Dancing Between Jihlava and New York

Denisa Musilová, photo: Dáša Kubíková / Czech Radio

Denisa Musilová is a successful performing artist and choreographer with experience from the world-famous Baryshnikov Arts Centre. After studying contemporary dance at the Duncan Centre Conservatory in Prague, she spent several years working and dancing in Israel and was then invited to New York. She now divides her time between a small Czech town and the Big Apple.

Denisa Musilová has an infectious laught that is impossible to resist. She was born and raised in Jihlava, a small town of some 50 thousand inhabitants about 80 miles south-east of Prague. Her way to performing art was not straightforward. After graduating from a secondary vocational school specializing in accounting, she trained at the Duncan Centre Conservatory in Prague that focuses on contemporary dance. Then she decided to spend a summer working at a kibbutz, but ended up staying for seven years. It was in Israel that she started performing seriously:

“It was a bit of a coincidence and a stroke of luck. I was working there and dancing when I met a choreographer, who also worked in New York. She invited me to move there, so I did.”

Denisa stayed in New York for ten years. Like most performing artists, she combined her artistic work with occasional jobs first in bars, later as an administrative assistant at the Czech Mission at the UN. She managed to find time to study History of Art at the Fashion Institute of Technology. It was a very intensive period of her life. It happened that one day Denisa and her colleagues got noticed by Mikhail Nikolayevich Baryshnikov, a legendary Latvian-born American dancer, choreographer, and actor. They were invited to perform at the Baryshnikov Arts Centre:

New York,  photo: Pexels,  CC0

“He came to see our performance. His wife, who was a curator at a small theatre first asked us to create a small performance for her show. Mikhail Baryshnikov then commissioned us to make a piece for his Centre. He also invited us to perform at the Ringling/Baryshnikov Festival in Florida.”

Having an artist visa for New York is a privilege, but a limited one. Your job opportunities outside performing or show business are limited, competition is fierce:

“You need to know people. They are from all over the world and they become your best friends. You are all in the same boat, so, you help each other. I am sure those friendships will last forever.”

Denisa is in touch with her friends and former colleagues who are trying to survive the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City, although many of them have left since there are virtually no work opportunities. Being from Jihlava means security for Denisa in these hard times:

“I am employed by the local theatre doing educational programs: children’s workshops and classes. I am also a guest choreographer for directors who come here when they need some kind of movement in their plays.”

With her experience from New York, Denisa can compare what it is like for performing artists in the Czech Republic and America:

Jihlava,  photo: Archive of Radio Prague

“It is never easy for freelancers, wherever they work. You just go from job to job, have very little security. But here in the Czech Republic, you can at least rely on the social system, there is nothing like that in the US. But if I were to talk about the theatre here in Jihlava, where I am working right now, I think some actors do not even realize how lucky they are. I am sure it is hard work to rehearse and act in play after play, to learn all these texts. But they have a regular salary coming, you can do your art and you have some stability.”

Nevertheless, staying in Jihlava full time is not for Denisa. She hopes she will be able to return to New York again and perform there:

“I tried to find some stability in my life, but I have concluded that it is not for me. I think I will always be on the move. Both in art and physically.”

Denisa gives another infectious laugh. Obviously, she does not want to leave her town completely, but she has other plans, too.