With Filip Barankiewicz about his first season in Prague

With Filip Barankiewicz about his first season in Prague

With Filip Barankiewicz about his first season in Prague

We met just a few days before the 2017/2018 season was over. The artistic director of the National Theatre ballet company came in a big hurry right from the ballet studio where the soloists were preparing for the last La fille mal gardée of the season. “I had to give some more corrections, because some things happened the last performance and I didn’t have time in the studio to really go through them,” Filip started explaining while walking across his office still full of energy as if he wanted to start dancing. His enthusiasm was visible and I started to ask myself: how many different roles he actually plays in his company? Moreover, how is he able to manage?

Is it common that you, as an artistic director, also attend or lead rehearsals? Or is it just the case with La fille which is a piece you actually danced in? I do believe that ballet director should not be just a figure who is sitting in the office and managing the company, but the dancers should have personal treat from him. This personal treat is not just because of La fille mal gardée, I also teach classes, because I believe they need to know about my vision, what I do want from them, and I need to do it personally. Only one year passed, only one season and I think dancers need to directly feel and understand what I am looking for. When rehearsing The Rite of Spring or the Balanchine premiere, all those things I brought in the repertory, I was there all the time in the studio with them.  

Do you enjoy teaching dancers? I love teaching. I planned to teach at least one or two classes a week, but you know, it´s a dream. But when I manage I am happy, because the dancers get to know me and they also need to feel that I care for them.

How many things have changed in the company since you came? The organisation has changed, the whole season is better planned beforehand. I discussed every single performance and every single cast with the ballet masters in advance, so basically now we already know what will happen in the following half year. I think that it´s the organisation that was needed, because they did not even have weekly schedule, they had only been working from day to day. When they performed for example La Bayadère this season, it was a different Bayadère. I had also Javier (Torres) stepping in, having the choreographer work with them again was very important.

One of the biggest problems, I guess, was that they had to switch between totally different techniques too often, some of them even said themselves that they knew they were not performing their best. How do you deal with this issue? This was the discussion before we scheduled the whole season. We had to figure out what is possible to connect. When going from contemporary to classical, sometimes it is possible, for example we had the chance to see it now – to see Tremble one night before La fille mal gardée. Both of the performances were fantastic. I am aware that sometimes it is not possible to rehearse certain choreographies at the same time. But today, in a 21st century company, you are expected to be able to do all the repertory.

Are you satisfied with your first season? I am extremely satisfied. I never thought that I would feel like this at the end of the first season. Because the company delivered extraordinary work. With 13 titles and more than 120 performances with almost 100 000 visitors and with the selling over 95 % I think they delivered great work, I would even say effortlessly. They switch from edgy contemporary work to really classical titles with such an elan I feel it when I see them perform. It´s true, it´s not that they are artificial and just putting smile on their faces. I think they enjoy it.

And how about your dramaturgic vision for the company? You seem to be classical-oriented? I think I will always keep classical ballets in the repertory because for me classical repertory is our base. Without having that base, we cannot raise our quality of performing. And I don’t believe that perfect or very good contemporary dancers can be only good at contemporary styles. On the contrary, I think they can only be contemporary dancers if they also can do classical repertory. Because the progress is involved in both directions. If you are good at classic, you can perform William Forsythe, because that´s where the base is. So the repertory will go in two directions. This season I brought Balanchine, because I wanted to push the girls to move faster. And I also really wanted to bring La fille mal gardeé. It´s like a first step towards a real classical style. Than from there on, we can move into next seasons.

Which classical ballet will be the highlight of the next season? We will have Swan Lake, though it´s a challenge to bring it to a place where you already had 13 different productions. It may be criticised but I am not worried about it. We will introduce the version of marvellous choreographer John Cranko. It has never been permitted to be staged outside of Stuttgart so far. The next big company to stage it will be Canadian National Ballet. We feel overwhelmed that we have this chance.

What is characteristic for Cranko’s version? This version is very simple, simple and beautiful at the same time. That´s what Cranko is, he´s very pure, you can see his signature in the dramaturgy, which is so readable, you don´t need to explain the spectator anything. For example in the first act, where girls are dancing polka, they are not on pointe. When they really need to be on pointe, to really look classical, they do, that´s in the 2nd and 4thact, but what else happens is just telling a story. I think it is a marvellous example of storytelling.

How did you manage to bring such an expensive production? I think that the company deserves it and that´s it. You have to prioritise goals. What I have seen so far, they are such good dancers with certain qualities I want them to explore more. Certain ballets have never been seen here yet. I didn´t understand why you didn´t have Sir Ashton’s work here. From my point of view, it´s something you need to have, it´s a treasury of the tradition. But not only I would push the classical repertory, I will always keep one premiere being classical, the rest will be developing in different directions for sure.

You are also bringing Jiří Kylán, who is a “modern classic”. Jiří Kylián is really a mentor of choreographers of international names, a star choreographer, who created more that hundred different modern choreographies, he´s such an artist! It´s pity that he does not create any more. I personally have experienced dancing in his ballets in the past. It´s something that will push you, because he is so sensitive... And the speciality of Jiří Kylián, I don’t know if you noticed it, is that in all his ballets you have always a relationship between female and male. Even if there is no storyline or it is abstract, it already is a story, when you have a relationship between woman and man on the stage. It is beautiful. Strange thing is that John Neumeier, Jiří Kylián, William Forsythe, they all spent certain time during their life in Stuttgart. It is amazing, how John Cranko helped the others, how generous he was to mentor those young artists to become choreographers. I think it means something.

How about young Czech dancers, is someone joining the company? We have one member coming next season. But unfortunately, I couldn´t find more than one girl in the conservatory. In general, ten new members are joining and about six leaving, it will all be announced publicly at the beginning of the new season.

People sometime ask and they sure will keep asking about it: why can´t be more young Czech dancers employed in the company?

Well, there is no extra treatment for anybody, if there is an audition, everyone is welcome and of course, students of the school are coming too. The thing is following: when I choose dancers for the future seasons, I need to be aware that I already have a bunch of people who are in the company so I am only collecting in order to match the quality. Their background is a mixture of French school, Italian school or another style, I don´t look at the passport. I feel myself multicultural: having a Polish passport and living in Germany for more than twenty years and looking in European standard, that´s what it is. In Stuttgart we had only two German dancers, the company was all international. I think being an artist is who you are. It does not matter where you come from. I would appreciate it, of course, if more Czech dancers could join. You have many fabulous dancers like Daria Klimentová, Jiří and Otto Bubeníček, Jiří Jelínek, Barbora Kohoutková, many dancers that made the career. But consider this: they´ve made their career abroad.  

Some dancers have re-joined the company, right? Kristýna Němečková joined back after having experience in Frankfurt, Adam Zvonař and Radka Příhodová came back after a few years in Munich and I am very happy to have them here in the Czech National Ballet.
Can you name the main problem? It´s the schooling. It happens in Warsaw as well, the school there actually does not produce dancers. They have to come from abroad. I think I´ve been working for too long not only in German company but in many different theatres, countries, I have the experience in teaching in different companies, I see what is happening around. Throughout the experience of working in Polish National Ballet, in Santiago, Chile, in Norwegian National Ballet, Finnish National Ballet, Swedish National Ballet, in Korean National Ballet of National ballet of Canada, you see possibilities; you see how companies develop. It´s up to the dancers as well. Whether they accept my opinion and want to change something. And it happens, in fact, I am grateful for that, because some dancers in the company changed their way of approach to work. Only few comments, only few conversations and I have convinced them. I don´t want to say it is a fault of the director. Jaroslav Slavický has produced many good names and there are many members of the company who have finished the conservatory. Sometimes it´s a wave of talents and some years are weaker. On the other side, I think it is in the teaching. If you have life contract as teacher, it cannot lead to any good.
Would you like to teach or lead a dance school yourself? I am not going to be a director of a school because I don´t have time for it. I have already had offer from John Cranko school as a pedagogue and I refused. I like educating people in the theatre, mature dancers, because I don´t have to go back to zero. I love my children and I love children in general, but I think the system is not right – you may have two or three years to try to influence them, and it´s not enough. I think as a dance or ballet teacher, you should be able to lead them from the beginning until they graduate. In some schools, it already happens. You have to have the chance to lead them the completely full period of the schooling. Every single ballet school, as a system, be it Russian, French or Italian, has something special and it´s in the way of adapting that leads to results. Is the school and the director open-minded and takes all the good things from outside? That´s the question.
What kind of personalities are you looking for? Looking for young talents, I always ask: Are they musical? Are they intelligent? Are they following? Are they hungry? That´s probably the most important. If they are hungry for new work and development, they are going to enjoy it because whatever you give them to work on, they´re going to make it happen.
You said you are satisfied with the season, but still – were there some problems that you didn´t expect you would have to face?
I´ve been running around the theatres, probably taking the position of the technical director. It´s not my job, but I had to explain my expectations to the technical staff. I think that primary stage should look like a primary stage. If you have portals that are falling apart, wings that are crooked or stage is not in the right perspective… The dancers deserve it. Because we invest so much work in the ballet studio, we make sure that the dancers are in the right places, perfect. Or close to perfection. I don’t believe that there is perfection actually, human nature always turns into something unique, which is right in this profession, but we are pushing the dancers every single day with kind of army routine to do great performances. And my expectations are that stage is prepared exactly the same way as we are.
And the reality? The reality is as it is. I’m fighting… well I’m not fighting but I’m going there, I’m every single day behind their back, before the performance begins, after the performance, with my corrections. I am very quiet person, so I say it in very educative way. I must say they listen. In the historical building it took a while but they understand. I´m satisfied, it took some effort and it takes a lot of time and energy to put into, but I thing their understanding is there. Let´s see how it goes on. The crew at the New Stage has also developed. I must say that for the Slavic Temper, the stage was totally different from what I first saw when I arrived. Finally, we had dancing floor that looked clean and straight without any waves, we have portals that were repaired, we almost managed to fix the curtain. They are also nice people and I think that they managed to divide duties, because that´s the thing. I know from my own experience that every single person has their own responsibilities. If they are aware about their responsibilities, there is no problem. But sometimes you need to make sure that they are. It may take longer time, but it works. So I think it´s a success.
Filip Barankiewicz was born in Warsaw, Poland. In 1986 he began his ballet education at the National Ballet School in his hometown. In 1991, he received the Vaslav Nijinsky Medal. Following his graduation in 1995, and won first prize at the National Ballet Competition in Poland. He was a finalist at the Eurovision Young Dancers Competition in Lausanne. At the Académie de Dance Classique in Monte Carlo leaded by Marika Besobrasova, he received a scholarship from the Rudolf Nureyev Foundation and continued study until 1996.That year, Filip Barankiewicz joined the Stuttgart Ballet, where in 2000 he was promoted to demi-soloist, to soloist in 2001, and a year later a principal dancer. Filip Barankiewicz joins the Stuttgart Ballet on tours all around the world. From 2003 he has repeatedly been a guest principal dancer at the Czech National Ballet in Prague. He portrayed the lead roles in John Cranko’s Swan Lake, Onegin, The Taming of the Shrew, The Lady and the Fool and Romeo and Juliet, Kenneth MacMillan’s Las Hermanas and The Song of the Earth, George Balanchine’s Theme and Variations, Four Temperaments, Serenade, Symphony in C, Glen Tetley’s Le sacre du printemps, Arena, John Neumeier’s A Streetcar Named Desire, Fratres and The Lady of the Camellias, Sir Ashton La Fille Mal Gardeé, Jiří Kylián’s Forgotten Land and No More Play, Márcia Haydée’s The Sleeping Beauty, and other story ballets: Giselle, Don Quichotte, Peters Schaufuss La Sylphide amongst others. In 2003, Filip Barankiewicz completed his ballet pedagogue education. At the end of his active dancing career in Stuttgart, from 2014 he started teaching daily classes and coached the rehearsals of the productions The Taming of the Shrew (John Cranko), Onegin (John Cranko), Giselle (prod.: Reid Anderson, Valentina Savina), Don Quichotte (Maximiliano Guerra). From 2014 on he also oversaw the rehearsals and coached John Cranko’s Onegin at the Royal Swedish Ballet in Stockholm, the Finnish National Ballet in Helsinki, the Estonian National Ballet, Norwegian National Ballet and National Ballet of Canada. He staged Cranko`s Taming of the Shrew at the Korean National Ballet in Seoul, the Polish National Ballet in Warsaw and Bavarian State Ballet in Munich and Onegin at the Teatro Municipal in Santiago de Chile. From September 2015 until 2017, he was a guest ballet master at the Stuttgart Ballet, participating in the creation of the company’s repertoire and the staging of choreographies by William Forsythe, Jiří Kylián, Hans van Manen and Maximiliano Guerra. Furthermore, he has worked as a guest teacher at the Opera National de Bordeaux, the Polish National Ballet Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo and the National Ballet of Canada in Toronto. In 2016, Filip Barankiewicz was member of the jury of the VIBE Vienna international ballet competition.

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