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RENOWNED CHOREOGRAPHER AND DIRECTOR TALKS ABOUT THE SMALLNESS OF THE SLOVAK CULTURE SCENE

Ďurovčík: We will eat each other

JÁN ĎUROVČÍK has produced more work for the stage, both here and abroad, than most people his age. He was just 22 when he formed the 12-member company Ballet Torso and recently he staged the premiere of the biggest original Slovak work ever performed at the Slovak National Theatre (SND) - the ballet Rasputin.
A native of the far-eastern Slovak town of Michalovce, Ďurovčík studied choreography at the University of Performing Arts in Bratislava and at the Institute for Dance and Dance Instruction in Antwerp, Belgium. He taught modern dance at the International Dance Stage in Bornem, Belgium, and has won several choreography competitions.
The Tree, a work Ďurovčík created for the Slovak Folk Artistic Ensemble (SĽUK) in 1999, is a dance-theatre performance that celebrates Slovak folk traditions. He considers this to be his most successful work. His contemporary dance piece ...On Your Graves premiered a year later, and when it was staged in the United States, the New York Times gave it a half-page review.


"THERE are many good [Slovak] choreographers [but] the opportunities for them are too limited."
photo: Brian Jones

JÁN ĎUROVČÍK has produced more work for the stage, both here and abroad, than most people his age. He was just 22 when he formed the 12-member company Ballet Torso and recently he staged the premiere of the biggest original Slovak work ever performed at the Slovak National Theatre (SND) - the ballet Rasputin.

A native of the far-eastern Slovak town of Michalovce, Ďurovčík studied choreography at the University of Performing Arts in Bratislava and at the Institute for Dance and Dance Instruction in Antwerp, Belgium. He taught modern dance at the International Dance Stage in Bornem, Belgium, and has won several choreography competitions.

The Tree, a work Ďurovčík created for the Slovak Folk Artistic Ensemble (SĽUK) in 1999, is a dance-theatre performance that celebrates Slovak folk traditions. He considers this to be his most successful work. His contemporary dance piece ...On Your Graves premiered a year later, and when it was staged in the United States, the New York Times gave it a half-page review.

Ďurovčík's works cover a wide range, and the artist himself has been active in the dance scenes of several cities. The work that has satisfied him the most was his collaboration with the now-defunct Bratislava Dance Theatre (BDT), which was led by Slovak-American Róbert Meško.

The Slovak Spectator recently spoke with Ján Ďurovčík about today's dance scene, three days after his ballet Rasputin premiered and just before he left to work in the Czech Republic.


ĎUROVČÍK'S multimedia show Circus World.
photo: Courtesy of SĽUK

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Last October you presented the show Circus World and recently you premiered the ballet Rasputin. What's going to be next?

Ján Ďurovčík (JĎ): Tomorrow, I am leaving Slovakia for the Czech Republic, where I will direct Na skle maľované [Painted on Glass]. This show has a cult following in this country, where it has been staged for 25 consecutive years [in Bratislava].

So, when this offer from the Czech Republic came, I was very interested in having the chance to direct there what had attracted a cult following here. And after that, I will start preparing for some foreign projects.

For example, I am hoping to go to Japan, where the [multimedia project] Romeo and Juliet that I put together with Henrich [the composer] and Nikita Slovák [the librettist] has captured the attention of Japanese producers. They would like to present it there, and if that works out then I think I might do some choreography for a theatre there.


TSS: You are only 31 and a significant number of your works have been staged. Such as Circus World, Rasputin...

JĎ: ...The Tree, ...On Your Graves, Romeo and Juliet...

TSS: How many other choreographers are there in Slovakia who have had the opportunities, like you have had, to present their own works?

JĎ: That's an elusive question. To tell it straight, every choreographer is basically also the author of the libretto [the work's story]. A textual base doesn't really exist for choreography, so choreographers have to invent it themselves. In my opinion, every choreographer actually presents his or her own work.

I was lucky to have the opportunity to create epic works with SĽUK, mainly The Tree. That was completely an author's work. Others, for example Responsio Mortifera [About Joan of Arc] that I created for Ballet Torso and the musical Mary Stuart that I created for a theatre in Nitra, came about primarily because I enjoy doing it all.

But how many choreographers are there who produce so much work? I think there are many good choreographers. Unfortunately, the opportunities for them are too limited.

TSS: To what extent is the Slovak artistic scene open to young dance artists?

JĎ: It's small, so it's not about whether it is open to young or old dance artists. The Slovak dance scene is small and that's the whole problem.

At the moment, we don't have any modern ballet companies doing work like the kind BDT used to present in the past. We have one sub-scene of professional contemporary dance, led by Zuzka Hájková, and we have two so-called classical ballet venues - the State Theatre in Košice and the Slovak National Theatre in Bratislava. That's too few for one country.

Slovakia does not have enough producers, and that's the main problem with the Slovak artistic scene. People will eat one another. And we are eating one another. Everybody else is further advanced: the Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, Estonians, Armenians, and Ukrainians. But I don't mean that in terms of quality; our scene is just so much smaller.


photo: Brian Jones

TSS: Is that why you go to work abroad, to the Czech Republic?

JĎ: No, it's not because of that. I don't need to go to the Czech Republic for that, even though the Czechs have twice as much in one city as we have in the whole country.

TSS: Your work ranges from traditional to contemporary dance, and from musicals to ballet. Why such a wide range?

JĎ: It is the only way I can survive. And obviously I like doing it. There is nothing else I can do; I don't have other hobbies. For me theatre is everything.

I also do lots of [choreography for] TV broadcasts and other musical events. Because this is such a small market, I can choose either to sit in a chair waiting for a chance to do something with the SND Ballet - which is about once every five years - or I can learn to edit and work with cameras, to create a documentary about [choreographer] Igor Holováč, for example, for which I get no money. Somebody might find that interesting and then ask me to direct a Tatra banka commercial and so on. I would even do a New Year's Eve programme! That's how I survive.

TSS: What do you like to do most?

JĎ: I like to do theatrical arts. I'm a theatre man. I like theatre.

TSS: Not dance?

JĎ: Dance is one element of the theatrical arts. I want to do theatre that is based on dance, singing, and drama.


photo: Brian Jones

TSS: When you were 22 years old you formed the group called Ballet Torso, for which you created several works. How did the audience react?

JĎ: I will put it this way: Only now do I realise all the implications of that period in my life. [The audience] accepted the works with zeal. But more than the work itself, they reacted to the fact that something unique had been formed - a group that could create a coherent feature programme of modern dance. Until then, there were only groups that did a dance here, a dance there.

Suddenly there was a programme that brought together people with great enthusiasm, people who were totally involved in the creation of the whole ballet; they even created the costumes themselves. There were soloists who, after they performed their parts, climbed up to do the lights.

Today, nobody does anything like this; nobody can even imagine it. Torso, as an amateur group, created 48 works. With Joan of Arc we toured for four weeks, and in Prague's National Theatre we were applauded through 16 curtain calls.

TSS: What did you like most about that work?

JĎ: To do theatre, to create a work with people with whom you go away [to a certain place] for several weeks or months, who aren't always thinking about their lunch break and who will work with you till the very end.

TSS: Could anything like that be formed in Slovakia again?

JĎ: Well, no it couldn't. The state has no interest in financially supporting anything like this.

TSS: Are you thinking of forming a group like that anywhere else?

JĎ: Nobody waits for you outside Slovakia with doors open. Art is not sport, where the goals scored decide who is best. Art is a matter of lobbying [to get opportunities, money, and publicity].

TSS: What keeps you here then?

JĎ: The fact that I am, on a certain level, here. What, should I go and knock on somebody's door in Germany and say: "I'm a certain Ďurovčík, who worked for a national theatre. Would you like me to choreograph for you?"

TSS: How do you manage to overcome the obstacles that are put in front of you?

JĎ: I don't. I don't have that feeling [that I am succeeding], because I would like to be doing something completely different and doing it somewhere else. And this I haven't managed to do yet.

It doesn't matter how people receive me, it matters what my goals are. And in that, in what I want to do, I haven't succeeded yet.

TSS: Do you think this situation might change?

JĎ: No, I don't think so because I know the people who are behind the happenings in this scene.

[The culture scene in Slovakia] is marked by our mentality. In this nation, everybody eats each other up. Our national character is to envy each other and put each other down.

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