THE RECENTLY premiered Queen, or Stories of Those Who Long to Live Forever, is something quite different from what fans of the hits of legendary British rock band Queen might expect. It is also different from what those familiar with Freddie Mercury’s life story, as well as from what fans of the dance troupe at the Nová Scéna, might expect. But those who are able to cast aside their expectations will find an interesting and fresh theatrical dance piece, featuring a lot of music and only a few texts to explain the plot.
“After the Balet Bratislava ensemble was transformed into the Balet Novej Scény (NS) troupe,” choreographer of the piece and head of the ensemble Mário Radačovský explained for The Slovak Spectator, “we had discussions with the head of the Nová Scéna Theatre, Juraj Ďurdiak, and we agreed on a compromise: the dancers would participate in musicals and theatrical stagings, but we would also do our own pieces, which would, however, also reflect the spirit of the whole theatre. And my impression was that Queen could be splendid for both the dancers and the Nová Scéna brand [known especially for musicals - ed. note].”
“I like it when things just happen – [when] something finds me, I meet a friend accidentally…” Miroslava Kovářová, the dramatic advisor of the ensemble (and the piece), writes in the accompanying bulletin, “and this is how Queen ‘happened’ to us.”
Laco Lučenič, Slovak musician, DJ and producer, who largely plays himself in the piece, explained to The Slovak Spectator why he chose to use lesser-known songs instead of Queen’s biggest hits: “I started by selecting the music – a very specific selection that avoided the proverbial hits like ‘Radio Gaga’, as Queen have a host of very good things, some of which are practically unknown. And it played a big role; that the chosen piece, the semi-finished re-mixed product, had to be fit for dance – or flexible enough to be made fit for dance.” About his part, Lučenič said: “I confess I am not a big fan of Queen, but this can be an advantage rather than the opposite – maybe I don’t have the scruples of someone who adoringly watches the tracks and is afraid to intervene in any way. I strived to make the sound of the older legend as contemporary as possible.” Apart from mixing and DJing, Lučenič also plays a few tunes live on guitar, and says he tries to improvise each time, making each rendition unique.
“We left quite a lot of space for the dancers to improvise,” Radačovský added. “Many dancers got the chance to try something new onstage, something they have never danced before. Some of them even brought their own proposals, and I incorporated them into the performance’s scale to make it as colourful as possible and show the versatility of the ensemble. And I wanted, too, to keep the tension and thrill alive, so I change the order of tunes for the first part of the audition – and dancers can never know who will dance the solo first.”
The piece does not tell the story of the popular rock band or lead singer Freddie Mercury, who died of AIDS, but instead evolves around an audition for a dance piece about Mercury. Surprisingly, not only male dancers come to compete, but also several women. After some struggles with the director, the head of the audition – Lučenič – allows them to participate and invents roles for them. For example, two of them are cast as women who were important in Mercury’s life, while simultaneously embodying abstract notions of relationships and the various forms that they take. In the second part, the piece becomes more abstract, more symbolic: each participant in the audition, each impersonation of Mercury, has to kill someone or something to make space for something new to arise. The happy ending comes in the form of approval from a superficial producer of a private TV station that engages all the dancers.
“It is something different from what we’ve done before,” Katarína Kaanová, one of the dancers, told The Slovak Spectator, “but it is very positive for us to dance to the music of the legendary band whose music is known all over the world. Mário [the choreographer] has known us for some time, so he showed trust and left some things up to us. And you can see the resulting work,” she concluded.
Queen can be seen at the Nová Scéna theatre (www.novascena.sk). Unfortunately, the bulletin for it is only in Slovak, but fluency in Slovak is not required to understand the plot.