60 years of ‘Wilia’ – How did it all start?

Polish Folk Song and Dance Ensemble ‘Wilia’ © Marian Paluszkiewicz

It is like a river not only in name. Years flow by and those who passed through ‘Wilia’ nowadays surely number in thousands.

During bigger events the scene take, together with the ensemble, the seniors, people who used to also sing, play and dance in the ensemble. Children, teens, adults and older people – they all make up a colorful procession that for decades have entertained audiences in various parts. The Polish Folk Song and Dance Ensemble ‘Wilia’, established in Vilnius in March 1955 this year celebrates its 60th year.

At concerts they captivate with dance choreographies and song performance. Since the beginning of its existence, they constantly perform a capella a song, that is an excerpt of Mickiewicz’s Konrad Wallenrod: “Wilia, mother of our creeks, with a golden bottom and blue countenances”. For the first time they performed it in May 1955, the song gave the ensemble its name and became its kind of an anthem.

‘Wilia’ is a truly unique phenomenon. It is the first Polish ensemble established after the Second World War beyond the new Eastern border of Poland, on old Polish land that after the war ceased to belong to the Motherland. As its first members emphasize ‘it was a patriotic impulse of the youth of those days, Wilia – that was our second home’. Nowadays it still attracts like a magnet, despite the fact that folk does not always speak to the youth. Surely it is a showpiece of the Vilnius Region and proof of the fact that work, persistence, ambition and fascination with Polish identity give the best results.

About the history of ‘Wilia’ with Renata Brasel, Art Director and Conductor of the ensemble, spoke Beata Kost (‘Kurier Galicyjski’):

Please tell me, in what circumstances was the ensemble established?

I myself started work in 1990, the ensemble had 35 years then, so many of the directors I did not know anymore. But I read newspaper articles and heard the stories of previous members – like how today we heard all those memories of Krystyna Jurewicz-Korkuć and Mrs. Irena Woronko. Wilia is the oldest in the Vilnius Region, and in Lithuania in general, Polish folk song and dance ensemble. Actually, it the beginning it was only a choir, the ensemble was founded by the graduates of Polish School nr.5 in Vilnius, presently it is Joachim Lelewel School (at that time the school did not yet have this patron) and the alumni came up with the idea that they could start an ensemble where they could communicate in Polish, sing. Thanks to enthusiast such group was established, quite numerous from the start. The did not have a director, in the beginning they managed themselves, later on they started to look around for support. They approached an organist of St. Theresa church – it is the church at the Gate of Dawn. They asked him to lead the choir.

And the organist lead the ensemble?

Mr. Piotr Termion agreed, only he did not work for a very long time because the duties of an organist required a lot of energy and work, so after some time – I do not know in what circumstances – a new director was found, Mr. Wiktor Turowski – he was the director probably the longest of all. It was him who professionally created mixed voice choir. In the history of the ensemble we can read that the choir had about 100 people. All of the Vilnius Region is an area where a lot of Poles live and seeing as it was the only ensemble it is no wonder that people gathered to participate. Now we have it in every region, in every little village its own ensemble – ‘Troczanie’, ’Mejszagolanie’ and many more. So in the beginning there was only a choir, but they also wanted to dance and that is when Mrs. Zofia Gulewicz nee Wernicka – a real choreographer – started her work.

Who was she?

She live in the Naujoji Vilnia (presently Pavilniai). Before war she was a ballet dancer in the Grand Theatre in Warsaw. She fell in love and married one of ours, Vilnius-born engineer. During the war they were running from Warsaw, from the bombs, and that is how she made it to the parents of her husband in Vilnius Colony. She embraced his family and there she stayed. Surely she missed her work. We were not a ballet, but she was the only person who could lead the ensemble on the dance front.

So for Zofia Gulewicz it was, in a way, an opportunity to pursue her passion.

Yes, she also studied a lot, she had to readjust from classical dancing to regional folk. She even attended a conservatory, where she studied conducting. She worked with ‘Mazowsze’, with ‘Śląsk’, she used the repertoires of those ensembles. To this day we have a lot of songs and dance choreographies that we owe to ‘Mazowsze’ and ‘Śląsk’. First costumes were sawn by hand, because the options were very limited. Now there are workrooms, where everything can be ordered, if only there are money. Those things were used to unattainable. So her input was enormous. Those were the people that advanced the ensemble on so big a scale.

I found out today, that actually it is Wilia that is ‘the mother’ of all those ensembles that act in the Vilnius Region today?

‘Wilia’ was almost 30 years old, when its mature members started to leave and establish their own ensembles. ‘Wileńszczyzna’, ‘Zgoda’, ‘Solczanie’, ‘Znad Mereczanki’ were created. School ensembles began to emerge much earlier, after twenty years of ‘Wilia’ existence. ‘Świtezianka’ ensemble was founded at Szymon Konarski School, ‘Wilenka’ at Władysław Syrkomla School. And Mrs. Zofia Gulewicz also helped this newly founded ensembles – pointers, advice – she could always be counted on. She did a tremendous job.

The Poles in Vilnius Region can be envied that high number of ensembles.

In the Vilnius Region and in Vilnius itself there are so many ensembles that we are a kind of competition for ourselves (laughter). Now, hardly anyone remembers the beginnings, and ‘Wilia’ is indeed the mother of many of them. As in our song, which we sing to the word of Adam Mickiewicz ‘Wilia, mother of our creeks’ – so from our ensemble others sprung forward. This year, for the sixtieth anniversary, we are publishing a book written by Mrs. Krystyna Adamowicz, reporter of ‘Kurier Wileński’ and now ‘Tygodnik Wileńszczyzny’. She is our ex-‘ensemblee’ and she is the only one who can prepare this material. She used to sing in ‘Wilia’, now sing her daughter and two granddaughters – third generation in the ensemble. This anniversary book we plan to publish in the spring and the title we gave it is: ‘Mother of our creeks’.

How did you end up in the ensemble?

I ended up in the ensemble by accident. My solfège teacher at musical school – Czesława Bylińska – was the ensembles art director. Once, by accident, we met in the old office of the ‘Wilia’ ensemble, I had an internship there for managing club work. I was already at university, I was studying choir conducting. CZesława Bylińska invited me simply because she lacked hands to help – I came on as a choirmaster. I worked for about five or six years when Mrs. Czesława left the ensemble. I replaced her. I have worked since 1990 so I have been in the ensemble 25 years already, I am happy because it is more than just work. The ensemble truly becomes a family.

Is it a professional or community work?

What I do in the choir is professional work, all the rest, with ensemble work and operations organization – that is more of a community work. Writing projects, sewing costumes, constantly running errands, keeping up the correspondence – those are the things that take a lot more time than rehearsals themselves. Because we practice 2-3 times a week for several hours, and organizational matter are non-stop. It is a tremendous amount of work. We used to have six fulltime positions, and of course a special person that dealt with all these things. But nowadays it is not possible to keep such a person. Times change. How do the numbers of the ensemble look at present? Today the ensemble numbers 140 people. We have 2 choirs. Adult choir counts 40 people, we have a children’s choir group – 21 people – I lead it as well. From this group they later on rise to the adult group. We have the principal dance group – 12 pairs. We have the intermediate group – they switch out with the adults. And of course we have a children’s dance group. In total over 30 pairs. Typically. There is more girls, a bit less boys. The ensemble is alive, we have young blood and I am glad, because that means that the ensemble can keep on growing.

How does recruitment for ‘Wilia’ look, is there a casting call?

You will be surprised, but there is no casting call. We work with everyone that comes and wants to sing or dance. We start from children. Now, after years, I can say that everyone can be made a musician or a singer – they do not even have to have an amazing voice. You just need to dedicate a lot of time an work, and the other side has to do so as well. Such a person has to give a lot and really want it. Not all can take it, they filter themselves out. A person can feel it: whether they can or not, if they are able to keep up. We do not stop those that are leaving, and those that want to, will reach the necessary level on their own, and make their way into the older group, if only they have goodwill.

And it is people like that, that have a lot of goodwill, we should wish ‘Wilia’ on its anniversary…

Thank you very much. We invite you to Vilnius for our anniversary that we are celebrating. Our birthday was on March 19, but all this year we dedicate to anniversary, all this year’s concerts. The Gala Concert will take place in Vilnius in new Compensa Hall (the hall fits over 2 thousand seats and up to 3 thousand standing places – ed.)on 21st November. If nothing changes we will perform there, but we are preparing other jubilee concerts. I am very happy and thank you very much, that Lviv remembers us. Best wishes to Lviv!

Beata Kost

Text appeared in ‘Kurier Galicyjski’ nr 6 (226) for 31 March – 16 April 2015

Based on http://wspolnota-polska.org.pl/

Source: http://l24.lt/pl/kultura-pl/item/65166-60-lat-wilii-jak-to-wszystko-sie-zaczelo

Tłumaczenie by Antonina Górka w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Antonina Górka within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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