Czech theatre revolution, Laterna Magika, seeks innovation after 60 years

'Wonderful Circus', photo: Petr Našic / National Theatre

The legendary Czech experimental theatre revolution, Laterna Magika, is marking its 60th anniversary. Combining black light theatre, film and dance, the revolutionary concept premiered at the Expo 1958 exhibition in Brussels has since performed all around the world, including New York’s Carnegie Hall and the Summer Olympics in Athens.

Laterna Magika,  photo: Kristýna Maková
Laterna Magika or Magic Lantern marked its anniversary on Saturday with a special performance combining the 1960 show Studánky, or springs, by Alfréd Radok with the most recent spectacle, called the Cube.

On Monday visitors will have a rare chance to visit the backstage of the Laterna Magika, which is normally inaccessible to the public. And a special exhibition dedicated to its 60-year-long history has also been launched.

Laterna Magika artistic director Pavel Knolle gave more details:

“This audio-visual show takes places on the first floor of the National Theatre building. It is an original project prepared by František Pecháček and Viktorie Čermáková, who were inspired by the history of Laterna Magika and it is based on its original programme at Expo 68 in Brussels.

“On May 22 we will unveil a special sculpture dedicated to out theatre at the Piazetta of the National Theatre. It is called Kulturní Roj and it was created by Jakub Nepraš. And on December 22 there will be a special performance inspired by Jiří Trnka’s Zahrada.”

After its enormous success at Brussels’ Expo, Laterna Magika has been performing regularly in Prague since 1959. In the 1980’s the theatre set down its roots in the modernistic glass cube new building of the National Theatre, the so-called Nová Scéna or the New Stage.

With its eclectic mix of different styles, Laterna Magika has been something of a transformational force in Czech theatre and for decades it has been one of Prague’s top attractions.

With the emergence of new venues, its popularity started to diminish, however. In 2010, Laterna Magika lost its independence and was transferred to the management of the National Theatre, a move that is credited with helping to renew the interest of local theatre-goers.

As to its future development, artistic director Pavel Knolle says Laterna Magika wants to search for new ways of artistic expression but at the same time remain faithful to its past legacy:

'Wonderful Circus',  photo: Petr Našic / National Theatre
“We don’t want to leave our past and we definitely want to draw on our legacy. At the same time, we are aware that multimedia is today a normal part of any theatrical performance.

“So I would say we try to keep the traditional poetics of the Laterna Magika but at the same time we search for new artistic expressions and new ways to present the material.”

To this day, Laterna Magika boasts 39 premieres and hundreds of performances on foreign stages.

Its show the Wonderful Circus, a blend of dance, film and black light theatre, which first came to the stage in 1977, has become the most performed show in Czech history with more than 6,400 performances.