Where ‒ Breath And Gesture Within Reach

The Studio Maiselovka in Prague's Old Town is home to 420PEOPLE under the direction of dancer, choreographer and artistic director Václav Kuneš. It is an important facility for the company members, they can train, conduct workshops, rehearse, although the original basement space is quite narrow for a dance production with a larger cast.

Where. Photo: Vojtěch Brtnický.

Where. Photo: Vojtěch Brtnický.

The premiere of Where is part of a new project called 42+PEOPLE, designed for performers of the older generation. Of course, the parallel with Jiří Kylián's former NDT 3 is immediately apparent (Nederlands Dans Theater had three companies, the third of which belonged to older dancers aged 40 and over). In this respect it is not a completely original idea, but the result of the dance evening in the excellent interpretation of dancer and teacher Helena Arenbergerová and Václav Kuneš is amazing and unique.

Helena Arenbergerová has had a rich career, has been a guest of independent companies, regularly teaches contemporary dance at the dance department of HAMU. Václav Kuneš collaborates with many dancers. His latest premiere, Ever, was created in close collaboration with Exhausted Modern, led by musician Ladislav Zensor, and is a successful dance production (review here). And this creative grouping also had a major influence on the current project.

Where. Photo: Vojtěch Brtnický.

The electronic music of Exhausted Modern and other performers is in absolute harmony with the scenes and fills every movement and gesture of the dancers. The concept of the choreography is based on the interpretive skills of both dancers, their technical virtuosity and deep acting skills, as well as their ability to improvise and listen to each other. The presence of both performers and the tension in the immediate proximity of the audience (who, in limited numbers, sit on two sides of the studio) literally spills over in the space, breath and gesture are at hand.

The special costumes - light, tight trousers and a sort of tunic or long shirt with a slight stand-up collar - by designer Olo Křížová are the same for both. I found them quite funny at first, and the soft pink colour didn't suit the current message for me personally. But after the first images and a quick blackout, I began to see the figures as some Old Testament biblical creatures, perhaps Adam and Eve, male and female in their nakedness and innocence, or angels from higher realms. Apparently it was inspired by some of the Renaissance paintings, or so Václav Kuneš mentioned, although he did not reveal the specific canvas.

Slowly a dialogue developed with a cautious and just a hint of touching and hugging. The imperfect and fragile became more solid in movement and grew in mutual contact, lifts and a certain resistance in the partner. After longer, slow sequences, a playful and quite fast section began, a kind of allegro vivace or scherzo in the concert sense. Helena Arenberger probably also improvised short step ties, lunges, and Václav Kuneš took up the motifs, transforming them into a more masculine character. He did not repeat them exactly, but rather adopted his partner's energy.

Where. Photo: Vojtěch Brtnický.

Later they both reduced the dynamics, shortened and minimized the movement. It seemed that this game, almost childish in nature, was extremely fun and fulfilling. They reminded me of Steve Paxton and Yvonne Rainer, iconic American dancers, representatives of postmodern dance and founders of contact improvisation, in their immediacy and identity. Probably because they weren't playing at anything. It is very difficult, especially in such close proximity to the spectator, to remain true, real, without the cover of the added movement stylizations and the so-called expression. To make a stage presentation real is a gift that not everyone has. In this performance you see the true masters.

After the middle part, the dancers stayed together even more in various positions and intimacy, when each one absorbed the other directly into himself and in turn moved away. At times they were at odds, in opposition, at other times they danced in unison, in synchrony and symmetry. The two mirrored, narrow walls also served to deepen the perspective and multiply the image in the mirrored reflection by means of light design.

The performance of Where brings a powerful experience. It stands out from the current Czech production of premiered dance and ballet titles and is a kind of beacon of hope that quality and creativity will not disappear.


Written from the performance on 20 November 2022, Studio Maiselovka.



Choreography: Václav Kuneš and Helena Arenbergerová
Dramaturgy: Lucie Němečková
Dancers: Václav Kuneš and Helena Arenbergerová
Music compilation: Exhausted Modern and other artists
Musical supervision: Pierre Urban
Costumes: Olo Křížová
Set design: Lucia Škandíková
Light design: Jan Mlčoch
Production: Martina Laštovková, Aneta Jochim, Marta Lajnerová, Anna Borovská, David Borovský
Premiere: 19 November 2022


Translation: Kristina Soukupová

Témata článku

Helena ArenbergerováVáclav KunešWhere




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