Polish folk ensemble
Polonez was established 1949 in Manchester, UK and is one of the oldest running polish dance companies in Great Britain. Polonez takes its name from the beautiful Polonaise dance, which was used to introduce many important events throughout Poland in the courts of Polish kings.
Our group was founded by expatriates who were unable to return to Poland after the Second World War due to the communist regime. They missed their homeland and strived to keep the culture and traditions of their homeland alive through traditional song and dance, operettas and dramatic productions.
In the fifties, the group regularly represented Manchester in competitions and festivals, appearing in numerous concert venues including the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, the Belle Vue and at the Royal Albert Hall in London. In 1953, the group had the honour of taking part in events to celebrate the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. By 1954 there were 40 members in the group. In May 1957, the highlight of the year was a trip to Ireland to perform in Dublin and Cork.
Throughout the 60s and 70s the group grew from strength to strength with many 1st generation Poles born in England joining the group. During this time the group changed its name to “Mlody Polonez” or “Young Polonaise”. The inspiration behind the group was a love for Polish folklore and a pride in possessing a Polish heritage, it was Stanislaw Garbiak who founded and ran the group from the late fifties to the sixties. Wenek Starczewski took over the leadership, followed by Roman Andrejczuk and Ric Gwizdek.
During this time and throughout the early years, the group’s main mentor was Jaroslaw Zaba. Mr Zaba was very active in the social and cultural life of the Polish community in Manchester. He was very supportive of the group, organising performances, both in Great Britain and abroad, and was instrumental in inviting choreographer ‘Pani Janina Sliwinska’ to work with the group and expand its repertoire. Pani Sliwinska left Lublin and her own work with folklore groups to care for her invalid brother in Manchester and choreograph for the group.
The 1980s brought a change with the introduction of our Polish choreographer ‘Pani Zenia Stepowicz’. A friend of Pani Sliwinska, Pani Zenia first came to Manchester in 1979. Since then, she has returned to Manchester numerous times to choreograph and teach new dances, raising the standards and levels of authenticity. Sometimes staying for six months at a time, she regularly renewed and refreshed the group’s repertoire. During the 80s Ellen Brzeczek, Romek Bzdega and Elzunia Gwiazdowska led the group.
Polonez continued to thrive in the 1990s with successive generations of Poles joining the group, as older members left to take up university studies away from Manchester or to start families. During this time the group was led by Ellen Brzeczek, followed by Ewa Licata.In 1993 Polonez took part in the 1st Festival of Polish Folklore in Great Britain, where for the first time Polish folklore groups from around the country came together to perform side-by-side in a Polish song and dance spectacular. It was a chance to meet members from other groups and forge firm friendships. Polonez has taken part in every successive festival, being a highlight that all members look forward to and train hard for.
In 1999 Polonez celebrated its 50th Anniversary with a Grand Ball and by participating in the International Polish Folklore Festival which is held every three years in Rzeszów, Poland. This was followed by a trip to Warsaw with the London group ‘Karolinka’ and the Southampton group ‘Karpaty’, to perform in the main square and in Lazienki gardens at the “Theatre on the Lake”. It was a great privilege to be there and to be greeted very warmly as the children and grandchildren of Polish war heroes.
Ewa Licata led the group into the new century followed briefly by Romek Bzdega. In 2001 Polonez was pleased to be the host group for the 4th Festival of Polish Folklore in Great Britain, held at the Lowry Theatre in Salford Quays, performing a brand new Lublin suite for the first time to a very welcoming home audience.
The early 2000s also saw the establishment of a constitution and new leadership team of Elzunia Gwiazdowska as Artistic Director and Krysia Majchrzakowska as Chair. Polonez then became a democratically run group with a committee of elected members. Together they have taken Polonez to four British Festivals (2003, 2006, 2009, 2012) and three further festivals in Rzeszów, Poland (2005, 2008, 2011). Under this steady leadership, Polonez has rejuvenated itself with fresh, young and enthusiastic members joining the long-established members.
Several members have completed diplomas in Polish dance choreography in both Lublin and Rzeszów over the past 10 years to widen their knowledge and skills, and to ensure the future of Polonez and Polish folklore in the UK.
After almost 30 years Pani Zenia continues to visit Manchester regularly, so that the group can benefit from her teaching skills and innovative choreography.
Polonez was very excited to host a Gala Concert to celebrate its 60th Anniversary. It was the first time the group had hosted such an event and the group was looking forward to sharing its large repertoire of dances, songs and costumes from various regions of Poland, with help from 'Kabaret' and 'Po Prostu Nowa Biesiada'. This concert also showcased dances choreographed by some of its own members including Asia Cullinan, Joseph Jenvey and Nina Potiszil. The concert went down as a great success, with Polonez showing it was as strong as ever, performing to a sold out theatre with audience members from all over the country.
In 2011, on the recommendation of a number of members of the dance group, Pani Iskra was invited to choreograph a new suite for the group. ‘Bilgoraj’ was taught in preparation for performing at the UK Polish folk festival in 2012. Polonez was proud to be the first dance group in the country to publicly perform this lesser known region of dances to a captive audience, stealing the show.
Today, Polonez continues to grow and 2012 saw Jola Lloyd-Wood become chairperson. We are currently learning another new dance to add to our already large repertoire of Polish suites and have many new members eager to learn as well as a growing junior group led by Asia Cullinan.
Our group is a family, based on a love of Poland and its culture, with a passion to perform that of which we are so proud to be part of.