Mira Zimińska-Sygietyńska was born as Marianna de domo Burzyńska on February 22, 1901 in Płock. She was only one and a half years old when she appeared on stage for the first time. Her parents, the employees of the Płock City Theater, “rented” her to a visiting Ukrainian actors’ troupe, who needed a crying baby for their show. She demanded to be called Mira – the name of a princess from one of her favorite books. She grew up in the theater, dreaming of an actress’ career.
When she was seven, she played the role of Stasia in Gabriela Zapolska’s Ich czworo [The Four of Them]. Then she was given other children’s roles, for example in Dziady [Forefathers’ Eve] and Wesele [The Wedding]. At seventeen she was officially employed in the theater. For a year, she only acted in vaudeville and comedies. She moved to Radom. Then she was noticed by one of the Qui Pro Quo owners from Warsaw, which was the most popular cabaret theater in Poland at the time. There she perfected her acting, vocal, and dance skills. The revue Hallo! ciotka! [Hello! Auntie!], in which she was the host, was the turning point in her career. She won over the audience with her quick wit, vigor, and grace.
The second half of the 1920s marked her development in the repertoire of comedy, parody, and theater of the grotesque. At that time she promoted many hits, e.g. “Pokoik na Hożej” [“A Little Room at Hoża Street”], “Taka mała” [“So Small”], “We dwoje” [“The Two of Us”] and “Nikt, tylko ty” [“No One But You”], authored by Tuwim and Hemar. She had an ability of turning them into little theatrical plays. She surprised people with her versatility. She was a successful actress both on film and in dramatic theater, and the editor of the satirical column “Duby smalone” [“Hogwash”] in the morning paper Kurier Poranny. Mira was known for her extravagance and bohemian lifestyle: She was friends with the members of the Skamander group of poets, and posed nude for the artist Witkacy. That’s what she was like at that time.
However, she wanted more. Soon, she was on stage in Warsaw, for example in Moralność pani Dulskiej [The Morality of Mrs. Dulska], Panna Maliczewska [Miss Maliczewska] as well as in
W małym domku [In the Little House] and Chory z urojenia [The Imaginary Invalid, orig. Le malade imaginaire]. She quickly earned the audiences’ and the critics’ praise.
Her film debut took place in the silent movie era. She excelled in comedy roles, in movies like Ada! To nie wypada! [Ada! That’s Inappropriate!], Papa się żeni [Papa’s Getting Married], Manewry miłosne [Romantic Maneuvers].
After the war, she wanted to go back to acting and cabaret. But her companion, a folklore lover and composer she often performed with, Tadeusz Sygietyński asked for her help with setting up a folk ensemble. That is how Mazowsze was created in 1948.
After Tadeusz’s death in 1955, she took over director’s duties for Mazowsze. The ensemble became the love of her life, only second to cabaret, as she recounts in one of her books. Throughout her life, she never lost her energy, humor, and passion for her work. Fully devoted to Mazowsze, she didn’t even want to hear about retiring. She had 2,430 days of long-overdue leave that she never used. Her artistic success was confirmed by numerous decorations and awards. Some of the last ones she received were the Order of the White Eagle and the honorary title of Woman of the Century, awarded by Polish Radio for the first time.
She died on January 26, 1997 in Warsaw.
“You need to love what you do, otherwise life loses its meaning,” she used to say. She was one of those lucky people whom fate had given everything – an uncommon talent, a powerful personality, remarkable intelligence, creative passion, and persistence to work towards the chosen objective. The power that regulated the flow of her life, her primary objective, was art.” (Bogusław Kaczyński)
“She was an important figure, because her personality exerted a huge influence on everything. She had a strong character, she was very demanding, but she very well knew what she wanted and where she was heading.” (Irena Santor)
“At last we could see Polish folk dance not in its primitive crude form, but intricately stylized, with the emphasis on the important features of Polish dance and folk songs – their liveliness, humor, thoughtfulness, and their poetic charm, which emanate also from Chopin’s mazurkas and Mickiewicz’s ballads.” (Leon Schiller)
“She managed the ensemble practically to the last moment. With them, she saw almost the whole world, during their three thousand performances abroad. She brought renown to the name of Poland. She was not only a cabaret star, a singer and an actress, but also “The Lady of Mazowsze”, as people called her. She was remarkably hard-working, ambitious, and demanding, both towards herself as well as towards others. Nothing was impossible for her.” (Witold Sadowy)
With a folk song, combined with an expressive dance routine, Mazowsze has won over audiences’ emotions. People clap to the rhythm of the music, which is the sign of an emotional bond between the performers and the audience.