Contemporary dance in Prague evolves as KonfronTance

In this week's edition of the arts, Nicole Klement

Dance has a long historical tradition in the Czech Republic. It has always represented national society, preserved and cultivated language as well as culture and opulent theatre venues can be found in almost every Prague district. But, there are definitely long-standing stereotypes towards dance, where ballet and classical music reign supreme. Prague's dance scene is trying to break out of this mould and present a larger spectrum of dance, which includes contemporary work. The latest advance in this struggle is the first ever International Dance Festival -called KonfronTance, a series of dance presentations held in Prague from October 4th to 13th. The festival's name "KonfronTance"- is a play on words. In Czech "tanec" is dance and "Konfront" is associated with confrontation. Thus the word Konfrontance has at its root a very interesting meaning and with just this one word, the festival's theme, confrontation through dance, is represented. The festival's main goal is to achieve a more pronounced emphasis on truly contemporary and idiosyncratic international choreography.

"My name is Gilles Jobin, I'm a Swiss, London based choreographer. What we call modern dance is more something that happened in the 50s 60s up to 70s then it started to be called post-modern which was more like Merce Cunningham, Trisha Brown mainly American choreographers. Then we have what we call contemporary dance which is a very wide field because there are so many different tendencies in contemporary dance. But, as contemporary art or contemporary theatre we can say that it is something that is just happening now and is more actual in terms of finding the inspiration of what is surrounding us. And now, inside contemporary dance there is the so called new tendencies to which I believe I am part of."

Tatjana Langaskova, the event's organiser and curator, and Gilles Jobin tell us more about the festival.

"I'm the curator of the first Konfrontance festival. But there have been five festival directed by Lenka Flori. Who is still the director and is a Czech choreographer and x-dancer who started the festival because she wanted to present the personality of the new tendencies or as I call it New Dance. I have just taken over this term for new tendencies in the contemporary dance to make the difference quite clear and to define it in the Czech Space and international space. It partly reflects my ideas about what art should do. That means to provoke, to make people have a relationship with what's going on in the world and to ask questions to themselves and to their society. So, that's why confrontations. "

"La Ribot will also be in the Konfrontance festival and we are just artists living now and talking about what's surrounding us. Using movement and no movement space organisation and most of us are trained dancers. So, that's what we use- we use the body, time and space, which is dance."

I was very interested in the target audience, because theatre is traditionally an interest of the middle class and statistically only 4% of the urban population are theatre goers. The tastes and interests of the Czech general public in the theatre are relatively traditional and conservative and usually only the younger generations prefer the more alternative genres.

" I concentrated on the more intellectual audience, a younger audience. People interested in art. Because, these new tendencies in dance or new dance actually has a crossover. So, it's a kind of new relationship with fine arts, architecture and music and of course new media. So, I don't think the older generation feels very addressed."

" I usually get a beautiful audience in Prague. People who are really interested to see things and are a very open audience. As an artist I don't target the typical dance audience, which is the ballet audience, people who already have a culture of dance and expect something in advance from you- like the classical music audience. What I like is the audience that go to see the good movies, the good theatre, the good concerts, these people that just break the barriers of artistic gender. Those that just go to see what's on and what's new. And, we have a little bit of difficulty in contemporary dance to break the boring old image that exists around contemporary dance."

Tatjana Langaskova had this to say about the reactions of Czech audiences to the introduction of contemporary dance.

"Contemporary dance is not something new. It seems even now that dance is something that makes people really scared. This confrontation with the body- and it is sensual- even more so than theatres. And most people have this notion of dance as it being ballet this pure interpretation of music in a very conservative way. But of course if you present these new tendencies people are scared because this is an unknown territory and Czech character is kind of scared."

I asked Tatjana Langaskova and Gilles Jobin if they had a favourite piece at the festival.

"I like La Ribot because she's my wife so I think that she's the best. I think she is a good example of these so called new Tendencies in contemporary dance She does really small sharp pieces that she sells like a piece of art to what she calls distinguished proprietors. So, it's like little poems, little short sharp poems. And in this series of pieces that she is doing. Which is the third series she's doing of these distinguished pieces. What is special is that she presents it in more like gallery spaces or museum spaces which allow the audience to just move around her the audience is very close so she is not into the theatre and representation of the traditional audience in front of he. In the United Kingdom this would probably be called live art which is now a kind of mix between experimental theatre and performance and even dance."

" For me it's Gilles. So if I really had to choose one thing I would choose him. Because I think he is one of the most intelligent and elegant choreographers I know. He is very visual and very intellectual at the same time. And the way he researches movement and space is very exciting."

At the beginning of the 1990s, the Ministry of Culture created a grant system for the support of civic, non-profit associations, which made it possible to offer grants for unofficial theatre activities, experimental work, festivals and workshops. In 1999, the Czech government approved an agenda, entitled "Strategy for more effective state support of culture", on cultural policy, in which the state agreed to take on the responsibility for supporting the widest possible involvement of the general public and civic initiatives in cultural and artistic activities, to allow ordinary people to access their cultural inheritance, and to participate in caring for their cultural heritage. However, even with the government's official support, funding in the Czech cultural sector is extremely limited. There is no large and wealthy private cultural foundation or clearly conceived donor activity. In light of this, I asked why Prague was chosen and where the funding for the festival came from:

"I'm at home here and I'm very happy I can influence the public opinion about dance I can help the Czech dance scene which is in trouble because there no financial conditions there is no space there is very little money. Partly it is easier, here in Prague, because it is still regarded, in diplomatic circles, as an eastern block country. So, the embassies have more money and can offer really essential support. And, the main funding comes from the government, that is the main money comes from the city of Prague and the ministry of culture and international institutes. So like for Gilles Jobin and Larry Ford almost all their expenses are covered by the British Counsel. In fact, they have given me one third of the budget. For the Dutch performers everything is covered for David Sombrano, for his workshop and his performances by the Royal Netherlands embassy and actually all the institutes like the Canadian embassy, good Institute and others support their artists otherwise we just could not do it at all."

Author: Nicole Klement
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