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Balet Bratislava: Czech In

A prolific season for Balet Bratislava: tonight saw the third full evening of new choreography from Mario Radacovsky’s young company.

The opening piece Slovanské Dvojspevy (Slavonic Duets: Czech choreographer Libor Vaculik) tells a playful tale of Slovak courtship. The long white skirts and the white shirts of the men gave the stage the lightness of spring and early summer. The music is much heavier though Antonin Dvorak’s Slovak Dances opus 46 and 72 and one of the Moravian dances too). Sadly the sound system in Novaj Tsena is simply not adequate for classical music: played too loud Dvorak descends into cacophony.

While on the subject of the theatre the stage seems too small as well for this piece. With ten dancers forming two groups at the same time, you did not have the feeling of observing Slovak courtship rituals in fields or the countryside but rather a kind of back urban alleys version. Basically, too much furniture in a room. Whether Slavonic Duets would be any better on a larger stage is an open question: I believe a catastrophic Ivan the Terrible I once saw in the SND was also the creation of Libor Vaculik.

The performances were evenly adequate with one exception: Klaudia Bitterová stood out for her radiance, her poise and the lyricality of her movements. There was no Katarina Kosiková to share the stage with and Bitterová took full advantage of her opportunity to shine. Andrej Szabo as the lead among the men presented himself an ideal partner to Bitterová.

The next piece was a real surprise: guest artists Petr Zuska and Zuzana Susová brought Zuzksa’s Lyrická (Lyric), in incredibly moving duet set to a traditional Rusin and Slovak folk song). Susová emotional dancing sent shivers through the audience. Zuska’s mature appearance and practiced movement provided an interesting contrast to the relative striplings of Balet Bratislava. In the end, it is much more attractive to watch grown men live relationships of depth and passion than to see teenagers go through the motions. Experience has its merits. For this ballad alone, the evening was worth the trip out for me.

Petru Zuska is director of the National Ballet of Czech Republic in his day job: amazing the form he retains. Zuzana Susová is a great Czech star who due to injury doesn’t dance on point anymore. Kudos to Mario Radacovsky for casually bringing such distinguished guests to Bratislava (we’ve seen Jiri Kylian, Nacho Duato, James Kudelka and now Peter Zuska just off the top of my head).

Falling Angels, a great Kylian classic from 1990, followed. The stage opens to dramatic African style drumming (Steve Reich) eight women all dressed in dark woolen jumpsuits. Over the next twenty minutes, they shake as a group and then each takes a short and distinct solo. It is bravura performance for each performer and the group. Credit to the women of Ballet Bratislava all. Nominally Ballet Bratislava is a company of ten with five women. Barbora Bláhova and Veronika Hollá were the newcomers, the beautiful Hollá taking time out from her work at SND.

Particularly fine work from Klaudia Bitterová. Rival Kosiková and Natália Nemethová were both in fine form. Particularly sinuous was Hollá.

I’m not sure what the hair suits and the African music means. It is more a call back into our primitive selves, an ornate tearing away of the veil of civilization within the temple of ballet. In any case, Falling Angels sent the audience wild.

Again the stage is a bit small for the work and despite the presence of Kylian’s main lighting collaborator Kees Tjebbe, there was none of the distinct squares of light on each performer. Simply not enough lighting gear available. Kylian’s movement and Reich’s music are strong enough that just the atmospheric dimming and raisig of the lights sufficed, but a certain polish remains missing. One cooks with the ingredients one has.

The penultimate act of the evening was Jiri Kylian’s Six Dances. If you haven’t seen it before (what rock are you hiding under: it’s in the Vienna State Opera, Opera de Paris, Boston Ballet among another twenty companies), Six Dances is an absurdist diversion on Mozart’s Six German Dances. The stage opens to Baroque gentlemen and ladies in their undergarments with mussed hair. As the piece goes on, they couple and they triple, often the women leaving the men with one another.

The men cross dress in elaborate black rolling gowns. All the men wear white wigs and bright red lipstick. Six Dances in short is a meditation on gender and sexuality but it is mainly a lot of fun. Behind the hijinks, Kylian suggested he had a more serious message:

I have set six seemingly non-sensical acts, which obviously ignore their surroundings. They are dwarfed in face of the ever present troubled world, which most of us for some unspecified reason carry in our souls.

Both Nemethova and Kosikova were delightful, with Nemethova’s dramatic gifts taking the lead over Kosikova. Nemethova’s hair was crazier and her wildness more convincing than any of the other dancers. Dan Datcu and Arthur Abram both stood out among the men as convincingly Baroque gentlemen. The normally excellent Szabo for some reason didn’t really hit his stride this evening.

Along with Kees Tjebes, Radacovsky did manage to bring in Roslyn Anderson for a total of four weeks as repeition master. Anderson for thirty years has been Kylian’s choreographic assistant and has worked with most of the world’s great companies and dancers. Bringing in professionals of such a high caliber does wonders for the development of the company. All year they’ve been working under great tutors and one can see enormous progress in the young dancers over the course of the year.

With the exception of the rather messy Slovanske Dvojspevy, the staging of the evening was excellent and Balet Bratislava did an admirable job with some challenging work. Still, taking on masterworks which can be seen in direct comparison with the world’s best dance companies is a risky strategy in my opinion. It’s difficult to win with a local company however great their heart. You will always be less good than Opera de Paris or Netherlands Dance Company I.

Of the three premieres this year, the original and incomparable modern work of Three Pieces seems the best path forward. You can only see these works here on Ballet Bratislava and its damn good work. But we have no reason to complain after such a rich first season. Mario Radacovsky with his dedicated young dancers are doing a splendid job of offering us very good dance in Bratislava.

If Mario Radacovsky is again offered the helm of the ballet of SND, I hope that this second company can continue to exist to provide an alternative stage with very good dancers for modern and new choreography. The Slovak and Bratislava dance world is vastly enriched by Ballet Bratislava’s existence.


  1. Anonymous Critic Anonymous Critic

    I have just read your review of Balet Bratislava’s “Czech In”. I had the privelege of watching both of the performances the past weekend. I agree with some of your criticism, but found it annoying to find that you had not done your homework very well and I also found some of your statements unfair to BB and some of it’s talented and dedicated dancers.

    Let me first correct you on some blatant errors in facts. First of all, Balet Bratislava is a company of 14 dancers, 7 women, 7 men, not 10 as you had written in your review. Of the 14, seven are native Slovaks, and the others are foreign. The piece “Falling Angels” was created in 1989, not 1990, and not all the dancers in the piece have solos – there are a coupe of duet sections, and one of the 8 women in the dance does not dance a solo. In Balet Bratislava’s “Falling Angels”, it was the position danced by Natalia Nemethova that does not get a solo. You called “Six Dances” the “penultimate” (definition: second to the last) piece of the night’s show when in fact it was the last. The reason Andrej Szabo “didn’t really hit his stride” in “Six Dances” is he was only in it as an “extra”, one of the background characters, and did not actually dance in it.

    I disagree with you about Vaculik’s piece. I found the choreography a little strange in parts, quite intricate and really challenging but very well performed, by everyone, with not one dancer standing out but everyone working as an ensemble. And i thought the BB male dancers did dance with maturity, and not like “teenagers going through the motions.” There were some little quirks about this piece but overall a delightful piece that showcased the dancers’ versatility.

    I don’t know how many stagings of the Kylian pieces you have actually seen for you to say that the BB dancers could not be as good as the Paris Opera or NDT. Well let me tell you that I have seen other big and world reknown companies such as Houston Ballet and Boston Ballet do these pieces and from the BB performance the past weekend, they definitely are up to par and in fact deserve extra kudos for coming up with fantastic performances despite the limitations of the Nova Scena stage facilities. You really should be giving them more credit.

    On the issue of your dancer reviews, I sense a bias towards certain dancers. You named 5 of the 8 in Falling Angels. Not to undermine their talents, but I must say the strongest performances in ths piece was not from one of those you mentioned. And I am not the only one of this opinion. In Six Dances, I thought the best male performance, again, was from one dancer you did not name.

    Just wanted to see a review that was more appreciative of those deserving. But then, I realize it is a subjective review, not necessarily an informed and accurate one, and certainly not fair.

  2. Dear Anonymous Critic,

    Thanks for your detailed and informative commentary.

    I do believe Balet Bratislava’s core group is 10 or 12 and not 14 but we’d have to ask Mr. Radocovsky about who is salaried full time and not. That the split is 50/50 is excellent: it indicates that Balet Bratislava is a Slovak company but open to the world.

    I do feel awful about not mentioning Daniel Corbeil’s excellent performance in Six Dances, you are quite right. As well, whoever two were doing the stilts work were excellent: the best I’ve seen.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree about Vaculik’s piece: it was a mess to my eyes, despite good performances by the cast.

    Again, I have seen lots of Kylian in Vienna and in Paris and a little bit in The Netherlands and my comparison stands. I’m glad Balet Bratislava has matched Houston and Boston Ballet. I haven’t seen either of those companies live so I’m not in a position to disagree.

    Concerning bias. Yes it’s a difficult question, bias in critical reviews.

    I know the Balet Bratislava company well. Certainly well enough to have bias and to have picked favorites. In some ways, though my favorites would stand out to my eye even if I came in with entirely fresh eyes.

    Some of the attributes which appeal to me in dancers are intensity, passion, dramatic presence, athleticism and physical presence. I do not have as keen an eye for precision, foot position and refinement as many dance critics.

    I’m not quite sure what one can do to ensure neutrality, other than to avoid any social interaction with anyone from the dance world. I do try to write my initial impressions before meeting with choreographers and/or dancers after the show to avoid colouring my impressions of the evening. I generally do not accept tickets from dancers themselves to specific shows, as I don’t feel one can write objectively about a performance as the guest of a particular artist.

    But no one is perfect and I least of all.

    Thank you again for taking the time to share your thoughtful remarks. It’s nice to run into someone else who cares deeply about dance, even when we disagree on the details.

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