Choreographer’s return home worth a dance

SLOVAK Dances, as the name suggests, is a musical arrangement that lends itself to dancing. Composer Peter Breiner, a Slovak who now resides in New York City, says that it is inspired by Johannes Brahms’s and Hungarian Dances, Antonín Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances and eastern-Slovak folklore.

Slovak Dances: choreographer Natália Horečná in foregroundSlovak Dances: choreographer Natália Horečná in foreground (Source: Peter Brenkus)

The Slovak National Theatre thought it a pity not to give it some choreography.

Natália Horečná was called in. After a childhood in Bratislava, Horečná left Slovakia in 1994 aged 17, and started studying, dancing (as a soloist in the Hamburg Ballet), and later working as a dancer / choreographer in Hamburg, for Scapino Ballet Rotterdam and Nederlands Dans Theater, as well as other theatres. In 2014, Horečná won the Taglioni European Ballet Award in category Best Young Choreographer given by the Vladimir Malakhov Foundation.

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The Slovak Spectator talked to her about returning to her homeland and collaborating with Breiner shortly before the premiere of Slovak Dances: Lives of Lights on February 19.


The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Whose idea was this project?

Natália Horečná (NH): Three days after the premiere of my work at Innsbruck ballet, I received the call from head of SND ballet section, Mr. Jozef Dolinský, who asked me, “Why don’t you do a ballet for us?” I had a chunk of free time, so I said, “Yes, of course,” and then he said the nice part – that I can do it with Mr. Breiner. This was one and a half years ago.

The build-up was very beautiful because I received 16 songs, and then I told Maestro that this was perhaps too long, and if he didn’t mind, I would chop it down to 13; and maybe make some adjustments. And he said to me: “You have my green light, whatever you want, just tell me on time, and I’m fine.” It was wonderful to work with him – he allowed me everything; and he is a great person. So I took it; and I puzzled things together because hearing the music, and wanting to celebrate the togetherness, coming back, being together as human beings, as society of Europe, of the world… I just wanted to make a huge celebration of this all. I said to him. “I don’t want any sad dramas – let’s celebrate, be with people.”

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TSS: So it is a story?

NH: I didn’t want to kill the public with all sorts of difficult, complicated stories – the music is beautiful enough, dancers are gorgeous; and I wanted to do something simple but in a way also difficult. It is a story of typical characters of Slovak folklore, Janko and Anička, who live in a city which has lost its eternal lights. Jan is looking for his own light, as does Anička, and it is a journey about looking for one’s own light inside.

When considering how to express all this in a way accessible to the public, I thought about a very simply constructed story. Jan goes and looks for the light, showing us our own journey. So it is a journey and a celebration inside of us. There is so much negative on our planet and we need to go back to our hearts. I feel that this world is suffering a huge disconnection from the heart. For me, the music was a complete, perfect message for what I want to say.


TSS: What style of dance did you choose?

NH: I call my style a dirty neo-classic style because it is basically neo-classic with a lot from folklore, jazz a bit here and there, all sorts of mixed elements; as the music also has many variations, many stories and many colours. But the bottom line would be that it’s done in neo-classical language – which is, with me, a bit more earthy, a bit more grounded. I want dancers to really enjoy themselves, and that is the main thing. They love what they do, if they understand, free themselves and get used to my movements. In these last rehearsals, they really start to let it fly. 

And when this happens, I can pass it on – give it to people because we are serving them, we are in fact servants. We cannot be artists and do this for ourselves; it’s done for people.


TSS: What feedback have you received? 

NH: Well, I am invited back to the theatres, and this is my 33rd choreography in fact. So in the nine years as a choreographer, I have been busy.


TSS: How is it to come back to Slovakia?

NH: When I try to feel the energy of the land, I see it as a beautiful sunny land. The other thing is what people sometimes do within the land; but I know they are not evil. I don’t want others to talk about it in a bad way; Slovakia is really a beautiful country. For once, I want to be kind to this land with all its mountains and lovely sites. It is just like any other country in the world, and I think the time has come to really embrace it. I don’t live here but it doesn’t mean I don’t embrace it. It’s been 22 years [since I left], and it is a good feeling to come back.

It is my homeland and I pay huge respect to that; and I treat myself and people here nicely. But there are great people everywhere. I work here and there, and everywhere I work is my home. I feel like a global person, and I think the world would be much nicer if everybody felt this way. There are many different cultures, and it is wonderful to celebrate that. To find a fine balance between cosmopolitanism and being rooted at home.


TSS: What is your connection with folklore, with eastern-Slovak folklore more specifically?

NH: I love Slovak folklore: as a little girl, I saw performances of SĽUK, of Lúčnica, and I also saw my classmates doing folklore. Here, I thought: Why not use some folk steps? Why not put some sweet parts of this culture inside? But I am not a folk dancer and I create ballets; and dancers are not professional folk dancers either. I come and see what I can do, and what I cannot. As for dancers, I am not here to bash them, just to take what they have already, and continue from there. 


TSS: What has this project meant for you personally, emotionally?

NH: This project is great, it is my other child. I have already 33 children; and so I am very happy because I am a truly productive mother. And I am always pregnant, so to say, which is wonderful.  

Read also: Foreigners: Events in Bratislava Read more 


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