Yasen Vasilev looks back at three days of dance
Contemporary dance in Czechia really only started to develop as a genre in the late 1980s. Today, the scene is as varied as anywhere, especially in Prague, where the country’s core dance community is based. Those artists have also built a superb reputation for quality choreography and performances across Europe. The Czech Dance Showcase is always a highlight of the Edinburgh Fringe, for example.
Organised annually by Tanec Praha, Czech Dance Platform presents the best of the local contemporary dance scene to a large group of international programmers, and an impressive and intimidating international jury (which this year included the directors of Operaestate festival, Julidans, Lithuanian Dance Information Center, Dansens Hus Oslo and Dance Biennale Lyon), who select the best shows eligible for awards.
Czech Dance Platform is about more than what happens on stage, however. It also organises a series of roundtables, discussions and brunches under the title The art of dialogue, while this year, for the first time and in partnership with Springback magazine and noted Czech dance critic Nina Vangeli, a critical writing workshop was offered for emerging local dance critics.
The 2021 edition included 14 productions (combining the current edition of the platform with the cancelled one from 2020) over three days, in literally all venues for contemporary independent performing arts in Prague.
The performance highlights
The word robot (coming from robota, literally work) entered the English language exactly a century ago through a Czech writer Karel Čapek’s sci-fiplay, RUR (Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti; Rossum’s Universal Robots in English). And who is useless now?, by Czech director Ondřej Holba, is a piece for one human performer and several robots and is somehow a smart continuation of this theatrical tradition of science fiction with a contemporary twist as, a century later, our lives resemble the dystopian fiction we used to read as we imagined the future.
Despite addressing tough questions about human jobs made obsolete by machines, the piece remains entertaining yet smart, light-hearted yet deep. It draws on dance and mime, and object and puppet theatre. French performer Florent Golfier’s presence is light, funny and engaging without trespassing the boundaries of good taste or going too far with audience interaction (unlike another show on the platform). The show is both humorous and intelligent and would be a good fit in many programmes, while successfully working for both adult and young audiences.
Two women dressed in male suits, both attractive and menacing, androgynous and ambiguous, their gestures in perfect synchronization as they go slowly from precise minimal movement to explosive energy-consuming dance. Opening the platform, The Lion’s Den wasone of two pieces shown by the charismatic dancer-maker duo of Sabina Bočková and Johana Pocková, their brand-new work Treatment of Remembering, which wonboth the audience and the jury awards, later drawing the performances to a close.
Both works are now also Aerowaves selected productions. Bočková and Pocková impress with their in-depth research, visionary stage translation of ideas and movement material that unravels smoothly, easily, and with a great sense of pace, rhythm, dramaturgy and composition.
The Lion’s Den is based on research into the public performance of politicians and media personalities, while Treatment of Remembering presents a dystopian take on the ecological crisis, both offering a commentary on our increasingly disturbing reality through the medium of dance. The works have the potential to tour as a black box production (the brilliant light and sound design was of a magnitude missing in most other productions of the platform), and as a slow-tour community engagement project through workshops and open classes.
Bočková and Pocková are not afraid to step off the stage and present the material outdoors in schools, parks, public squares and streets, so it’s not surprising that their work is equally effective without the support of theatrical machinery. Both choreographies also seem like a prelude to bigger work, which unfortunately, given the working conditions and career paths for emerging artists, is rarely possible even when the potential is obviously there.
The hard questions
In Generation X, choreographer Michal Záhora and dramaturg Tereza Krčálová set out together on the ambitious task of addressing the story of a generation that lived in under both socialism and capitalism within the movements of a single body.
Through fieldwork research and interviews, they worked initially with a sociologist who used to open the show with a performance lecture, the idea being to engage audiences not familiar with dance by offering them a framework whereby they could read the work as connected to their own lives and experience. This element was omitted at the Platform, no doubt because the makers presumed the professional audience was already interested in dance and didn’t need any backstory or frame.
However, despite Helena Arenbergerová’s technically skilled delivery and really good performance, the social and political commentary often failed to materialize within the actual movement, or when it did, it was sort of literal or illustrative (the dancer being pulled from behind, as if struggling with an invisible enemy). To me, the disconnection between publicity material and movement practice actually risks alienating the audience. Also, doesn’t dance have value in itself as an abstract pure form? And can this form itself be political, too? Politics probably shouldn’t be used only to advocate its existence or trick audiences to think of its relevance but it surely can be a motivator for movement research which develops the language of the dance form to address our very complicated contemporary world.
T.I.T.S. is a performing arts collective educated and formed at the Norwegian Theatre Academy in Fredrikstad, a school noted for its experimental approach and focus on scenography, performance and expanded theatre. Their piece, Tumor: Carcinogenic Romance, approaches the topic of cancer in a punkish and intentionally disorganized way.
Whether performers Nela H. Konetová and Jaro Viňarsky jump around, sing karaoke, dance with a piece of fried chicken that ends in their mouth and all over the stage (yes, they really did that), they do it to the extreme and impress as fully invested performers. While the work tries to break taboos and open up new space for dialogue beyond fear, pity and compassion, it also brings up a sensitive topic they have no personal lived experience of, and so their intentions can easily be misunderstood. The fact the piece went into endless scattered and sometimes unfinished directions doesn’t help. It seemed like they wanted to include all their ideas, some of them only very loosely related to the topic. They say it is the first step of a trilogy that wants to address hard questions. Maybe more research and less stage material will help make their points clearer.
Duets by Temporary Collective is an important work not only because people say it’s the first of its kind in the Czech context, but because it raises difficult questions, not so much of aesthetics, but of ethical issues.
The concept is quite clear: the abled authors invite people of different abilities they’ve never met before in a workshop format to explore and develop simple duets. How do we meet physically and approach one another and our differences? How do we read, react and respond to other people’s delicate emotional presence?
Using material and inspiration from performance art, social practice, and the work of Jérôme Bel, Temporary Collective opens up a dialogue on issues that have long been swept under the carpet, though I’m unconvinced how introspective the author duo were while making the piece.
Many questions remained for me after the show. Do we need our identity labels and minority boxes to gain visibility? Does visibility always mean power and emancipation or it could be a tool for exploitation and control? Can we use stereotypes and still be progressive? Can we ask a body to represent a whole community it never chose to be part of? Who has the right to use certain bodies for their own work? Who benefits from the work? If some bodies are excluded from the stages, how do we make sure they have the access to a career, and not only to representation? If we really want to address the structures of power, should we start by our own privileges as makers? How do we empower others? What is difference between being given space and claiming space?
The next 28th Czech Dance Platform is scheduled for April 24-26, 2022. Dance professionals can register between Dec 20 and March 31. Visit tanecniplatforma.cz for details and more information when available.