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DANCE

Review: Faust: The devil went down to Petržalka

Bratislava Dance Theatre's performance of Faust returns to the capital this month after its premiere in December last year. The work is an impressive addition to the theatre's repertoire, and a promise of terrific things to come.
The subject of a drama by German romanticist Wolfgang Goethe, Faust passed into western folklore as a medieval necromancer and scientist who sold his soul to the devil in return for wondrous intellectual and physical gifts. In some versions, he gets his comeuppance when the devil returns to claim his pledge.
Bratislava Dance Theatre's (BDT) dance version makes pretty free with the story line, but in the sensuality of its dancing, gives a convincing portrayal of what humankind has always found so engaging about the devil.


Petr Kolář returns this month as Mephistopheles in Faust.
Courtesy BDT

Bratislava Dance Theatre - Faust

Where: Zrkadlový Háj Rovniankova 3, Petržalka
Performances: February 20 at 8:00, 21 at 10:30 and 14:00, 22 at 10:20 and 14:00, 23 at 14:00, March 12 at 8:00, 13 at 10:30 and 14:00, 15 at 10:30 and 13:30 (at Divadlo Andreja Bagara Nitra), April 19 at 10:30 and 14:00, 20 at 10:30 and 14:00
For information and tickets, Tel: 6542 3274
Rating: 8 out of 10

Bratislava Dance Theatre's performance of Faust returns to the capital this month after its premiere in December last year. The work is an impressive addition to the theatre's repertoire, and a promise of terrific things to come.

The subject of a drama by German romanticist Wolfgang Goethe, Faust passed into western folklore as a medieval necromancer and scientist who sold his soul to the devil in return for wondrous intellectual and physical gifts. In some versions, he gets his comeuppance when the devil returns to claim his pledge.

Bratislava Dance Theatre's (BDT) dance version makes pretty free with the story line, but in the sensuality of its dancing, gives a convincing portrayal of what humankind has always found so engaging about the devil.

The inspiration for Faust arose from meetings between BDT and youth organisations that battle drug addiction. In BDT's take on the German legend, Faust allays his self-doubt with drugs as he begins an affair with the innocent and trusting Margaret. Margaret is appalled by the change she sees in Faust, but is drawn into addiction herself.

In one striking sequence using a chair as a prop, the two flex their limbs in robotic movements as their images are simultaneously projected on a large screen. Their expressions are utterly blank.

But it's Mephistopheles, the devil's messenger, who really steals the show, and shows how deep a vein of talent BDT has to draw on. The work's original premiere was scheduled for November 2000, but had to be postponed when the original Mephistopheles - Petr Kolář - hurt his knee during rehearsal.

Kolář's replacement, Ján Hromada, needed only three weeks to come up to speed on the part, and on opening night last December, dazzled the audience with his stage presence and fine control over his limbs, earning him four curtain calls.


Radka Trubačková as Margaret.
Courtesy BDT

Hromada joined the company specifically for Faust, and it's no wonder: many dancers would sell their souls to the real devil for a crack at the role. Forget the tame tale by Goethe; this Mephistopheles gets to smoke cigarettes and set fires.

Choreographer Šárka Ondrišová takes her dancers through moods and tempos that vividly express Faust's internal struggle. The dancers' sexuality is used to convey both the excitement of drugs and their siren allure for susceptible souls.

Faust is at its best when treating the corruption of its characters, and the consequences of yielding to temptation. When Ján Mrňák as Faust is left to carry the stage, he cannot reproduce the excitement of the scenes with Mephistopheles. His enaging love scenes with Margaret (sensuously co-performed by Margaret Trubačková in December) are short lived, and he spends most of the most of the rest of the show standing around looking timid and weak.

The only other mistep is the use of melodramatic voice-overs to explain what Faust is thinking. Thankfully, these clangers are brief and seldom employed. The soundtrack is otherwise a terrific blend of jazz, rock and new-age music peppered with sound effects.

The libretto for the work was written by Bratislava Dance Theatre director Róbert Meško, who has called last spring's One Hit Wonder his dance company's "first masterpiece". Faust is, if anything, even better because it gives the company's lithe, exciting brand of modern dance a coherent storyline to follow.

Coming off a London trip, BDT is set to perform Faust regularly through April. Petr Kolář has recovered from his knee injury and will be trading off with Ján Hromada in the role of Mephistopheles.

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