Dance in a digital age


Accompanied by a jarring electrical soundtrack and a bewildering laser display, Petra Hauerova took to the stage in Prague's Ponec Theatre last Friday to present her choreographic work, Turning Machine. In a highly technological display, she threw the audience into a distorted world of humanoid forms, humbling onlookers with the sheer power of the illusions created. Hers is one of a number of performances at this year's Czech Dance Platform, now in its 12th year.

With the Tanec Praha dance festival rapidly approaching, Czech dancers and choreographers alike are now preparing for the stiff competition which surrounds the Sazka prize for "New Dance Talent of the Year". In recent weeks, to whet the appetites of dance experts and enthusiasts countrywide, the platform has been showcasing the most promising new talent on the scene of contemporary Czech dance. Yvona Kreuzmannova is the director of the Tanec Praha organisation, responsible for the event. She told me how the Czech Dance Platform first came into being:

"Basically I was very inspired by different platforms which are organised abroad and I wanted to create something for Czech domestic artists in the middle of the 90s which was very difficult as there was not so much going on in dance. So we held a small event in the Duncan Centre conservatory and then we moved to Hradec Kralove, a wonderful city where the mayor proposed to me to present dance once a year and to invite foreign guest so I was very happy to move there. Wee stayed there until 2000 and on the occasion of the IETM Informal European Theatre Meeting, we moved back to Prague but we are of course presenting dance in Hradec Kralove as well."

So what was the idea being starting the platform? Why was it originally founded?

"Because I wanted to support Czech dancers, domestic dancers, and I also wanted to attract the attention of the people who were engaged abroad. I really wanted them to come back home and to present their work and make workshops and to create a more positive atmosphere for contemporary dance in this country."

And what kind of state was contemporary dance in at this early stage? How has it changed since 1989 for example?

"There has been incredible progress during the last five or six years. I can tell that during the 90s we were coming back to our roots which were in the 30' especially and in the 40s. But then, after the Second World War only classical ballet schools and folk dance were presented on a professional level in this country. So we felt a big gap in the development of contemporary arts, not only dance, in this country and that's why the beginning was very hard, but necessary to start with. This is also why we started with a big international dance festival bringing artists from foreign countries, showing what's going on abroad, and then slowly we began to develop our domestic stage."

And could you give some idea how popular contemporary dance is in the Czech Republic?

"Well, it has grown up incredibly, I mean, when we started in the 90s even the festival had a real problem in gaining an audience and then the festival started to be well known and well publicised and we did find some main partners to make it visible, which was extremely important for dance as it is in the country and not only for the festival. So now we have the festival sold out, basically, during the month of June. The Czech dance platform this year is absolutely seeing the best attendance in its history. Its first and last performances were totally sold out and in between there were something like 90-95% attendance so it is incredibly high and intensive, and I am very happy that during the year also when we present contemporary dance in the Ponec Theatre, attendance is growing. This means that our premieres are sold out and for other performances, there are more and more people going to see them."

In light of this increase in popularity in the country, the platform aims to put contemporary Czech dance on the map internationally, and has received contributions from overseas both from an artistic and an analytical point of view. Performances have included works by guest choreographers from Norway and Romania, who have been working with local dancers, to broaden the Czech approach, and experts have also travelled from across the globe to appreciate this year's up and coming Czech artists.

"The Czech Dance Platform which we organised was for a Czech audience, as large as possible, but also for foreign partners. Foreign presenters, especially the directors of festivals, theatres, different venues, different choreographic centres are coming here and following the whole festival and every year we invite a few of them, this year five, to the jury, and international jury which decides the prize called 'Discovery in Dance'. It's a Sazka prize as it is sponsored by the lottery company Sazka and it is the main prize in this country in contemporary dance, which gives 400,000 crowns for the creation of a new work from the winning choreographer. It is encouraging contemporary dancers to create, to participate and be involved in this movement."

One of the foreign guests at this year's dance platform was Robert Wood, the head of the Dance New York organisation in the US, which focuses on connecting people in the dance world across the globe. He told me of his impressions of this year's Czech Dance Platform:

"I think this platform itself has been excellent in inviting and in opening your arms up to other cultures and other places who have a love of dance as well and it's a wonderful way to communicate and create all sorts of understanding which enhances trade and politics and all sorts of developing potential for us to be together. So I find that this has been wonderful for that very purpose and it is the very purpose that I indeed came."

Among the foreign contributors to this year's Czech Dance Platform was choreographer and performer Iona Popovic from Romania, who has been based in Prague for five years working with a local dance company and travelling to other European dance platforms. Nominated last year as 'Young choreographer to Watch' by the prestigious Ballet-Tanz Magazine, she has inspired judges and audiences alike with the gripping atmosphere of her creations. Her performance for this year's platform, entitled Remote Edens, incorporated the intriguing use of sculpture and live chickens on-stage to enhance her expression of life and death in a desolate and futile environment. After her performance, she gave me her thoughts on what distinguishes the Czech approach to contemporary dance from its form in other countries:

"Dance still doesn't have a long tradition as it has in Germany or anywhere else like in France. Its still in a kind of early stage, and this is what makes it very beautiful and fresh. As I thought a couple of weeks ago in Germany, for example, at a German dance platform, I think that there's a big different in language and I like it very much. The Germans are very conceptual, and just very basic and essential but the Czechs are more human in what they want to express and the way they want to express it. They're more human."

With the Czech world of contemporary dance having seen such growth in past years, what awaits audiences at the Tanec Praha festival this year is an exciting prospect. And looking even further ahead, the developments which have been made in this area of art bode extremely well for future performers and choreographers alike, as doors are now being opened on an international level. Robert Wood believes that the Czech dance will really make its mark within the international community.

"I think the future is going to be very telling in a wonderful way, because I think that there are a lot of people outside who are very interested in supporting and being informed upon where the Czech artists are and to embrace them and have them as part of not just the European community of dance, but definitely the American community and further a field."