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Another angle on Czech Dance Platform 2023

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After Covid and the invasion of Ukraine, might contemporary dance be growing less self-obsessed?

Great things are sometimes born in the wake of horrible things. World War I was followed by incredibly exciting times in the world of arts and an unprecedented sense for partying (think Jazz Age); World War II gave way to an era of stability and growth in Europe. A couple of years ago, before the pandemic and the war on Ukraine, contemporary dance started to feel – at least to me – unbearably narcissistic. It only talked about itself, without the slightest glance at the world around us; and even before social distancing measures, self-indulgent solos were flooding the stages everywhere. This year’s Czech Dance Platform gave me the first hope that things are about to change.

The aim of the platform is not to showcase the best of the great wealth of performances that are produced in the country every year, but rather to show the wide range of them. This year, a special emphasis was put on international cooperations (another thing to slowly return after the pandemic): there were many Slovakian artists in the programme; there was Soft spot by Hungarian choreographer Adrienn Hód; there were collaborations with French and German artists; and there was a show produced by Ukrainian dancers – but more on that one later.

With all the side programmes going on (artist trips, talks, networking events) it is impossible to cover everything, especially if you are busy discussing the past, present and future of dance criticism most of the time, like I was, thanks to another side programme organised by Czech Dance News. But let me give you some of my impressions from the second half of the festival.

A raised circular podium in the darkness, on which a spotlight illuminates a woman in red trunks and top, shoulders pressed into the platform and bent legs pushing up hips
Joana Simãoes in Eva Urbanová’s Anomalie, at Czech Dance Platform 2023. Photo © Adéla Vosičková

Anomalie, choreographed by Eva Urbanová and performed by Portuguese dancer Joana Simões is shown at Divadlo X10, a theatre where you have to climb down two floors below street level to reach the auditorium – it kind of feels like a trip to regions below. It is only fitting for a piece that ‘(…) aims to bring light to the hidden parts of reality, one buried in the depths of a millennial body’. But before they let you in to the show, you are requested to wait halfway down, from where you can already see a circle-shaped pedestal, not unlike the one in Maurice Béjart’s iconic Bolero, only much smaller. Of course, a lot has changed since Béjart’s time; the ‘millennial body’ doesn’t want to radiate grandeur, rather it wants to show its vulnerability and struggles.

Accordingly, instead of an adoring crowd of men, it is us, the audience, sitting on all four sides in close proximity to her, that the performer calls as witnesses. A voiceover tells of memories imprinted onto the body; these memories will be shared with us, and new ones will be created. Simões’ body is full of drawings made with black and red ink, and the longer you look at them, the more meaning you read into them. The red coiled lines on her legs look like trickles of blood at first; perhaps signs of trauma or abuse? But then there are also motifs that make all her body appear more like an artwork. In the first half of the piece, the dancer struggles her way up from a cramped lying position to a proud standing one, and in the second half she strikes different poses on her rotating pedestal while the light goes up and down, showing different states of emotions. It is an exhibition of body and soul as most of us have often seen before, and in this respect this 2022 piece is still a product of pre-pandemic trends.

Four figures in casual t-shirts (brightly coloured) and trousers (grey). At the back, one is sitting, in the mid-distance, two with their backs to us, one arm held out. In the foreground just the back of another figure in a red tshirt. The feeling is casual and off-hand
Participants in Viktor Černický’s Prima, at Czech Dance Platform 2023. Photo © Adéla Vosičková

Viktor Černický – who wrote himself forever into the memories of Aerowaves audiences with his ‘chair piece’ (as I often hear it referenced ever since) PLI – works with a mixed group of dancers and amateurs in the conceptual choreography Prima. As with most conceptual pieces that involve local communities and non-dancers, it readily evokes many of Jerôme Bel’s productions, or even Duets by Tereza Ondrová and Petra Tejnorová, which I saw at the 2021 edition of Czech Dance Platform. But all these references don’t diminish the significance of the piece in celebrating dance and movement as tools that bring people together and help build communities.

As the title suggests, each performance of Prima is a premiere, a first, as there is no set choreography. In the beginning, the group of performers stand together on stage, and one of them starts a simple movement or (less often) a sound, and slowly, everyone else joins in. The game starts from here: if someone breaks the cycle and changes the movement, the rest of the group has to adapt to that. The performers are free to take a break and sit on the chairs at the side of the stage, and re-join whenever they want; or they can even start a second, new group by inventing a new ‘choreography’, which usually consists of a simple back-and-forth movement.

As often with these types of community pieces, there is a lot of room for fun and humour, and the audience of this particular ‘premiere’ was gratefully laughing at every small change of moves or even just shift of dynamic. For me, this is one of those pieces that is probably more fun to be participate in than to watch, because seen from the outside, the patterns quickly become evident and repetitive. But still, the merits of Prima in spreading joy are undisputed; this show is yet another example of contemporary dance finally trying to burst out of its own narrow-minded bubble.

Trailer for Yana Reutova’s Together Alone, at Czech Dance Platform 2023

Nowadays, it gets increasingly difficult to talk about works of art purely in aesthetic terms: art has, for the most part, become too much intertwined with its own political and socio-cultural background; often even with activism. At the same time, I find it almost impossible to talk solely on aesthetic grounds about a piece that was born out of such difficult circumstances, and whose existence is so symbolic, as that of Together Alone. Choreographer Yana Reutova worked as a dancer, choreographer and teacher in the Odesa region in Ukraine; in March 2022 she fled from the war with her daughter and several students, and settled in Prague. Together Alone is the first part of a triptych concept of the same name. It doesn’t just feature five Ukrainian dancers from five parts of the country (the other performers are from Chornomorsk, Lviv, Kryvyi Rih and Zaporizhzhia), but also highlights other Ukrainian artists: the music is by Canadian-based Ukrainian radical anti-Putin band Balaklava Blues; and Anton Ovchinnikov’s poems (that we hear from the speakers), written during the war in Kyiv, served as the main inspiration for the choreography.

As Reutova says, the creation of the piece was an opportunity for them to find a new community, an artistic family. It is very much reflected in the piece: Reutova radiates a kind of big-sister attitude next to her (even) younger co-performers. It is not the nicely chiselled choreography, rooted stylistically in now classic modern dance techniques, that is striking in the first place, but rather the energies of the performers: their softness, their visible joy, their complete dedication. All of them deliver a moving performance, but Diana Khrushch stands out especially; no wonder she got a Special Mention from the Jury of the festival.

Together, but still alone – this is the harsh reality for those who had to flee their country and find new ways to work and live. But this year, Czech Dance Platform became a festival that gave hope that even though we all often feel alone, sometimes, through dance, we can still be together. 

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30.03.23–02.04.23, Prague, Czech Republic
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Part 1 of this coverage of Czech Dance Platform 2023, by Emily May, is published here:

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