Marta Poláková belongs to the first generation of independent artists in contemporary dance in Slovakia. She began her dancing career in the modern dance company Bralen, where she became one of the most exquisite performers alongside many future dance personalities, such as Zuzana Ďuricová Hájková, Anna Sedlačková Nedbalová, Mira Kovářová, among others. She graduated from the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava in 1990. She was the recipient of several international scholarships – the educational programme at the Theatre de la Danse Contemporaine in Paris (1995), ArtsLink Residence in New York City (1996), as well as the prestigious Fulbright research fellowship (2007).
She founded and led the first group of professional dancers in Slovakia called a dato, which focused mostly on contemporary dance (1990–1999). The group collaborated with the theatre group Hubris on such projects as Ulysses and Something in the Way, making Poláková one of the pioneers of a new style of physical theatre in Slovakia which would later be referred to as dance theatre.
During this period, she not only tried to promote the most progressive trends in dance art but also looked for her own ways to express her artistic intentions. She often moved on experimental ground, finding inspiration in improvisation. She collaborated on projects with artists from other artistic disciplines (musicians, visual artists, photographers...), letting herself be influenced by new impulses resulting from the creative clash of preferences, central to the individual media, which from early on made her projects move on the border of intermediality.
In 2003, she established the Dajv group. During the second stage of her artistic career in this group, she worked with young dance performers to create numerous original projects, which later influenced the artistic development of many dancers (Yuri Korec, Peter Šavel, Magdaléna Čaprdová, Emil Leeger, among others).
In 2008, Poláková received a certificate from the Laban Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies in New York and subsequently established the Laban studio in Bratislava – a platform for movement and dance (L.A.B.). The studio was aimed to provide a base for artistic and educational projects focused on progressive approaches to movement using not only Laban’s movement analysis but also other techniques based on integrating the body and mind in movement. In its activities, L.A.B. revives the legacy of Rudolf Laban, applying the principles of his movement analysis in art and education. Poláková’s research activities within the L.A.B. studio and in collaboration with the Academy of Performing Arts include such projects as Feeling the (In)visible, L.A.B. as a Tool to Research Movement, cooperation on Zuzana Vašičáková Očenášová’s project Come on, Mr. Laban, and the production Laban 140 commemorating the 140th anniversary of Rudolf von Laban’s birth. Since 2008, Poláková has used the L.A.B. platform to organize workshops and educational programmes, most recently aimed at continuous education of dance pedagogues.
Poláková’s long-standing collaboration with lighting designer Róbert Polák has created the characteristic stage atmosphere of her productions. Incorporating half-light into the lit space, working with shadows and reflections of the action were unprecedented creative elements in the early days of contemporary dance in Slovakia in the 1990s.
In various periods of her artistic career, Poláková collaborated with musical composers Jozef Vlk, Peter Zagar, Martin Burlas, Boris Lenko, Daniel Matej, Ľubomír Burgr, Jozef Lupták, Michal Novinski, Oskar Rózsa, Peter Machajdík, and Martin Polák. She took part in drama projects produced by directors at the Ján Palárik Theatre in Trnava (1993 Marathon Runners, directed by Štefan Korenči), the Chamber Theatre in Martin (1996 Coriolanus, directed by Roman Polák), and the Drama Department of the Slovak National Theatre (2016 The Bride of the Ridge, directed by Roman Polák).
Marta Poláková’s work has been presented abroad, for example, in England, France, Ireland, Denmark, Italy, Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. She has collaborated with prominent figures of the international contemporary dance scene, such as Pauline de Groot, Julyen Hamilton, Marc Tompkins, Randy Warshaw, Billy Young, Willy Dorner, Mathew Hawkins, Jude Kaplan, and others.
Poláková has written several publications. So far, she has authored four books – The Freedom of Discovering Dancing (2011, Theatre Institute), The Dynamic Body, Part 1 (2013, Academy of Performing Arts), The Dynamic Body, Part 2 (2015, Academy of Performing Arts), Creative Dance for Children and Youth (2016, BinMotion civic association, co-authored by Markéta Pucová) – and has published regular articles and studies in specialized journals Dance and Tempo. She also conducts continuous and systematic research focused on movement analysis.
She works as an associate professor at the Department of Dance Art of the Faculty of Music and Dance, Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava. Since 1994, she has taught techniques of contemporary dance and improvisation and has helped start a new study discipline – dance theatre and performance.
Marta Poláková heads the initiative of the Platform for Contemporary Dance (PlaST). PlaST is an independent professional organization associating dance artists. It was established in 2016 in Bratislava out of the need to address the issues of contemporary dance in Slovakia. It is systematically trying to institutionalize and support dance art, as well as to create a sustainable infrastructure for Slovak contemporary dance and include dance art in cultural schemes.
Marta Poláková has been inspired by the most progressive tendencies in the global dance environment from the very beginning of her choreographic work. She has always been very sensitive to new trends in choreographic work, whether it was the use of dance partnering techniques and the creative potential of performers, or close collaboration with musical and visual artists when conceiving her dance projects. She has looked for a way of expressing herself through dance movement that could communicate with the audience, sharing with the spectators both abstract and narrative themes.
Her choreographic work is influenced by an ongoing interest in the study of movement based on the integration of the body and mind, as well as improvisation, composition, and voice work. Laban’s study of movement analysis has significantly shaped her approach to dance, creating a prism through which to view both the choreographic work and teaching practice.
Poláková’s poetics of dance expression is based on the symbolism of expressive gestures. She sets this gesture in a compositional structure built on close links between music, visual elements, highly stylized movement, and civil movement elements. She works carefully with detail, whether related to movement or visuals, from which she creates unsettling elements, sources of tension, and the actual meaning-making impulse of the production. Poláková strips intimate themes of their pathetic overtones using her sense of humour as well as her ability to create unexpected and humorous twists and turns in the action on stage.
In her work, Poláková has often dealt with the theme of women, the nooks and crannies of their inner worlds. She has created strong female characters who talk about their doubts, successes and mistakes and do not shy away from witty self-irony. On the stage, she presents women who are subject to emotional outbursts and search for their emancipatory self-assertion. At the same time, she explores women in the roles of mothers and lovers, analysing their mutual friendship, rivalry, even female solidarity. In her choreographies, relationships are always the catalyst for emotions and are multi-layered.
The production Women, which premiered on 13 November 1999 at the Bratislava in Movement festival, brought an end to Poláková’s artistic work for the a dato group. It was a revised version of a previous production whose title foreshadowed its main theme. In the initial version of the production, actress Milka Zimková co-starred with the dancers. In the revised production, only two dancers perform. Marta Poláková and Danuša Hruškovičová probe the female soul in duets and solos. In a gesture, a glance, or a stop they reveal the female soul’s fragility, insecurity and at the same time vitality, determination, and a kind of idealistic verve – a mixture of naivety and pragmatic animalism. Poláková used a minimalist movement principle, dynamically enriching, multiplying, and transforming the chosen material into images full of fragile intimacy and determined self-confidence. The dramaturgical concept of the production was straightforward, regularly alternating duets with solo performances, thus creating a clear structure of images. The images themselves concentrate emotions, with the dancers creating complex intimate statements in their solos.
In her solos, Poláková sensitively revealed the mysterious meanderings of her inner world, protecting its vulnerability. Gestures directed towards the face metamorphosed the ability to express feelings in a pantomimic choreography that became a personal statement. At the same time, the choreographer worked with constraints to express deep and complicated psychological movements. The rhythmic twists and turns in the poetic passages hinted at the presence of paradox in the attempt to share emotional gusts honestly, and she worked with elements of self-stylization within an intimate statement with detachment. Poláková provoked the audience with her apparent vulnerability, instantly transforming refreshing tenderness into explosive sensuality. Hruškovičová’s solo controlled the intensity of her dance performance using an elaborate dynamic of movement and technical solidity. At the pinnacle of her physical shape to perform, she precisely tuned the tension of movement sequences. With the ability to smoothly oscillate between slow movement and fast, technical dance passages, she created a full-bodied and colourful spectrum of emotions. In the other dancers’ performances, they defined the feelings and desires of women in relation to themselves, other women, to their surroundings. The duets present images of solidarity, acceptance of difference, and mutual positive irritation.
The work-in-progress project Performance LAB, which began in 2011 with the choreography by the female trio Shocko, resulted in the production entitled Heat. It premiered on 28 May 2012 in the Studio of the Slovak National Theatre in Bratislava as part of the project “Mondays of Contemporary Dance”.
In the project, Poláková focused on the use of a close connection between the research of movement and artistic creation in the creative process. Three basic themes became the starting point: physical presence, the contrast between the masculine and feminine principle, and the relationship between tradition and contemporary perspectives, expectations, and reality. From their confrontation with each other, humorous as well as dramatic situations arose on stage. Thanks to an exquisite performance team, distinctive characters could be created. The dancers (Magdaléna Čaprdová, Anna Hurajtová, Barbora Janáková, Ladislav Cmorej, Lukáš Homola, Emil Leeger) were typologically so diverse that the director and choreographer had the opportunity to take advantage of their exceptional qualities and portray familiar themes in an original way. The presented summer atmosphere, a kind of sleepy carelessness, grew into urgent dance statements. In the dancing images, the characters become entangled in their relationships with each other, seeking, losing, and finding either themselves, their opposites, or their partners. The technical proficiency of the dancers and their flexibility as actors counteracted the danger of a banal treatment of the themes. In their interpretation, the principle of memory added to the communicative, plausible, and appealing character of the topics of relationships and intimacy. Zuzana Vlašičáková Očenášová brought a strict logic of correspondences to the project through dramaturgical and movement collaboration, gradually layering the internal connections between the individual images of the complex generational status about our lives.
In the first version of the performance, Poláková invited three musicians to collaborate on the production: Miro Tóth, Peter Dan Ferenčík, and Peter Čaputa. In the revised versions, she also contacted Tibor Feledi and Martin Polák. Zuzana Hudeková’s costumes complemented the charming nature of the characters, were distinctive owing to the variety of their colours, and stood out because of the details that symbolically highlighted the characters’ strengths or weaknesses.
Marta Poláková’s last project so far is Endless Shift produced by the Laban Studio. It premiered in the Lab theatre space of the Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts on 18 December 2019. The choreography was created to commemorate the 140th anniversary of Rudolf von Laban’s birth and was inspired by his artistic legacy. The main characters were two beings, two energies, two opposites. They were asexual, neutral, almost identical entities in appearance (masks by Martin Štuller, costumes by Simona Vachálková), initially sharing a common space without conflict. the excellent performances by Silvia Sviteková and Lukáš Bobalík created the illusion of a nearly inhuman perfection. The impossibility of contact gradually turned into strokes without touching hands, through weighting and deflection of the body’s centre of gravity. Subsequently, after the involvement of touch, the scene accelerated into an image of mutual detachment, which finally culminated in a rotational convergence. The touches gradually became manipulative, the contact evolving into a rivalry, an oscillation between the bounce and resting of the touches. The exciting concept of the choreography was supported by sophisticated lighting of the white stage floor (Róbert Polák). The minimalist music by Martin Polák and Tibor Feledi can be described as a sonic basso continuo and forms the framework for the individual images. Thanks to small melodic and rhythmic shifts, the compact musical theme is dynamically transformed in symbiosis with the choreographic material. The melody seems to be made up of movement sequences masterfully interpreted by the dancers.
In this choreography Marta Poláková has abstracted to perfection the paradox of the interplay of contrasts. The escalation of congruence and the ambivalence of attraction and repulsion in the choreography create a rhythmic and dynamic floor plan of the production. The author’s intellectual directorial play is exciting and surprising.
The courage with which Poláková so directly expresses her artistic opinion is typical for her work. She purposely uses themes she is interested in, and implants them into her research to be able to apply them to her artistic projects. Her systematic work with the youngest generation of dance performers helps her infuse her choreographies with timelessness and leaves her artistic opinion open for further discussion.
- 1988 – Relationships and Changes, choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: Academy of Performing Arts Theatre in Reduta, Bratislava
- 1990 – Aspects, a dato, choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: Pavol Országh Hviezdoslav Theatre, Bratislava
- 1990 – Point on the Horizon, a dato, directed by: Jozef Vlk, choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: Ružinov House of Culture, Bratislava
- 1991 – Catch a Fall, a dato, choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: Ružinov House of Culture, Bratislava
- 1992 – A New Project, a dato, choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: M+ Gallery, Bratislava
- 1992 – Something in the Way, a dato, choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: Astorka Korzo ’90 Theatre, Bratislava
- 1993 – The Circle, a dato, choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: Astorka Korzo ’90 Theatre, Bratislava
- 1993 – Fivelines, a dato, choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: Ružinov House of Culture, Bratislava
- 1995 – What I See, What I Hear, a dato, choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: Ružinov House of Culture, Bratislava
- 1996 – Though I Closed Myself as Fingers, a dato, choreography: Marta Poláková, Willi Dorner. Premiere: Kulturhaus, Vienna
- 1997 – Communication Performance Project, a dato, choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: City Culture Centre Školská, Bratislava – Old Town
- 1998 – ♀98, a dato, choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: Space Festival, Artists’ Club in Bratislava (Umelka Gallery), Bratislava
- 1999 – Women, a dato, choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: 19 June 1999, Aréna Theatre, Bratislava
- Women – a dato, choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: 13 November 1999, festival Bratislava in Movement, Aréna Theatre, Bratislava
- 2000 – French Dance Impressions, a dato, choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: House of Culture, Piešťany
- 2001 – The Party, a dato, choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: Bratislava in Movement festival, Aréna Theatre, Bratislava
- 2001 – Rooms, Dance Studio Theatre, choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: Dance Studio Theatre, Banská Bystrica
- 2001 – Together – a dato, choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: Bratislava in Movement Festival, Aréna Theatre, Bratislava
- 2002 – Body Thoughts, a dato, choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: Contemporary Dance Scene, Courtyard of the Academy of Performing Arts, Bratislava
- 2002 – (e)motions – a dato, choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: Aréna Theatre, Bratislava
- 2003 – Not Only the Body, Dajv, choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: Bratislava in Movement Festival, Aréna Theatre, Bratislava (the production also included the choreography Body Thoughts)
- 2004 – Bond, Dajv, choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: Bratislava in Movement Festival, Aréna Theatre, Bratislava
- 2005 – Stroke, Dajv, choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: Ružinov House of Culture, Bratislava
- 2006 – Spontaneously Incompatible, Dajv, choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: 4 Days of Dance for You festival, Dance Studio Theatre, Banská Bystrica
- 2007 – manual-sucasnytanec.sk, educational art project for secondary schools, Dajv, conceived by: Marta Poláková. Premiere: Slovak Radio, Bratislava
- 2007 – Spontaneously Incompatible – revised version, Dajv, choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: Contemporary Dance under the Pyramid project, Slovak Radio, Bratislava
- 2008 – To the Full, Dajv, choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: 4 Days of Dance for You festival, Dance Studio Theatre, Banská Bystrica
- 2009 – A Smooth Edge, L.A.B., choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: P. O. Hviezdoslav City Theatre, Bratislava
- 2011 – Shocko, L.A.B., choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: Lab Theatre of the Theatre Faculty, Academy of Performing Arts, Bratislava
- 2012 – Heat, L.A.B., choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: LabanFest, Studio of the Slovak National Theatre, Bratislava
- 2013 – SOLO – Endings/Beginnings, L.A.B., choreography: Marta Poláková, Premiere: Studio of the Slovak National Theatre, Bratislava
- 2015 – Emotional Understanding, L.A.B., mimoos, choreography: Marta Poláková, Yuri Korec, Peter Šavel, directed by: Tomáš Prochádzka. Premiere: URBAN HOUSE, Bratislava
- 2016 – Dance Lesson, L.A.B., choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: Dance Studio, Studio of the Slovak National Theatre, Bratislava
- 2017 – sUPPORt, L.A.B., choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: Ifjú Szivek Dance Theatre, Bratislava
- 2018 – Feeling the (In)visible, site-specific project, Faculty of Music and Theatre, Academy of Performing Arts and L.A.B., conceived by: Marta Poláková. Premiere: the park on Svoradova street in Bratislava
- 2019 – Earth, HTF VŠMU a L.A.B., choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: Lab Theatre of the Theatre Faculty, Academy of Performing Arts, Bratislava
- 2019 – Endless Shift, L.A.B., choreography: Marta Poláková. Premiere: Lab Theatre of the Theatre Faculty, Academy of Performing Arts, Bratislava