Dancing out of Communism: While Czech Modern Dance Has Grown (with the Help of Western Influence) into a Dynamic Field Twenty Years after the Fall of Communism, Its Contemporary Goal Should Be to Find Its Own Unique Voice, and for That Matter, Uniquely Czech Voice

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Since the Velvet Revolution, Czech dance has become unusually dynamic as an artistic discipline. While the communist regime supported ballet and folk dance, the official authorities did not encourage the development of modern dance. Consequently, 1989 is a fundamental year for modern dance's breakthrough onto the Czech cultural scene.

The Genesis of Modern Dance in the CR

The genesis of what we now call modern dance took place in the twentieth century, purely in Western Europe and then later in the United States. Prior to World War II, a strong tradition of expressive dance had developed in the Bohemian lands. Nazism and then communism, however, interrupted the growth of the discipline, and as a result, by 1989 modern dance was an unknown discipline in Czechoslovakia.

Czech communist leaders did not support modern dance because of its emphasis on individuality and its association with the "rotten" West. Furthermore, all existing centres of modern dance were located on the other side of the Iron Curtain; consequently, the Czech public was hermetically separated from them. Fragments of modern dance existed only at an amateur level, and the only professional ensemble of "modern dance" was the Prague Chamber Ballet of Pavel Smoka. The Chamber Ballet was unique in its search for "modern expression," but its repertoire was based on neoclassicism and folk ballet.

In the 1980s, signs of liberalization began to appear with an invitation from the Nederlands Dans Theatre in 1982 and the performance of Maurice Bejart's troupe, Ballet of the 20th Century, at the International Television Festival, Golden Prague in 1987. The most fundamental sign of change came with the establishment of the Dance Prague Festival in 1989, which began to introduce foreign ensembles to the Czech public. Since the Revolution, various organizations have thus formed to promote and develop modern dance: in 1994, the Czech Dance Platform was founded to specifically present the work of domestic troupes and choreographers; in 2000, the theatre for contemporary dance--Ponec--was established, as well as two conservatories entirely focused on modern dance (the Prague Dancing Centre and the Duncan Centre). A professional company of modern dance did not, however, exist in the Czech Republic until 2006. Until then, all choreographies were created on a project basis and represented only a secondary vocation for both the creators as well as the dancers.

Personalities in Czech Modern Dance

While many strong personalities of contemporary dance have emerged since the Revolution, we have yet to see a generation of outstanding Czech choreographers. Most of the very successful "Czech" titles are authored by foreigners or Czechs who have studied and lived abroad.

Exceptions to this rule include Natasa Novotna and Vaclav Kunes whose dance initiative 420PEOPLE has unexpectedly shined on the Czech stage. Influenced by their long-term engagement in the Nederlands Dans Theatre, Novotna and Kunes have brought the level of modern dance in the Czech Republic to an entirely new level.

On the other hand, none of the choreographers of the first Czech professional ensemble DOT504--Linda Kappetanea, Josef Frucek, Th omas Steyert--are Czech. Similarly, the author of the popular piece Love Me! from the NANOHACH dance initiative is a British choreographer named Nigel Charnock. And, in 2009, the winner of the Spectator's Prize for the SAZKA awards (an award ceremony initiated in 2001 to promote the development of Czech culture in the categories of dance, film and theatre) was Karel Vanek, a Czech expatriate who has lived in Germany since the eighties.

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Jiri Kylian

The biggest asset to Czech contemporary dance is without a doubt Jiri Kylian--a modern phenomenon and an inexhaustible genius. His name will find its place on the list of key artists from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries together with giants such as Picasso, Stravinsky, or Warhol. …