A Bouquet by Prague Chamber Ballet came too late…
The Prague Chamber Ballet spent the last few years searching an identity, a route to be accepted as a full-bodied part of the Czech scene. A floundering which resulted in repertoire premieres which were unlikely to be placed on the pedestal of Czech dance. The situation resulted in frequent changes in the leadership of the company; at present, there is no director. Linda Svidró has been appointed to lead the company in collaboration with the ballet masters (Igor Vejsada who used to be a company director is one of them). In their current situation, the company desires to fulfil two quite distant aims: on one hand, to preserve choreographic treasures of its founder Pavel Šmok, and on the other hand, to emphasise work of contemporary makers. And I consider these antipoles to be the biggest stumbling block. Such a wide range of specialisation, which is typical for the big theatres with several ensembles, can prove to be problematic in the case of a smaller chamber company. I am afraid that with the current funding difficulties, which met the Prague Chamber Ballet due to their unsuccessful grant applications, the company is not able to meet such desires.
The leaders of the Prague Chamber Ballet decided to ask Petr Zuska, the former artistic director of the Czech National Ballet, to collaborate. The important Czech choreographer chose to base his work on a piece of literature, namely A Bouquet, a collection of ballads by Karel Jaromír Erben, hence the name of the new performance. During career of many-years in the National Theatre, Zuska profiled as a maker with distinctive choreographic language. One of the typical characteristic of his work is a free handling of the chosen narrative (let’s remember his pieces such as The Nutcracker and the Cuddly Mouse, or Romeo and Juliet). This is exactly the same case with A Bouquet. The author does not stage the ballads literally, on the contrary, he searches his own story in them and he makes a dramaturgy so that it creates one piece composed of two parts.
On the stage, we can see the allegoric characters of Life (Linda Svidró) and Death (Viktor Svidró) who are the main movers of the story. They represent the invisible guards of earthly life, which is reflected in the characters of Woman (Tereza Hloušková) and Man (Dominik Vodička). Zuska also works with the ensemble, in his concept they are “the others” (Eliška Nováková, Iveta Krmelová, Tereza Straková, Albert Kaše and Michal Vach).
The scenography is symbolic: a suggestion of a Tree of Life and a wooden cross that play for an imaginary contrast. When the name Petr Zuska is mentioned possibly nobody is surprised to also see a table and two chairs on the stage. He puts them in the context of various situations, in one moment chairs transform to be a cradle, at another point two young girls embroider fabrics on them, then the allegoric characters sit or dance an energetic fighting duet on them. All dance takes place in the front part of the stage, which is divided by a transparent and frequently used screen.
Apart from the literature, the music composition by Ondřej Brousek supports Zuska’s work. The music acts literally as a synergist of the choreographic composition. The composer exploits the maximum of each scene, he manages to give a dramatic drive to the music by forceful and penetrating strings. Yet, he is able to tame the same instruments for skilful completion of the fragile tension between the characters on the stage.
Crystallisation of the style
A Bouquet represents a product of several decades of crystallisation of the personal style of Petr Zuska. The choreographer abstracts dramatic potential of a newly established story which becomes the main ingredient of the dance composition. We can observe tension and explosive energy in the performers’ bodies; the extreme situations of the extending bodies are contrasted by the smaller, concentrated sequences which always serve as a vanguard of an electrifying explosion.
In the choreography, we can clearly see a typical movement material which is present in the author’s work already for a long period. It constitutes of a very eclectic style of mostly modern dance techniques with a touch of the aesthetic of classical ballet. The major signature is given by the perfect bodily proportions and the clear polished lines which are pleasant for the eye. Movement-wise, we speak especially about the deep second positions of legs, the distinct arm movements, frequently in pointed angles, as well as the snappy pirouettes and the distinct jumps emphasising the flawless arch of feet and leg line.
Zuska’s work is also characterised by the concrete message which makes his pieces widely accessible; let’s mention for example a very successful choreography Solo for Three (2007) and its sequel Solo for the Two of Us (2017). However, not everybody appreciates such a literal message. Sometimes, it seems that the author literally usurps the imagination of the audience, he does not allow them for a single moment to use their brains, to let them flow in their own imagination.
The dancers’ performance is the mainstay of the piece. Linda Svidró with her strong stage presence imparts trustworthiness to her character ably supported by her precise dance technique. Viktor Svidró comes across as less self-assertive next to his partner, nevertheless in some solo moments, he catches all of the attention thanks to his dramatic potential. I also really appreciate the performance of Tereza Hloušková who manages to believably live out a wide range of emotions and let them play in her dancing body.
In my opinion, A Bouquet represents an excellent step towards the stabilisation of the company. It stands as a widely understandable piece emphasising the work of high-quality Czech performing artists. However, the leaders of the company announced the end of its activity on the 1st of June 2019. I consider the termination of any cultural entity with such a long tradition to be unfortunate and alarming news. It attests the dismal situation in funding of the Czech cultural sector. Pity that A Bouquet did not appear earlier…
Written form the premiere held on 1 May 2019, at The Estates Theatre in Prague.
Script, Choreography and Stage Direction: Petr Zuska
Dramaturgy: Tomáš Vondrovic
Music: Ondřej Brousek
Set Design: Jan Dušek
Costume Design: Pavel Knolle
Lighting Design: Daniel Tesař
Choreographer assistants: Igor Vejsada, Linda Svidró
Performing: dancers of Prague Chamber Ballet and students of Dance Centre Prague conservatory (Linda Svidró, Viktor Svidró, Tereza Hloušková, Dominik Vodička, Eliška Nováková, Iveta Krmelová, Tereza Straková, Aleš Krátký, Albert Kaše, Michal Vach) and guests Hradec Králové Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor: Jan Kučera
Premiere: 1 May 2019