Round table about Tanec Praha
On September 24, 2020, the Ponec Theater hosted a debate between artists and representatives of the Tanec Praha organization, which has long influenced the dance scene in the Czech Republic. The debate focused on the organization’s position, influence, plans and visions. The aim was a moderated discussion of comments or ideas that can stimulate inspiration for the coming years - and as the meeting showed, not only for the Tanec Praha team.
The impetus for this round table was the opening of the 20th season of the Ponec Theater, which on the theatrical map of the Czech Republic represents a truly specific institution, which reflected many dreams of the generation active in the 1990s. The meeting was also a reminder of last year's thirtieth anniversary of the Tanec Praha brand, which is no longer just a festival. The ongoing activities of the flagship dance organization have a large-scale impact on post-revolutionary events in the field in all its breadth - from curation, production, residences, marketing to education and advocacy in the field. It's time for a short stop, a look back, consideration, and also a look into the continued functioning of the organization. And this together with experts, artists and critics who are willing to provide feedback on what Tanec Praha or Ponec offer and bring them and what they should or could be for the next decades.
At the beginning of the two-hour discussion, visitors were invited to share the freshest impressions of Tanec Praha. So that the team could see what image its community perceives. Although the topic was not narrowly defined, logically, the theme of the Tanec Praha festival, which is for many the most visible presentation of the organization, came up front.
The first words of praise from Jiří Bartovanec belonged to the whole team for the courage with which they were not afraid of organizing the festival, even if only the Czech part of it, and for the activities during the covid panic, which managed to calm many artists. However, he also pointed out the discrepancy in the financing of artists due to the international nature of the festival or the selection of works. Jana Návratová, among other chairwoman of the commission of the festival for dance program and nonverbal art of the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic, expressed doubts about the length of the June festival, about which she and its artistic director Yvona Kreuzmanová have been in dialogue for a long time. This remark sparked a long discussion about whether the Tanec Praha program in the regions unnecessarily dilutes the festival spirit of the Prague part and whether the trips of Czech artists should not be situated more throughout the year. Veronika Hladká, manager for the regional part of the festival, objected that thanks to marketing and the attention that the Tanec Praha Festival has in a certain period, the often „dance ignorant“ regions manage to get a spectator response to dance productions, or to achieve financially at the invitation of foreign ensembles. Markéta Perroud, co-director of Tanec Praha, added that the trips are not invasive, that many regional centres choose from the offer or directly actively request certain productions due to their own dramaturgy, and many of them also manage to obtain co-financing from city and regional governments. One of the comments was also the necessary pressure on the municipalities to culture the spaces into which the dance is imported, and unprofessional conditions in the falconries and cultural houses. However, they are often the only intermediaries for dance in the village, so it is necessary to get and still motivate them to cooperate.
The long-term dramaturgy of the festival and its target audience also came to the fore. Yvona Kreuzmannová explained that “Tanec Praha is not afraid of clashing with any type of audience”. The aim is to attract a wide range of viewers and target marketing so that everyone knows what to choose, what to expect or, conversely, not to expect in the spirit of last year's slogan Curiosity is a chance to experience. The three-stage dramaturgy of “events of the season”, “middle-scale” projects and young emerging talents should include this and not try to entice a dance novice to demanding or experimental pieces at any cost.
The series of productions Tanec Praha for Children is also a tradition, which reflects the activities of the organization in educational projects. Nevertheless, there were opinions that the range of imported works could be more varied, that even an audience unfamiliar with dance will recognize good art. Those present agreed that the dramaturgy is greatly influenced by usable spaces, as the scenes that are possible to provide are not sufficient for all the world's stars. It is clear that the years when the festival culminated in the Sazka Arena, the State Opera or the Karlín Musical Theater were different image. The seemingly sparse Prague program is also caused by the necessary professional preparation of the creators and their rehearsing in the given premises, the number of which is limited. On the issue of lack of space for dance, Jindřich Krippner, the deputy program director of the Archa Theater, reminded of the call that their theater is also available for dance residences and reruns, and they will be happy if the artists address them.
Jiří Bartovanec also expressed the opinion that it is a pity that although Tanec Praha has been providing great public education for thirty years, people in the streets of Prague still have no idea what contemporary dance is. Lucie Dercsényiová objected that only one organization is not responsible for dance education among the public, but also a lot of subjects are actively involved in it. Given the international experience of the choreographer, this comment is at least an interesting stimulus to the overall reflection in what context our field find itself. Yvona Kreuzmannová lamented that the festival's fundraising and marketing also go hand in hand with a society-wide awareness of dance, which is not helped at all by the media. For example, she mentioned futile efforts to get a single regular dance program on Czech Television. However, Martin Kolda reminded that Czechs are far from a non-dancing and uneducated nation, due to the great popularity of ballroom dancing and their knowledge as a kind of natural equipment for young people. Society-wide respect for dance is certainly a topic that we should now have as a unifying mission on the table for each of us.
At the same time, the artists acknowledged the possibilities that Tanec Praha offers them for realization, and a passionate debate also erupted regarding the payments for the reruns and the selection of artists to collaborate, which is fully in the hands of the artistic directors. Choreographers and performers Tereza Hradílková and Zdenka Svíteková returned to the regions with an arc, where, according to them, work with the audience takes place in a completely different dimension. Viktor Černický admitted that the artists themselves feel how they can influence the life of the local community, how crucial this activity is for the field, what feedback they get from playing in the regions and what support for performing locally they have in Tanec Praha. Many of the artists present lamented their own production and organizational incompetence and expressed gratitude that someone was behind them to help them find their way. However, they would much appreciate training in the areas of production, fundraising and economic and legal self-sufficiency.
Finally, the meeting agreed that the apparent monopolism of Tanec Praha may be partly due to the comfort or lack of know-how of a large range of communities in the field of management. The whole team of Tanec Praha confirmed that their mission is only to help the dance in the Czech Republic to start the engine without wanting to push others away in any way, and they expressed encouragement and support to any other emerging organization. This is, after all, Yvona Kreuzmannová's vision for the next decade. While in the first decade of its existence it focused on opening borders and informing the republic about what was happening outside, in the second decade it was already more significantly focused on the Czech community and the construction of the dance scene in Ponec theatre. The team completes the current decade by participating in many international projects and co-productions, focusing on education and supporting the regions. The next steps will be the opening of a new rehearsal room and a Dance House as basic conditions for stabilizing the creative process, but also connecting with other active organizations in the field (for example three A: Alta, Alfred and Archa or Holešovice triad Jatka 78, La Fabrika and DOX) to create imaginary safety nets of dance in the Czech Republic, so that it never has to solve basic existential issues again. So let's keep our fingers crossed for both Tanec Praha and all those who will develop activities to support Czech dance elsewhere and otherwise. And who are willing to have a dialogue about its direction.
Written from the moderated debate within the Zaostřeno na tanec project, on 24th September 2020, Ponec theatre.
The Original version of this text in Czech published on 26 October.
Translated by Kristina Soukupová.