Now that I’m living in Bratislava, I thought I should go out to see the contemporary dance scene here.
Alas to do so, I missed the brilliant and beautiful Katarina Weinhuber’s evening at WUK with Am Lande und Ganz die Ihre. I’d seen both pieces but would very much have liked to have seen them again.
It was a mistake. Through the first three pieces of Nu Dance Fest, I thought I’d stumbled on perfect aesthetic catastrophe.
The evening began with a male solo from Yuri Korec about a young man in hip hop gear listening to really awful pop music and leaping around the room. I believe the musical choice was ironic and meant to be reflective of the dreadful Bratislava nightclubs (only Elam in the student section of town so far has offered anything outside the worst radio music). Korec is a good dancer but twenty odd minutes of dreadful blaring pop is a bit much no matter how energetic Korec’s steps. In the end “New Bit_New Beat” does not do his talents justice.
From there things went rapidly downhill with an unspeakably dreadful duet from Monik Caunerová and Katarína Vlniesková called “Casove Pásmo”.
The two were roped together by some ugly enormous cord. Hideous brown and black costumes. The pair flap around like loutish enormous birds on point half the time. The rest of the time they roll on the floor and play games with a huge hat. Clearly I missed the point so I won’t say anything more about it.
The third piece was not fit for public performance. It was an ongoing trainwreck involving Magadaléna Caprdová, Yuri Korec again, Andrej Petrovic and Zdenka Svitekova.
I couldn’t understand why the choreography consistently ended up in a lump of bodies on the floor. It looked like contact improvisation of some kind. Later I was told that’s what it was.
On the plus side, the two men had a good short set together.
But unrehearsed contact improvisation is something to be experienced, not watched.
I had abandoned hope at that point.
Next, a woman walked out onto the stage stark naked. The lighting suddenly was dark, mysterious and atmospheric. Most of the time we only saw her outline.
After a ten minute solo, the dancer left the auditorium. I thought ho-hum a nude solo, well-enough danced and well-lit. A pleasant respite but nothing extraordinary.
But then the most amazing thing happened.
The dancer returned, this time in underwear. In the center of the stage stood a table with a cosmetics kit and some clothes piled up.
And here Petra Fornayová began her monologue about natural beauty.
After the au natur solo which preceded her monologue it was unsurprising to see her talking about natural products.
But she managed to apply about fifteen different products and take seven different vitamins. Finally the audience began to clue in – we were being sold the same bill of goods which we as a society are sold – expensive nature in tubes and pill bottles.
In the end, Fornayová’s character coats herself up in make-up, puts on a miniskirt and high heels before pacing the room nervously and unhappily.
The final words of Fornayová while sitting on her table come from the beginning of Snow White:
Once upon a time there lived a king and a queen. One day the queen gave birth to a princess, but sadly on the same day she died. The king grieved night and day for a year but finally decided for the sake of the princess he must marry again. He married the most beautiful woman in the kingdom. But the new queen was very vain. She had a magical mirror. Every evening she would ask the mirror who is the most beautiful woman in the kingdom. Every evening the mirror would answer, “You, you, my queen.”
Throughout the piece we have heard the beating of a human heart, louder and louder.
Finally in a musical crescendo Fornayová ascends to some kind of other world, arms outstretched – contemporary womanhood reaches apocalyptic creamed and perfumed perfection.
The music was the work of Peter Machajdík and Peter Groll.
A tour-de-force performance in a brilliantly conceived piece, Hlbinné Prousenie Epidermy made sense of what had been a rather dire evening.
Her piece is more theatre than dance, but the opening section made her composition cross-genre rather experimental theatre masquerading under the name of contemporary dance.
Curiously Fornayová is also director of the Nu Dance Fest. Primarily she is an actress and not a dancer. Some of the people who’ve been following theatre here say Fornayová is the greatest contemporary Slovak actress. I’m not in a position to make such a judgement at this point, but at any rate she is very, very good.
In terms of dance schools here, there are two schools. The Conservatory (Konzervatorium) for ballet and the Academy of Music and Performing Arts (Vysoka skola muzickych umeni). The contemporary dance crowd all come from the High School for Drama and Music. There is no interaction with the Conservatory world at all. Yet at least one girl came here from Prague on account of the quality of teaching. The scene is small and absolutely everyone knows everyone else.
According to the people I met, there is little funding in Bratislava for experimental and contemporary dance or theatre. Bratislava prefers to support the classic theatre, dance and musical tradition. Given the size of the city and the presence of a full scale academic dramatic theatre, an opera and a ballet company as well as a philharmonic orchestra, it is no wonder resources are stretched tight. At least the contemporary theatre and dance creators do have a central space to call their own – the A4 theatre where the Nu Dance Fest is taking place on Namestie SNP beside Orange.
But overall it’s a good thing that many of the Slovak contemporary dancers are getting out and getting some fresh air, at ImPulsTanz (i.e. from tonight’s show Zdenka Sviterková, danceweb 2005) and elsewhere.
All Photographs – Alec Kinnear.