The elegance and rich tradition of the Polish military is brought to the stage in this spectacular and beautiful suite of dances. The men dressed in their full military regalia and the women in elegant Empire dresses relive a grand ball held in honor of the Polish Lancers who will be off to battle at sunrise. A stately Polonaise performed to the music of Fryderyk Chopin is followed by a romantic waltz also by Chopin. The suite finishes with a fiery Mazur known as the “last Mazur” – the last mazur before the Lancers must leave for battle.
History of the Lancer’s Dance
Polonez [poh-loh-nez], the Polish national “Grand March,” is Poland’s oldest dance in 5/4 time, dating back to the 15th century and is derived from the peasant walking dance, the chodzony. The music for chodzony was simple, slow and even in rhythm, which made the dance dignified, serious but almost monotonous. It was first written in 2/4 time. Later on, the rhythm was changed to 4/4: one step on each of the first three beats of the measure with a pause on the fourth beat. The peasant chodzony, sometimes also called wolny (slow), okragly (round) or Polski (Polish), was usually done with singing. It was always part of wedding and other family rituals, and various communal cere-monies. It was an honor to be the leader, the wodzirej [voh-jee-ray], and usu-ally an older man was chosen. He played an important role, as he led the couples into intricate moving, winding, and serpentine patterns.
From Poland the peasant chodzony migrated to neighboring countries: to Morawy, (Moravia, presently part of the Czech Republic) and to Kuzyce (Lusatia, presently in East Germany), where it became almost its national dance.
In Poland from the village folk the chodzony was taken up by the nobility. First it was done as a slow, triumphant procession of knights, with all the elements of a medieval marching dance. It is said, that in 1574, during the coronation of King Henry Valois, in the royal castle of Kraków, it was danced for the first time with ladies. In this way dignitaries of the state and their wives were introduced to the new French King, who came to rule Poland. This was also the first time that the polonez was danced in 3/4 time. From that time on, it became a court dance and was used to open all great, stately Balls. The music became more elaborate, livelier, and acquired a wider range, the steps became embellished and numerous new figures choreographed; singing was eliminated, but facial expression and hand gestures became important.
The polonez reached the peak of its development by the end of the l6th and the beginning of the 17th centuries. The lovely music and the graceful movement of the dance enchanted foreigners and it spread all over Europe under its French name, polonaise. Practically all great composers and choreographers tried their hand at it and, of course, Chopin made it famous. It also reached Sweden During the reign of the Swedish dynasty of Waza kings in Poland; even now, there exists a Swedish singing folk dance, called the “Polska.”
The tradition of polonez survived all the political and social changes that took place in Poland throughout the centuries, and it has remained the queen of Polish dances to this day. It is still danced in present-day Poland: older people remember it, young people learn it through participation in numerous folk dance groups. Research on the old figures is continued and even contemporary music is composed. The polonez has its triumphant hour every year, where literally thousands of couples in folk costumes dance it in a stadium during the annual harvest celebrations, the all-Poland dozynki, held in a different city each year.
The polonez, “Farewell to my Country,” used by Syrena in many performances, is an old piece of music, known and beloved by every Pole. It has an interesting format of 10 and 8 and 6 measure phrases. It was composed in 1794, by Michal Kleofas Oginski (1765-1833), an aristocratic man of wealth and a diplomat. He created this hunting melody, in a nostalgic mood, after the downfall of the first Polish insurrection, when he was about to leave his fatherland for Italy to continue the struggle for Polish independence abroad.
The Mazur is one of five Polish national dances. The other four are: Polonez, Krakowiak, Kujawiak, and Oberek. It originated in the villages of the Mazovian plains in Central Poland. Later the nobility embraced the Mazur, polishing and embellishing it. The Mazur soon reached the palaces of the Polish magnates and finally the Royal Court from which it spread to European courts. Dolly Madison introduced it at the White House. In a still more refined form, it was adopted by the ballet and has been an inspiration for many composers. Fryderyk Chopin’s mazurkas are the most striking examples.
As a social dance, it reached its peak of popularity in Poland during the first half of the Nineteenth Century. Napoleon’s Polish Legion contributed immensely to the Mazur’s popularity. It was danced at all the elegant Balls by the officers of the lancer’s division in full dress uniforms and regalia. Since the Legion was a symbol of Poland’s fight for independence, dancing the Mazur became an expression of patriotism. It was also danced to special Mazur songs written at that time and often based on old folk melodies. Some of the best known are: Ostatni Mazur (The Last Mazur, written in 1831), Podkoweczki dajcie ognia (Cleats strike with Fire, published in 1835) and last but not least, Mazurek Dobrowskiego (Dobrowski’s Mazurka, written in 1797) which later became the Polish National Anthem – Jeszcze Polska nie zginela (Poland Has Not Yet Perished).
The Lancer’s Suite
Syrena’s Lancer’s Suite, first choreographed by myself in 1983 and further developed in subsequent years, was inspired by the song Ostatni Mazur (The Last Mazur), with music composed by Fabian Tymulski (1828-1885). A particular line of the lyrics, written by Ludwik Pomian-Lubielski (1839-1892), says: “The lancer whispers softly into the maiden’s ear – let’s dance the last mazur at dawn, before I have to go to the battlefield.” Instead of inspecting his gear before the battle and getting a good night’s sleep in his comfortable bed, the romantic, unpractical soldier suggests one more round of the mazur around the hall!
In the re-enactment of this song, Syrena’s Lancer’s Suite presents a ball given in honor of the brave lancers. Traditionally, the dancing at a ball included some of the national dances, as well as waltzes. In Syrena’s Suite they are done to Fryderyk Chopin’s Military Polonaise, Henryk Wieniawski’s “Kujawiak,” Chopin’s “La Grande Valse Brillante,” and the “Ostatni Mazur.”
Since 1983, Syrena’s Lancer’s Suite has been performed at various occasions, both in the United States and abroad. To name just a few local events, there is the Pabst Mansion, Polanki Balls, A Night in Old Vienna, and our own Masked Balls. Nationally and abroad, the Lancer’s Suite has been performed at the Madison Folk Ball, Place des Arts in Montreal, Quebec, the Lancut Palace in Poland and in Tokyo, Japan.
And now a few words about the most important dance of our suite, the Mazur. One might call it (both the dance and its music) a true “from rags to riches” success story. It originated in the countryside of the ethnographic area of Mazowsze in central Poland. One of the Slavic tribes, which settled there were the dynamic Mazury. As inhabitants of dense pine forests, for centuries they specialized in a pitch burning, and were known as maziarze. With time, when the dense forests had been cleared, the Mazury people became farmers. But it might very well be that their first pitch burning occupation gave them their name. The simple dance of the Mazury people was adopted by the Mazovian gentry. They called it the Mazur, and later took it to other regions of Poland. Its style was then polished, new steps were added, and the various regions contributed their own new figures. However, some old figures, linked with the peasant wedding ritual, or harvest celebrations, were also kept. The Mazur was further embellished by the aristocracy. Through them it reached the royal palace, where the dance masters added more figures and made it more stylized and sophisticated. Finally, through the intermediary of the Polish court it was introduced at other European courts. It also traveled to other continents. Dolly Madison introduced it at the White House during the presidency of James Madison (1809-1817). It was also danced in Mexico and the Philippines. Becoming a popular international social dance, it acquired such names as the Mazurka, Mizurko, Masurka, Masourka, Le Mazur, La Masoure, der Mazur and die Mazure.
Just as the Polonaise, the Mazur, both in Poland and abroad, infiltrated into the stage, in the form of ballets. The famous Italian ballerina, Maria Taglioni (1804-1884) introduced it into her repertoire. Mazurkas are also part of such famous ballets as Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, Coppelia, to name a few. Operas such as Eugene Onegin and A Life for the Tsar, also incorporated the Mazur. As far as Poland is concerned, the most famous Mazurs are included in two full ballets: A Polish Wedding by Karol Kurpinski and Pan Twardowski by Leopold Lewandowski, as well as in operas: Halka and The Haunted Manor by Stanislaw Moniuszko, and Cecylia Piaseczynska by Karol Kurpinski.
The music of the Mazur also underwent changes and achieved tremendous success in its development. The simple folk melodies from the Mazovian countryside became an inspiration to Chopin’s Mazurkas for piano, and to various other composers, who wrote in military or patriotic styles, as well as for ballets and operas. And one must not forget that the National Anthem of Poland, Jeszcze Polska nie zgineła, was created to an old mazurek tune from the region of Podlasie, in east-central Poland. The dance Mazur can boast of over 50 steps and over 100 figures. The title of a 250-pages long Mazur manual, written by the ballet and social dance master, Karol Mestenhauser, and published in Warsaw in 1894, speaks for itself: Mazur i jego zasady oraz 125 figur mazurowych (Mazur – Its Principles, and 125 Mazur Figures). New figures were and are still added by modern choreographers. Syrena’s Larcer’s Mazur contains predominantly the traditional steps and figures. Of the steps, Syrena uses the running, sliding, heels click, and striking-out click called in Polish – bieg mazurowy, krok posuwisty, holubiec, and wybijany. Syrena couples dance some traditional swift turns, expressively called the blyskawica (lightning). Syrena incorporated several traditional figures such as: the Kraków Figure (“Figura krakowska”), in which half of the men dance with 2 women, and the other half dances alone: the Best Harvest Girl (“Przodownica”), in which women run under the arches, formed by joined hands of two men; Maidens be Honored (“Czecz dziewojom”), in which women dance around kneeling men; the Handkerchief Figure (“Figura z chusteczką”), in which a soloist chooses her partner by tossing her handkerchief in the air for one man, in a circle of men, to catch; the Figure from Marymont (“Figura Marymoncka”), a spectacular carrousel done by men. The name of this figure has an interesting origin. Marymont is a place near Warsaw, named so in honor of Maria Kazimiera Sobieska, the French wife of King Jan Sobieski (1674-1696), where a summer palace was built for her. At the beginning of the l9th century, the palace was sold to the School of Agronomy, patronized by sons of rich landowners. The students gave fashionable Balls, at one of which they presented a new figure, named afterwards the figure from Marymont.
Syrena’s Mazur ends as the words of the last stanza of the song say: “…the bugle calls that it’s time to mount our horses – this is the last Mazur.” And the lancers march off to the battlefield, while the teary-eyed ladies bid them farewell. For more on Mazur and other Polish dances, see Ada Dziewanowska, Polish Folk Dances & Songs. A Step-by-Step Guide, Hippocrene Books, New York, NY. Copies of this book can be obtained from Ada Dziewanowska.