51st edition of the International Television Festival Golden Prague was held from 5th to 8th October 2014. For the first time and rather unconventionally, it took place in the Archa Theatre. More than eighty projects had applied to participate in this music and dance feast this year. The five-member jury chaired by Andrea Andermann had to face the challenge of watching around two hundred hours of films. The longest piece was, without competition, the Ring of the Nibelungs - audio and video recording of Richard Wagner’s four operas, with a total duration of incredible 900 minutes!
The fans of dance films could also find something to enjoy. The programme included twenty-five dance films and two of them were screened publicly – The Song Of theWanderers performed by the Thai Cloud Gate Dance Theatre and choreographed by Lin Chuaj-min and the documentary about life of Vlastimil Harapes. Ekman’s crazy Swan LakeOne of the main highlights of the programme was the screening of Swan Lake by Alexander Ekman, who gave the following explanation of his motives for staging the classical ballet jewel: “I wanted to do something big, wild and different. Something with water!” Such a statement already suggested that we could not expect any honourable tribute to the ballet masters Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. There was no room for Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s original music either. Those spectators who hoped for that and got disappointed, were discreetly leaving the theatre, one by one. To characterise Ekman’s creation by one word, we must call it crazy! On the other hand – why not?Ekman’s Swan Lake is divided into three acts, taking place in different historical periods and using fragments of Tchaikovsky’s compositions. The first act is set around the year 1877, the second one in the present and the third one in the future, 426 or so years from now. The swan as a common motif is maintained. It appears in several forms: painted on a piece of card, falling from the sky after being shot by a scattergun, as a stuffed dummy, as a humpbacked ballerina or black robot with white wings. The remains of the famous libretto can only be traced in the first act, when read by a desperate choreographer who tries to satisfy the needs of his impresario with a new musical The Swan Lake City.Each act functions independently and has a distinct emotional charge. The opening excursion into the past resembles a small-town sit-com. The glimpses of the ordinary life of town people, humorous scenes from the square and rhythmical slamming of the doors that create the sets and line the stage. The view of the choreographer fascinated by swans and ignoring the warning that they are actually evil and can bite.The second act gets more serious and contains more dancing – or better to say sliding? The lake is represented in detail, stage turns into a small swimming pool with at least five thousand litres of water. We can see the company in dark colours playing unison water games, and even wait to see the modern duet of the white and black swan – but without the typical swaying arms. The serious tone disappears after a while, as a thousand rubber ducks fall from the sky, the dancers play with various props (e.g. gutters) and make use of the water. The unifying feature (also present in the first act) is a robust - compared to the dancers - soprano who is singing in a high-pitched voice and drying her hair above the pool. It is obvious what is going to happen… The last act, set in the future, lasts less than two minutes. A winged robotic swan, moving in a mechanical and choppy way, crosses the stage and the curtain falls. Crazy! But if you accept it, you can have a lot of fun…Shakespeare by EkIn the video playlist, available for free to the audiences during the whole festival, the most attractive item was probably a documentary about the acclaimed Swedish artist TheChoreographer Mats Ek. The film contains minimum of biography, it focuses more on the creative process preceding the birth of a new piece. It provides the opportunity to observe the master at work and to learn more about his train of thoughts. Ek admits that he is not able to create when there is someone watching him. Before the dancers’ arrival, he spends two hours alone in the studio. Admirably, he can do most of the dance steps himself, despite his age (69). He radiates peace, balance, humbleness and natural respect. Dancers agree that working on the roles, which Ek attributes with movement and emotional characters, is very challenging.The list of competing films also included Ek’s new ballet Juliet and Romeo, the preparation of which was captured in the biographical documentary about its author. Mats Ek is known for his original interpretation of classical ballet librettos (Giselle in the madhouse, Sleeping Beauty pricking her hand on a drug injection, sensuous Carmen with a cigar in her mouth).As the title suggests, Ek handled the libretto in his own way. The unhappy relationship of the two lovers is portrayed from the point of view of the young Juliet. The diversion from the original story is not that sharp, as we are used to with Ek. It is shifted to the present time, the dancers move across the stage on the Segway transporters, some of them wearing leather pants, down jackets, others wrapped in drifty cloaks and huge caps. There is enough space for older dancers, too. AnaLaguna is definitely not a stiff, jovial, strongly built nanny, but a charming lady flirting with the Montegue threesome. The duke Niklas Ek is memorable as he laments over the never-ending scuffles between the two houses at the beginning of the performance. He waves his hand and kicks his feet backwards to the tones of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto B Minor. In this respect it the most salient change. Ek put aside the popular music by Sergei Prokofiev and built his work to various fragments of Tchaikovsky’s compositions. In a fresh, interesting, simply Ek-like way. That is why the film was awarded the Czech Crystal in the Performing Arts category.Briefly around the world of contemporary danceThe last night of the Golden Prague festival was broadcast live on the Czech Television Art channel, so you could watch the clips of dance numbers and the winning programme as a film from your home. And the quality was not bad at all – the camera was taking the event so well that you did not miss anything. On the contrary, you could peacefully enjoy every detail and the deep moments of the winning piece.The final night aimed at showing the best of contemporary dance and even though the presenter complained a little about the difficult situation of contemporary dance art, we can state the conditions in the Czech Republic are favourable and the number of productions is more than high. Well, some creations of the Czech contemporary dance (awarded by other juries) were not even emphasised.As first, the Bohemia Ballet dancers performed a passage from Jarek Cemerek’s choreography Slova z jantaru (Words of Amber), followed by Nataša Novotná and Václav Kuneš (420PEOPLE) in the duet La Vie en rose. Ondřej Vinklát (NT Prague) and Štěpán Pechar (Laterna Magika) danced a number called Přesně včas (Right on Time), Mathias Deneux (NT Prague) presented himself in Just Solo by Viktor Konvalinka and his colleagues, Nikola Márová and Michal Štípa, dazzled the audiences in the 3rd act pas de deux from Swan Lake. Vinklát was joined by Marta Drastíková in the final duet from Petr Zuska’sRomeo and Juliet. The night would not have been complete without the Prague Chamber Ballet dancing to one of the movements of Smetana’s composition From My Life. Finally, the street dancers attacked the stage in a fast-paced choreography by IvanaHannichová and Tomáš Protivínský.You know Duato loves horsesThe most significant reason, why the audience gathered in the Archa Theatre, was the announcement of the festival awards. As has been mentioned, the jury awards several projects, but only one obtains the Grand Prix Golden Prague – this year it was the Danish documentary following the residence of Nacho Duato in St Petersburg. The title Disportrait makes it clear that it is not any glorification of the charismatic choreographer. On the contrary, the documentary captures the period that became a hard “turning point” in his career.At the beginning we can see footage from the Madrid press conference and hear the then TV news, informing about Nacho Duato’s unexpected call-off from his position of director of Compañía Nacional de Danza. After twenty years, without justification – the camera is taking the reality, we can sense perturbation, bitterness, surprise, feelings of injustice (such cases do not occur in our country only…). Duato signed on for the Madrid company, lived with it and for it, he transformed the ballet ensemble into the world’s phenomenon connected with his name. As Duato leaves, his choreographies disappears from the repertoire – “I’ll never choreograph in Spain,” says Duato, deeply moved.Duato receives an offer from St Petersburg and signs the contract to become the new Artistic Director of the Mikhailovsky Theatre ballet company. He was invited to Mikhailovsky by its rich impresario – director of the institution – who wants Duato to make the ensemble “the second best in the world…”(“….there are many of the bestcompanies,” says he for the camera).
Directors of the 50-minute documentary, Ulrik Wivel and Alejandro Alvarez, show the private life of the artist, with sensitivity and taste, still at some moments they go to the core of things – it is enough to see Duato’s weary face, stream of tears, when he is on the phone – “……I don’t know anybody here, I’ve lived here for severalmonths and don’t even know my neighbour.” Wivel knows what can be revealed, what to observe, where the limits lie. Additionally, he was himself the soloist of the Royal Danish Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet and New York City Ballet.
The camera focuses on Duato’s loneliness, but at the same time his still-present creative potential, not only during the rehearsals of a new ballet piece for the Russian ensemble. The dancers must get used to the new way of movement-making, and even though they are obviously good performers they need time to absorb the dance according to Duato.Even in St Petersburg, theatre is everything for Duato, it feeds him and bleeds him – he has the photos of all dancers pinned on the wall at his home (and put them into a box when packing). He has to struggle with lack of understanding and stiff conventions, seeming as post-totality caprices: “Everyone’s a master here – wig-maker, dresser, director, and nobody listens to what I want…” – it is enough to watch Duato arguing with the photographers who cannot understand why he insists on not including the staged photos of dancers into the programme but on replacing them with the Sleeping Beauty rehearsal snapshots.
It is clear that Duato suffers, in Russia he lacks the Spanish spirit, freedom and cannot get over the uneasy communication, he feels isolated, outside the theatre he is invisible. We notice that in the scenes from luxurious night clubs, where Duato spends long hours; in the shots of Duato who cannot sleep, drinks wine, smokes, paints pictures. On the phone, he recalls the situation when, back at home, he admitted to being gay to avoid questions about which type of women he fancies – but in Russia, it is better not to talk about such issues, he cannot meet anyone there. In a TV debate of the Petersburg television he defends his staging of the classical ballet – as critics claimed he cannot hear the music in Sleeping Beauty. “Well, thanks God I’m not blind,” glosses Duato.
Some moments are captured by Duato himself, lying in bed, exhausted, adding a different view to the documentary, as well as strange intimacy and authenticity, “disturbed” only by his dancing and bringing back memories: “I didn’t plan to be a dancer. I didn’t want to be a choreographer. I wanted to be a horse because I love horses.” And in the final scene of the documentary, Duato is sitting on a horseback, dressed in a suit, riding along the street and heading to the Berlin State Opera. Why? Because he has signed a five-year contract to become the chief of its ballet company…
Festival Zlatá Praha
October 5th – 8th 2014, Archa Theatre,
Translation: Tereza Cigankova