Czech Dance:DANCE

Czech Dance

The most prominent representative of Czech dance culture is international choreographic icon Jiří Kylián, who, however, was driven to pursue his creative work outside his native country by past political circumstances. Kylián is most closely associated with Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT), but his work features in the repertoires of other major dance companies around the world. Other well-known representatives of Czech dance include emeritus prima ballerina with the English National Ballet Daria Klimentová and by Otto and Jiří Bubeníček, brothers who are still dancing, and are active on prestigious stages around the world and especially in Germany.

The history of Czech professional ballet dates back to the opening of the National Theatre (Národní divadlo) in Prague in 1883. A uniquely Czech phenomenon to emerge in the early 20th century was ballet for children, and the pantomime ballets of composer Oskar Nedbal enjoyed ground-breaking success within this genre of work.

Ballet was originally incorporated into theatres that were home to multiple companies (e.g. drama, opera, ballet), but after the Second World War independent groups began to form. Among the most important of these groups was Ballet Prague (Balet Praha) (1964–1970) and later the Prague Chamber Ballet (Pražský komorní balet, founded in 1975), headed by choreographer Pavel Šmok.

The art of dance in the Czech Republic has undergone significant changes after 1989. Ballet companies of the multi-company theatres have preserved the institutional and operational continuity, yet the number of dancers has reduced. There are currently 11 ballet companies funded by the state or local administrations. Czech ballet started to explore the opportunities of the labor market after 1989 and therefore the interpretation quality of Czech ballet has risen significantly.

After 1989, the genres of contemporary dance and street techniques started virtually from the scratch. Their operation is funded by the non-governmental sector (contemporary dance) or business sector (street dance).

Contemporary dance started to follow the pre-revolution quasi-professional activities of scenic dancers and the half-forgotten legacy of Czech dance modernism. It confidently focused on the cooperation with international dancers. The early 1990s saw the birth of the key institutions – the Tanec Praha international festival, the Duncan Centre conservatory focused on contemporary dance and the non-verbal theatre specialization at the HAMU in Prague founded by Ctibor Turba. Companies, spaces, other festivals and production units gradually formed a complex infrastructure of an independent dance scene, which has absorbed motion and physical theatre to a large extent and has recently merged with new circus as well. The key players today are the Ponec theatre, Studio Alta, Roxy-Nod space, Alfred ve Dvoře operated by the Motus association, Archa theatre, Jatka78, 4+4 Days in Motion and other subjects.

This discipline is project-based as the continual daily operation of companies is still not possible. Many significant activities take place in Prague, yet non-governmental organizations are trying hard to develop contemporary dance in regions (or regional centers, at least) through presentations of productions, their circulation or organization of educational projects or residencies. The enforcement of innovative forms of dance clashes with insufficient spaces and equipment and unreadiness of the audiences. The offer of informal education for professionals and amateurs is developing dynamically.

The Czech scene of contemporary dance is active and rather successful in the international context. Although we cannot claim that contemporary Czech dance ranks among the best, its quality is the most progressive one when compared with post-communist countries.

New circus is a relatively new phenomenon, which is getting more attention in the Czech Republic. It successfully builds its infrastructure (theatres, festivals, centers), it shapes personalities, creates conditions for education and theoretical reflection. The development of Czech new circus is rather quick (in comparison with the development of contemporary dance) and unique in the countries of Central and East Europe. We may even say that the Czech Republic takes the role of a leader in the field of new circus among Central and East European countries. A very successful project of Cirk La Putka, to list one example, follows the strong French and Nordic patterns.

The development of music and entertainment was an occasion for the hip-hop or street dance dancers. The opportunity to perform in various shows and musicals, or to process the energy in an impressive exhibition way is attractive for many young people. This field of leisure activities ranks among the mass one business is thriving. Compared with ballet and contemporary dance, Czech dance has world names in this discipline as well – Yemi A.D. was the lead choreographer of Kanye West and later received other opportunities in show business. There are hundreds of amateur dance companies and hundreds of dance studios, which offer lessons of hip-hop dance styles. This field is exceptionally innovative as well – it has probably a lot to do with their commercial nature – and it continually brings news and generates new trends.

Folk dance, which was heavily promoted during the communism, retreated. There is only one professional folk dance company in the Czech Republic – Ondráš. It currently employs 10 professional dancers and cooperates with amateurs as wells. It is an army company managed by the Ministry of Defense of the Czech Republic. Other activities in folklore dances are purely amateur.

Jana Návratová

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