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Nu Dance Festival brings Slovak and foreign novelties

TOMÁŠ Danielis, one of several leading Slovak dancers living abroad, says that unlike in foreign countries, contemporary dance in his home country has little backing among local audiences and institutions alike – which is the reason why so many dancers have left Slovakia to make their careers abroad. However, in spite of this – and despite the initial fears of insiders – the recent Nu Dance Festival managed to attract welcoming and supportive audiences, evoke debates, and fill workshops.

The Last Step Before, Jaro Viňarský(Source: Courtesy of J. Viňarský)

TOMÁŠ Danielis, one of several leading Slovak dancers living abroad, says that unlike in foreign countries, contemporary dance in his home country has little backing among local audiences and institutions alike – which is the reason why so many dancers have left Slovakia to make their careers abroad. However, in spite of this – and despite the initial fears of insiders – the recent Nu Dance Festival managed to attract welcoming and supportive audiences, evoke debates, and fill workshops.

The festival, which took place at the elledanse theatre in Bratislava between November 20 and 28, offered 12 performances over 7 evenings (including 9 premieres) from 6 countries, as well as a workshop “Flying Low and Passing Through” for professionals, a documentary about a dance experiment of the same name, the work-in-progress “Micro in Macro”, and after-parties with DJ Effiks.

An emergency substitute

On Friday, November 23, a performance of the work Kalbo was planned, but events forced organisers (and one of the performers) to totally change their plans. “Our stage was stolen,” Jaro Viňarský, who danced on the Friday, told The Slovak Spectator. “Petar Todorov and his wife Desisleva Mincheva, who dance the other two parts of the piece Kalbo that was originally meant to be played here, were on their way to a performance when they made a lunch stop and found when they returned to their car that two of the stage sets were not there. This happened on Sunday, so I had just a few days until Friday to decide. I chose this work, Posledný krok pred / The Last Step Before, which premiered in 2004 but which I don’t perform too often.”

The Last Step Before is an intimate one-man dance under a single piercing red light to the overwhelming music of the Canadian band Thee Silver Mount Zion. A short piece, the solo is literally breath-taking, surprising, pulling the most-hidden emotions from deep inside, from the realm of the suppressed impulses which no words can capture. After it ended and the whole venue was immersed in darkness, there was a telling silence and only later did applause erupt.

“The Last Step Before was born as a side product when I needed to make a performance quickly, due to the Jarmila Jeřábková Award I received in Prague,” Viňarský said. “As part of this award – also a financial one, artists have to create a new performance within a year. During the following year, I worked a lot with Belgian choreographer Karine Ponties, and gave the project with her all my time and energy. Shortly before the deadline, I found I had no performance to offer, and told Karine. She said I had done a lot of work on the project and I could use the elements we did not finally include in our piece, which totalled 40 hours of recordings. Then the idea of the light design came, and after it was premiered, the piece was surprisingly successful.” About the silence after the dance ends, he said: “First, I wanted to switch on the light to signal that it was time to applaud, but then I decided that it did not matter, even if there was no applause at all. I let the time flow, and in extreme cases, it was about ten minutes of silence, but I did not speed it up. And in the end, the clapping always came.”

Asked about the music for The Last Step before, Viňarský recalled. “When working on the project, Karine used to accompany improvisational music by a band called Thee Silver Mount Zion. Initially, I found it was too strong and that it would “kill” any movements. But as the choreography was crystallising, I remembered the strong, impressive music and when I played it, it matched well – to my great surprise.”

Slovakia-related dance personality dies



On the same day, just a few minutes before the performance started, both the organisers and the performer learned about the death of a famous dancer, art producer and patron with Slovak roots, Robert Z. Mesko (or rather Meško, as he was known here). Deeply moved, the festival’s organiser, Petra Fornayová, announced the news and dedicated the performance to his memory. Mesko died on November 16 of cancer but the news of his death was received only a week later. Viňarský admitted that the news, coming shortly before the start, influenced his perception and his performance.

Meško was born in Bratislava but his family emigrated to the US when he was six. After the fall of communism, he returned and from 1997 to 2002 founded and served as executive director of the Bratislava Dance Theater in Slovakia. Afterwards, he returned to the United States and continued his career and artistic projects there. Audiences at the elledanse theatre, consisting to a great extent of dance professionals, dance students and dance fans, reacted with emotion.

As the piece was shorter than the one originally planned, the evening was rounded off by a documentary called Day Project, portraying a project by choreographer David Zambrano, who invited 50 dancers from around the world to stay with him in Costa Rica for 50 days and learn and train in the technique Flying Low and Passing Through. One of the dancers, Clarice Lima, filmed the whole project and put together the documentary. Another graduate of the project, Malgorzata Haduch, from Poland, came to the festival to share her experience and explain the whole idea (and also to give a workshop on the technique).

Baroque musings

The festival wound up with another male solo to strong music, but of a different type. On November 28, the On the Red Lawn piece was danced by Tomáš Danielis, a Slovak currently working abroad, mostly in Denmark, Austria and Germany. He is also the work’s creator and choreographer.

“In this piece, the motif was primary – which developed from Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy – from the Inferno – inspired by the word as well as by the illustrations. I took Doré’s, Boticelli’s, Blake’s and Dali’s illustrations, compared them and took always the most impressive version,” Danielis told The Slovak Spectator. “The people are in hell because on the one hand they broke rules and feel guilty, and on the other hand they are proud of something they have done because they loved something: be it money, lechery or blind revenge.” Saying that this was his first ever work to classical music, he continued: “I needed music that would express the boasting and vanity on the one hand, and many layers as well as depth on the other. I did not want to use electronic music, and so through the selection process I quickly found Baroque music, with the exception of the last two pieces, which are written by Händel.”

The piece, which is almost one hour long, premiered in Austria in September, where it was performed only four times; the Nu Dance Festival saw its Slovak premiere. Danielis also used video sequences (made by Stefan Schmidt) to break up the condensed motion-and-music combination. He also changed his clothes – or took them off completely – to express outwardly the stirrings and incitement or the tortured souls. In some places, the physical visualisation of demons, incubi and succubi was palpable.

“I use video because theatre is based on a question, and once the question is answered, this moment dies and viewers start to be bored. Video, however, offers a window into another perspective and another reality,” Danielis said. “Especially when I am alone onstage, the video helps to balance the potential risk of narcissism – and uncover more layers.”

Both Viňarský and Danielis said that contemporary dance is a very young genre in Slovakia, having begun only about 20 years ago, and that it is still looking for audiences. Viňarský, who currently works in Žilina’s Stanica Záriečie culture hub, praised local audiences, considering local universities the main source of young, intellectual and even artistically inclined people. Danielis was more sceptical, stressing the fact that the lukewarm interest of the Slovak public might also be behind the insufficient support for this “marginal” art. However, perhaps they could agree that a festival like Nu Dance might help spread the word, find new, open visitors and become not only a venue for professional comparison and exchange, but also inspiration for both professionals and audiences.

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