For the fifteenth time, the Tanec Praha festival is back in full swing in the Czech capital, featuring foreign dance companies from eight countries and numerous choreographies from local dancers. In the space of eleven days, Czechs will be able to see the best of the best in contemporary dance not just in Prague but also in the Moravian city of Brno and the Bohemian town of Most. And, for the first time in its history, the festival is accompanied by a projection of dance movies at the French Institute in Prague.
"Well, we are very happy to welcome the Geneva Ballet to Prague. It is such a good company and the level of dancers is really incredible. Both choreographies that we are presenting are so strong that there is no doubt about success. We are happy to have much more Czech dance involved in the festival. The new, modern repertoire of the Czech Chamber Ballet is on the same wonderful level and it's showing the way how to rebuild a neo-classical company in a contemporary way. I have to say that for me, Saturday's performance, which is done by three young Czech choreographer ladies, is the strongest because it's the most innovative work that we can see right now in the Czech Republic."
One of Prague's rising stars presenting her work on Saturday is Vera Ondrasikova, whose new piece "Place of Dead Waters" is all about solitude and confinement:
"It's a quartet with two women and two men. The choreography is built around and works with the space and the lighting. David Hysek's music allows the people in the audience let their fantasies run wild. Nevertheless, the main idea is about confinement. When a person is stuck in a place out of which there is no where out... nowhere to go. Everything takes place in one big square, which in twenty minutes gets smaller and smaller, putting more and more pressure on the person in it."
Vera Ondrasíkova studies choreography at the dance department of the Prague Academy of Performing Arts (HAMU), from which she graduates this year. She has worked with renowned international names such as Tommi Kitti, Istvan Juhos, Claude Brumachon, and others at workshops. She has danced in works by several well-established Czech choreographers and appears as a guest dancer in the Prague Chamber Ballet (PKB), which also performs at Tanec Praha. The Prague based company has grown to develop into an exponent of Czech contemporary dance art since its foundation in 1975:
"My name is Tomas Rychetsky and next to me is David Stransky. We are young choreographers from the Prague Chamber Ballet. The Prague Chamber Ballet is no classical ballet. It's maybe neo-classical but three or four years ago we introduced very modern pieces to our repertoire so our ballet is completely modern now. We try to have our own style but we are also influenced by Czech choreographers such as Petr Zuzka from the National Theatre, Czech choreographer Libor Vaculik, choreographers from foreign countries, Jiri Kilian and so on. We tried to have our own style but now it is impossible because everything was already invented and created. Today, we have a premier of our ballet called Positive. It's about AIDS. We didn't want to scare anybody but just wanted to say that the problem is here and that it doesn't get enough attention here in the Czech Republic. There are three men and one girl and it's about life between man and woman, two men, and two men with a girl. There are relationships to show how AIDS spreads. It is not a topic that is taboo in the Czech Republic. It is not a problem that people don't want to speak about. But three years ago, the topic was raised everywhere and there where even concerts. But now, we chose this theme because we think that people don't speak about it, make no concerts, productions, or performances."
As has become tradition, Tanec Praha is not just a showcase of contemporary dance ensembles. Yvonna Kreuzmannova invites those who are really interested to workshops with renowned and very talented foreign choreographers. But, she points out, despite its growing popularity and enourmous contribution to the development of the dance scene in the Czech Republic, Tanec Praha continues to face one big problem - the lack of finances:
"Well, the workshops are an important part of the festival because the Czech dance community wants to work with these foreign artists and this is just a short experience, they can come for two or three hours, and see how the choreographers lead the master class, for example. But even if it is so short, it gives them a clear feel about whether or not they would love to be in the company. That is the experience they need. It happens very often that the dancers from the workshops come to the auditions to the companies they liked. And they are very often successful. That's why we have so many dancers abroad. The other part of the workshop is that when they are really inspired, the artist from abroad and the Czech artist, and wish to do more together, we try to make them come back and make an artistic residence here in Prague to create a new piece for Czech dancers or just to be here for two weeks and give them more. This is an incredibly strong impact of dance from abroad."
Have dance companies who have performed at Tanec Praha in the past contacted you again?
"I have to say that all artists who came here to this space are so touched and tell me 'wow, we want to work here. Can we realise our next project here?' Everybody is asking to work in this space. I think that's the result of very basic work that we've done with the architect. I travelled a lot through Europe, looking at different spaces, and telling her about good and bad things and good and bad feelings too. I didn't want to build another black-box in Prague. I just wanted a theatre which is very special with very positive things in the air. It's something special. It's Genius Loci. From my point of view, it's not about the attractiveness of Prague as a city only but it's also about this atmosphere. They feel that Europe is moving east and dance is very much moving in this direction. Of course, the freshness and the point of view which is absolutely different from people from Western Europe are changing their mind. It's very inspiring as well. But regarding the financial conditions for inviting companies, it's the same hard work as it was before."
Financing! You've mentioned that it wasn't until the tenth of June that you actually knew you were going to get the money necessary for the festival to continue...
"When you don't know on the first day of the festival whether you got the money or not, it's extremely hard. I was thinking that if we will not get enough money, we will have to cancel some of the last performances. It would be very hard for us because they would be the companies that are travelling through Eastern Europe under a contract. They can't just have a gap in their tour. It would be extremely difficult, especially for Granhoj Dans [Denmark] and Skalen [France] because they are going to Poland and Slovakia. So it would give us a bad reputation, not only the festival but also the Czech Republic."
Tanec Praha's Yvonna Kreuzmannova. Those of you who are interested in seeing a Tanec Praha performance, can get more information from the Tanec Praha website at www.tanecpha.cz or call the Ponec Theatre in Prague at 222 721 531.
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