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Ballet without Tears (November Issue)

by Mary Matz

Not sure about ballet? Read on ...

Ballet?

Well … this is one art form that sometimes evokes a somewhat lukewarm response in some culture lovers.

So we went straight to the top for help. How can the ‘oh, not-so-much fans’ start to really enjoy ballet ‘without tears?’ The National Theatre Ballet’s Artistic Director and Choreographer Petr Zuska tells us. Over a post-rehearsal cigarette and glass of beer, he shares an insider’s view of ballet.

He begins with a simple comparison which even made-for-tv-movie fans can appreciate. “In drama,” he says, “the director has two ‘casts,’ the text and the actor.” He takes a thoughtful puff. “And always, the director is refusing to make two casts from one role.” That is, the director must create one, seamless entity from both.

Not so in ballet. Here, there are multiple ‘casts’ to deal with. In dance (as in football), the players are injured very often. So a choreographer can’t depend on only one starting lineup. “A third of the shows would be cancelled,” he says. He must always have reserves ready to go on at a moment’s notice.

Mr Zuska and Edita Raušerová in Carmen. More romantic than mere tv.

In addition, the National Theatre Ballet, for example, performs 11 titles in three theatres, over a period of three years. As in football, the performers must operate in top form regardless of the venues; but dancers also must “jump from one style to another, and very fast,” the award-winning dancer and choreographer says.

Same Dance, Different Dancers
“So, when I choreograph a dance, I’m creating it on some [dancer's] personality. But at the same time, I know that one or two others will also dance it. I have the same choreography, the same music, the same dynamics, but with different people, different personalities, different artists.” There are two Princes for Swan Lake, for example, but each creates a totally different impression.

“I see this guy who has 95 percent of the role perfect; and the other one only has it 70%,” he continues. Just like a football coach, Mr Zuska says “Sometimes I can push him to 80 percent — but there’s still something missing.”

But here’s where a choreographer may have an advantage over a sports coach. He doesn’t have to cut one; he gets to give both dancers starring roles in the starting lineup. That second guy, who had the role ‘down’ only 70 percent, nonetheless “has something else a little more interesting than the first guy, something fresh,” the choreographer explains.

No two fingerprints, nor two dancers, are the same

The second guy does exactly the same steps in exactly the same order, but his hands may be more expressive or he may use his body to express himself in a slightly different way.

And suddenly you realize there just might be something more to ballet than had first met your eye.

Viewer’s Discretion
So if you’re a little reluctant to dive right into ballet, Mr Zuska suggests first going to the same show (or watching short video clips) featuring different casts. Then compare the two, and see what you notice. Unlike the seamless melting together of drama roles, you may begin to notice subtle layers of difference in the dancers, resulting in a totally different feeling or message from two performances of the same show.

But there’s something more.

At the same time that different dancers are performing the same role in different ways, you as the viewer are processing and making meaning from the dance in your own, unique way.

“Everyone is different, their DNA is different, they have different feelings and expectations,” Mr Zuska says. “It depends on how a single spectator can be sensitive, where the border of their imagination, joy, pain, humor is.” Just as with the dancer who can perfect a role only in his own way, expecting every viewer to appreciate every dance is something “you can’t push,” Mr Zuska says.

So try watching several clips or performances. Decide what you like and what you’d like to see more of. Then don’t follow the crowds, but trust your instincts. Start going to the live performances which resonate the most with you.

You might just surprise yourself, when you find that something-special thing about ballet that only you can appreciate, in your own unique way. 00

About Petr Zuska and The National Theatre Ballet
The National Theatre Ballet was established in 1883 with a corps of about 20 dancers. The first ballet master was Václav Reisinger, who staged a new ballet with the intriguing title Hashish (1884).

At the present time, the National Theatre Ballet comprises 65 dancers, mainly from the Czech Republic, but also from Russia, Slovakia, Australia, Great Britain, Japan and Italy. Petr Zuska has served as the Artistic Director since the beginning of the 2002–2003 season.

Photo Credits: (Top) Zuzana Susová, Filip Veverka in Ways 03, photo: Roman Sejkot. (Middle) Photo: Diana Zehetner. (Bottom) Michal Štípa, Solo for Three, photo: Diana Zehetner.

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