Czech Centre London brings contemporary dancers to Edinburgh

'What is the Weight of Your Desire', photo: Vojtěch Brtnický

The Czech Centre London has prepared a special Czech Dance Showcase for the upcoming Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The showcase will present three highly acclaimed Czech contemporary dance groups, giving them a chance to show their stuff at the largest arts festival in the world. During her recent visit to Prague, I had a chance to speak to the director of Czech Centre London, Tereza Porybná, and began by asking her why they specifically chose contemporary dance as a medium to present Czech culture at the festival.

'What is the Weight of Your Desire', photo: Vojtěch Brtnický
“We opted for dance, because it communicates well internationally, you don’t need any subtitles or translation. Also, we believe that the Czech dance scene is quite interesting and it deserves an opportunity to go abroad and form new contacts and see the competition as well, because Fringe is extremely competitive and offers every year over 20,000 premieres, including contemporary dance.

“And in terms of the specific groups, we are bringing Spitfire Company & Damúza theater with a solo performance called One Step Before the Fall. The interesting thing about this performance is that is also a musical performance. It is a project bringing together the dancer Markéta Vacovská and singer and composer Lenka Dusilová, who creates music for this performance, live during each performance. It’s a beautiful piece, I like it very much.

“Our second piece is Miřenka Čechová and Tantehorse with She is Nancy Joe. This performance was especially popular in the United States. It was the Best of Dance award from the Washington Post. I think part of the reason is that is a political statement as well as an artistic one. It deals with the issue of transgender and identity. It is also a solo performance and Miřenka Čechová uses graffiti projections behind her, and hip hop music and combines a huge range of dance techniques, including hip hop, pop and lock, breakdance and classical ballet.

“And the last performance is a little lighter. It’s by VerTeDance with What is the Weight of Your Desire. And that deals with the classical dance topic of love and relationships.”

'She is Nancy Joe', photo: Martin Marak
How did you select these dance troupes and were you involved in selecting these specific pieces as well?

“I saw all the pieces, because I am quite interested in dance myself, so I saw them anyway, but obviously we wanted to include people who are professionals in the field. So, the Czech Centre invited Nová síť, which is a networking agency specialized in dance, we cooperated with the Arts and Theater Institute (Divadelní ústav, Institut umění) and we also showed some DVDs to British promoters, so we could have a really international jury for the selection. We were considering some 6-7 performances at the time, which was in February. Obviously, we couldn’t include all the things we liked.”

As you already mentioned, Edinburgh (Fringe) is a very well-known and a very competitive festival. How much of a challenge to you think it will be for the Czech dance troupes to distinguish themselves from hundreds of other performers?

“Yeah, it’s actually thousands of other performers, so it’s a huge challenge, especially for dance. I would like to underline that we selected a venue that specializes in dance, so we know that all the Edinburgh visitors who are interested in dance will go to this venue. So, that’s one good thing. And then, Czech Centre London is obviously supporting and organizing the showcase, it was our initiative.

Tereza Porybná, photo: Vojtěch Brtnický
"But it’s also a huge investment for the dancers; a physical investment, because they are performing every day for three weeks. They have to set up the stage, they have to pull it down. They have to be in the streets and promote their performances during the day, so there is basically no rest. It’s like a boot-camp. So, I hope they will be prepared for that, and I am quite curious to see what will happen.”

Of course, dance, as you said, is an international medium, it doesn’t need translation, and it is international in the sense of style as well. Do you think, though, that Czech modern dance groups are somehow unique? Do you think they are different from other European or international dance groups?

“I think it comes down to the individual performances of the dance groups. So, I don’t see, from my limited point of view, a dance group that would stand out as specifically Czech. There is, of course, La Putyka, which stands out in the local context, but it does exist in the wider context of New Circus. From the performances we selected, I think Miřenka Čechová is interesting, because she draws on this Czech tradition of mimes and pantomime, which is in a way quite Czech and not very much used by young performers. And I think that maybe that is why she is so successful in the United States, because she bring something very specific.”

'One Step Before the Fall', photo: Martin Marak
This is the second year that the Czech Centre is organizing a Czech dance showcase at the Edinburgh festival. How is this year different? And is it different?

“The first showcase was in 2008, it had five performances. Now, doing it after five years, we have fewer performances, but on the other hand we have much bigger PR. And what we want to achieve with this showcase is, of course, introduce Czech dance, which is essentially the goal of Czech Centres – to bring Czech culture abroad. But we also really want to focus on gathering the media attention and have good PR backing, and make sure that some contacts are firmly established and have some more practical results.”

I know the festival hasn’t even started, but so far, do you think that this is a venture you will want to undertake in the future, maybe on a yearly basis?

“Definitely not on a yearly basis, no. It’s a big investment for everybody involved. For the Czech Centre, working in a small team and doing so many events, Edinburgh is like another job. So we can’t do that, but we would like to do it on a bi-annual basis. That I think would be feasible and would also make sense, because then we will be able to choose from a wider range of performances and really work on it.”

And on a slightly different topic…you’ve been in charge of the Czech Centre in London for five months, how is it going so far? Are the goals that you had set out for yourself in the beginning working out? Have they changed?

'She is Nancy Joe', photo: Martin Marak
“Well, one of my goals was to do Edinburg Fringe, and we’re doing it now. So, that goal was achieved. Now I’m questioning whether it was a reasonable goal, because it was like being thrown into cold water and realizing that maybe some of my assumptions were a little bit naïve and that it’s really not that much fun. So I’m very pleased with that.

“We have also managed to set up a series of documentary film screening in the Front Line Club, which I am also quite proud of. The attendance at the screenings was full. We had a beautiful screening of the film Pevnost by Lukaš Kokeš and Klára Tasovská – a documentary about Moldova. And it was full of journalists and people who are writing about the country – only British people. These were the things that I wanted to do, and we are happy with that.

“Another goal of mine was to do something with young Czech fashion designers, and we’re working on that and it will happen during the London Fashion Week in 2014. It is starting to shape up as a more international project, in cooperation with Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, which is good, because it allows us to have a bigger space and making it maybe a bit more interesting.”

And once the Fringe is over, once you’ve rested a little bit, what are some of the next project, aside from the next year’s London Fashion Week?

“We still have a lot of projects for 2014 left. Every year we do a Made in Prague cultural season and this year it will start in October and the season will run for two months, and it will include a series of film screenings - both feature film and documentaries. We will also have a jazz series and a rock concert series. So, that’s new. We’ll have some alternative rock bands coming, to perform during the Czech autumn season.

'What is the Weight of Your Desire', photo: Vojtěch Brtnický
“We’re also talking to a local British initiative called Art in the Underground, who do screenings in abandoned stations in the London underground. So, we’re thinking of having a series of short Czech films there. We’re looking forward to that.

“And for 2014, it’s the fashion and also we’re thinking of doing something interesting with the Dvořak anniversary, a sort of merging of classical and electronic music. Hopefully, that will work out as well.”