The Ballet Dancers – For Death And Glory!

Palác Akropolis has seen the third artistic reflection on Miřenka Čechová’s traumatic experiences while studying at the dance conservatory in Prague. She adapted them literally in her prose The Ballet Dancers (published by Paseka 2020), which was rather controversial in the field of dance. Miřenka has never hidden her criticism of the environment at the conservatory and the methods of some of the dance teachers, but only when you start reading the book, you find out about the scary, chaotic, and painful experiences that were the basis for the story. The somewhat posh language refers to the stories of children who had to give up their right to childhood due to the circumstances and mature quickly. Not caring a button is one of the strategies to survive.

The Ballet Dancers (Miřenka Čechová). Photo: Vojtěch Brtnický.

The Ballet Dancers (Miřenka Čechová). Photo: Vojtěch Brtnický.

The pandemic gave rise to the second incarnation based on the book: metaBALLETDANCERS. The performative and interactive hybrid of a live stream, film, video chat, and Q&A was a miracle within the stultifying online culture. The carefully developed, smart, professional, and technically perfect performance featured strong emotions despite its digital form and the distinction of the moderated format. The incredibly strong metaBALLETDANCERS managed to approach the audience sitting in front of the monitors with the topic of trauma so sensitively and deeply that they enticed compassion and anger. Moreover, using the writings of philosopher Alice Koubová, they offered a way to heal deep wounds. The Aristotelian term “catharsis” is rarely apt in the world of contemporary art, yet it fits here perfectly.

The hybrid performance of metaBALLETDANCERS set a high standard for the third variant – The Ballet Dancers live produced by Spitfire Company. The show is yet another proof of Miřenka’s creative thinking and the need for a new perspective. Every shape, every version based on the same source accentuates rather different moments of the basic topic, which is the violence of a system against an individual in the broadest sense. Whereas metaBALLETDANCERS intensively communicated fear, the experience of trauma, and the crisis of the soul, The Ballet Dancers live represent open activism and a campaign involving the art.

Miřenka is strictly direct and vigorous in this. In the beginning, she goes in a glossy long dress with a ribbon on her head in an isle and her entrée is accompanied by children's voices, expressing their desire to dance in ballet, some of them cannot even articulate the huge fascination with beauty, fame, ideal… Miřenka delivers her statement that she does “this” for nobody can ever exploit children's dreams and desires, so that humiliation, hurting, and attacks on the dignity of vulnerable children cannot happen again. I wish this was enough, I say to myself.

The Ballet Dancers (Miřenka Čechová). Photo: Vojtěch Brtnický.

Miřenka once set off on a distressful journey in tight pointe shoes to die beautifully on the stage. She demonstrates some variations of heartbreaking choreographic deaths and explains that the nature of the romantic and classical ballet repertoire is basically a gender mess – the heroine is a victim in every ballet. Are the types of characters in librettos the source of stereotypes in the world of ballet? Let’s hope not.

And there comes another weakness of those pursuing a ballet career: the desire for attention, the need to be seen. The intoxicating feeling is like a drug. Artists – actors, singers, instrumentalists, dancers – acknowledge the addiction to the applause, the possibility to perform in front of people (s/he can be a shy person in their private life).

To emphasize the paradox hidden in this desire, Miřenka draws a radical card and emerges from the shade to the light completely naked. The hall in Akropolis is nothing like O2 Arena, so it is a rather powerful impression. Its intensity and unexpectedness are a source of tension and the explosion of various feelings. The naked body endangers us – the audience – with its radicality and explicitness, however, we feel the vulnerability as well. The spin of fear and courage at one moment. When I mentioned activism, it was because of this moment. Miřenka sticks her neck out. After a while, she starts to talk about her body with disdain, the state of fragile self-confidence turns into a state of shame and culminates in the chase on the stage – the space resonates with hate speech from classic dance lessons: “It’s impossible to look at you” is the main one. The desire for attention is also the desire for acceptance and belonging and has its natural psychological nature. Even a two-year-old child notices what expressions the adults appreciate, what they refuse, and after what comes the punishment. They start to develop strategies to attain praise and acceptance. Then they are willing not to eat, sleep, or handle the pressure that overwhelms them only for the adult experts to notice and acknowledge. When studying, these are professors whose amiable attention students want to draw. Several scenes and film shorts show what the attention at the conservatory was like from Miřenka’s point of view.

The Ballet Dancers (Miřenka Čechová). Photo: Vojtěch Brtnický.

The author uses many stage or scenographic tools in the stage version, such as a big “projection” mirror that reflects the protagonist and later screens and animates the clusters of worms. This should illustrate the song about “we are only a body”. A body and corporeity are one of the main motives of the production and I have to say that I had a hard time when the performer cut off the ”fat” from a plastic body corpus she had in one scene. As far as stage design is concerned, I should point out the swimming pool where the phone call with the mother takes place – she needs to make sure that everything is fine, even if it is not. I must not forget about the sound mixer attended by DJ Mary, whose presence represents the nightlife that sped up and distorted the quick maturity I mentioned at the beginning.

Miřenka is the queen of the stage and she cares about the impression and richness of the structure. In her previous performance Miss America, she started to employ voice and singing, she continues to do so in The Ballet Dancers and the piece may be perceived as a sort of a musical. Miřenka gave a great performance, thus it is hard for me to say that I did not enjoy The Ballet Dancers on the stage as much as I understand and share all intentions. After the strong beginning, there was nothing that would fulfill me and “cleanse me from feelings” in the Aristotelian way (apart from the saw and Styrofoam). The cathartic impression was directed at her and the team she cooperated with. We as the audience observed it carefully.

PS: Sometimes the temporal circumstances and context are important as well. We who saw the premiere had no idea that the audience will watch the rerun on 24 February in an absolutely different situation, in the world transformed by Putin’s aggression. The Ballet Dancers only magnified what has been happening – small violence generates huge catastrophes.

 

Written at the premiere on 24 February 2022, Palác Akropolis.

 

The Ballet Dancers
Concept, performance: Miřenka Čechová
Music: Martin Tvrdý
Live music: Mary C
Dramaturgy: Martina Kinská
Video: Tereza Vejvodová
Animation: Linda Arbanová
Costumes and objects: Eva Matoušová
Stage design and set: Eva Matoušová, Petr Boháč, Honza Tomšů
Directing and acting support: Tereza Dočkalová, Janka Ryšánek Schmiedtová
Light design: Filip Horn
Premiere: 24 February 2022

Translation: Eliška Špilarová

The Czech version of this review was published on 20 March 2022.

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Miřenka ČechováThe Ballet Dancers

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