A farewell to the maestro
On Thursday, September 17th, the ensemble Mazowsze accompanied Witold Zapała on his last journey. He was the ensemble's long-time choreographer, instructor, and co-author.
The funeral ceremony began at high noon at the church in Otrębusy. It was a state ceremony, with a military honor guard. However, it began in a personal, Mazowsze style – with the song „Dwa serduszka” [“Two Little Hearts”], Witold Zapała's favorite song form Mazowsze's repertoire. The service was celebrated by the Otrębusy parish priest, Prelate Bolesław Bolek, with the musical framing by Mazowsze.
It was very moving to look at the maestro's casket, with an honor guard from the members of the Representative Honor Guard Company of the Polish Armed Forces, but also from the members of Mazowsze's ballet, who were instructed by Witold Zapała. For many of them, it was an exceptionally emotional moment, because Witold Zapała had personally chosen them out of many, shaped them artistically, and brought them up.
Witold Zapała was posthumously awarded one of the highest Polish state decorations by the President of Poland Andrzej Duda. He received the Order of Polonia Restituta Second Class (The Commander's Cross with Star). On behalf of the Polish President, Andrzej Duda, the order was presented to the members of the family of the deceased by Professor Andrzej Waśko, a presidential advisor.
Wanda Zwinogrodzka, the State Secretary in the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, spoke on behalf of Piotr Gliński, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Culture and National Heritage: “Virtually all Witold Zapała's artistic life was connected with Mazowsze. He carried on the ideas of Tadeusz Sygietyński and Mira Zimińska-Sygietyńska. He was the instructor of several generations of dancers, whom he instilled with a love of Polish folklore, thanks to his unique charisma.”
Magdalena Biernacka, the deputy director of the Department of Culture, Promotion, and Tourism at the Office of the Marshal of Mazowsze Region, also talked about Witold Zapała's exceptional contibution to Mazowsze.
The last speech in church was delivered by Krzysztof Szuster, the president of ZASP [Polish Stage Artists Association]. In a private, personal address to the late Witold Zapała, he spoke about his great talent and love of dancing.
The people present at the funeral focused on prayer, listening to some sacred musical pieces, especially prepared for the occasion, and presented by Mazowsze's choir and orchestra. Apart from Mazowsze employees and the official state delegations present at the funeral, there were also members of fellow folk ensembles, the Institute of Music and Dance, ballet schools and music academies. There were representatives of artistic circles and Polish communities abroad, members of local governments, as well as former Mazowsze members, i.e. all those who for over seventy years had created the ensemble, and for whom Witold Zapała had been the boss, teacher, and guide across Polish cuture. When the late maestro's casket was leaving the church, there was thunderous applause. This is how the people taking part in the funeral paid homage to the greatly talented choreographer and artist.
“In his life, Dad loved two things – his family and Mazowsze,” said Daniel Zapała, Witold's son, during the funeral. The love for Mazowsze was obvious to anyone who had ever met Witold Zapała. He loved not only the ensemble, but also the headquarters – the palace of Karolin. This was where he felt the best; this was where, even though he worked hard, he rested and replenished his energies. It would be hard to imagine for him to leave the place for ever, without a farewell. That is why, after the church service, but prior to the celebration at the cemetery, the casket was taken to the park of Karolin, accompanied by Mazowsze's management. There, for the last time Witold Zapała was in front of the Karolin palace – the place where he had spent sixty years of his life. It was a very personal, emotional farewell.
The funeral celebration at the cemetery, assisted by the Representative Honor Guard Company of the Polish Armed Forces, undoubtedly proved that Witold Zapała was an exceptional person. The two rows of Mazowsze members, dressed in colorful costumes, which were of special importance for the maestro in his choreographic sketches on stage, seemed neverending.
At the cemetery, Jacek Boniecki, the director of Mazowsze, spoke on behalf of the whole ensemble. He expressed his thanks to Witold Zapała for everything he had done for Mazowsze and Polish culture, and he assured him of their eternal memory. The son of Witold Zapała also gave a speech, in which, in a very personal account, he showed his father as totally devoted to his work and family, in whose life there was no place for anything else but those passions.
After the funeral rites at the cemetery, Witold Zapała's tomb was drowning in flowers, and in the air there were the subtle tones of “Bandoska” [“A Working Girl”] sung by Mazowsze. Each of the ensemble's members bade a personal farewell to the remarkable choreographer – each of them paused at the grave for a moment and placed a white rose on it.
Photography by Piotr Pasieczny/PHOTOBUENO