history of its evolution.

"Years ago, when contemporary just became popular, we had a lot of influence from theatre, because this was our specialty," he says. "Theatre is so strong to this point, and when contemporary dance came to Poland, people started to recognize how much movement and exploration we can use to describe our own way of expression."

Through this history of influences, Mochniej also intends to tell a story. Made in Polska explores man’s journey into adulthood, and delves into all manner of male relationships. Part of The Men’s Project (funded through a U of C Special Projects Grant), Made in Polska features an all-male cast and male non-dancers who help guide and shape the performance as it continues.

Mochniej explains that this is both to explore various aspects of male relationships and to break through gender stereotypes in traditional dance.

"At some point, women definitely took over contemporary dance," he says, pointing to stereotypes like male dancers wearing tights. "There’s a lot of male choreographers around the world and, at some point, the picture of men and dance is just twisted, some kind of stereotype.

"We have needed to express ourselves. We tried to discover relationships between father and son, son and brother, brother and brother, a man and his partner. There are a lot of dimensions to discover and a lot of them are quite complex to find the right movement to express this on stage."

Beyond this examination, Mochniej also hopes to change the perception among men in the audience who may not be immediately open to dance, especially with other men on stage. He needn’t look far to find these notions, even in his own family.

"My uncle is a tough guy, a policeman, and he completely didn’t receive men on the stage," he says. "But through my dancing he can find some physical symbol or signs. Men are finding the right energy from us on the stage."

Made in Polska runs Apr. 1–3 in the University Theatre.


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