This January, a number of theater and dance troupes from the Czech Republic participated in an annual international APAP performing arts festival in New York City. The Czech Centre in New York hosted all of the Czech performances this year, for the second year in a row, at their Bohemian Hall space in Manhattan. In this week’s Arts, we spoke to the director of the Czech Centre in New York, Pavla Niklová, about organizing the performances for APAP, how some of the pieces resonated with a New York audience, and what Czech theater companies can bring to the American theatre capital. Ms Niklová first described what the APAP festival entails.
“It is both a marketplace and a conference. It’s organized by the associations of the presenters of performing arts and they meet once a year. It includes a lot of different presenters, who show their materials and offer their work, but it also includes a lot of theater showcases. This year there were around 1,000 of them. Apart from that there are different sessions, seminars. Both last and this year the Czechs had a chance to present their new work.”
How was the Czech Centre involved in the organization or artistic side of the presentations of Czech performers?
“The role of the Czech Centres was substantial. We participated in APAP for the first time three years ago, when we had a booth there. And this year we decided to organize our own show case for the first time. Many of the other showcases were very simple – artists just got a space, no special lighting, no costumes, they have ten minutes to show their performance, then five minutes for discussion and then the next company is up.
“So, we try to be more friendly, and put in a lot of work on a showcase that presented six different companies in one day. I believe it worked out very well. The visitors, the experts and the performers appreciated it.”
“All the performances were very well received and it would be difficult to say that one of them received greater praise than the others. The Drak, or Dragon, theater (from Hradec Králové) took place in the morning and it was the only company that had a full show. There were many children in the audience. In the afternoon there were two dance performances by 420PEOPLE and Lenka Vágnerová’s company. Then two theater companies - Miřenka Čechová and Tantehorse and the Archa Theater. And at the end we presented an extract from the opera Der Kaiser von Atlantis that the Czech Center in New York co-produced with some local partners.”
The Archa Theatre brought to New York their performance Solo for Lu. It is an immigrant story, and is somewhat unusual for the Czech Republic. But obviously the topic of immigration is nothing new in the United States. Did you get a sense of how this piece for received in the context of New York?
“I think it is a beautiful performance. I think in a way [the topic] can resonate more here than in the Czech Republic. Of course, there are a lot of people in New York that come from all different parts of the world. But new people are also still coming. So immigration is a part of life, but there are a lot of people who still have to deal with problems connected with it. So, I think the performance fit [into this context] very well.”
Outside of the APAP festival, how often does the Czech Centre in New York host performers from the Czech Republic?
“We hardly host any companies. Theater and performing arts is the hardest is the most difficult area of arts to transport and to present. It’s partly because of the language barrier, it’s the money – when you especially have bigger companies it’s very difficult – but also it is because of the work visas. The United States don’t have a very welcoming policy for European performers. Actually the APAP organizers work with authorities to improve this. This situation is actually one of the reasons why the Czech Centre decided to participate in APAP, since it is otherwise very difficult to present Czech companies here.”
And New York is obviously a very theatrical city. What do you think that modern Czech theater can bring to this city?
“New York is probably the most competitive place for theater and performing arts. So in order to succeed in this area in New York, you have to be very professional, you have to be versatile. The actors here go through many auditions, so it’s very difficult. I honestly can’t think of one specific feature of Czech theater that would be new here.
“Marionettes, or puppet theater, is associated with the Czech Republic. It is definitely the one thing that when you mention it here, people respond to it and sometimes know the history and the tradition behind it. But I think that in terms of contemporary theater, I think that people need to travel and become part of international companies [to become known].”