Magazine: DKP, A Path to Professionalism
Pavel Šmok. Jiři Kylian. Nikola Márová. Many of the Czech dance names that we know and love have one thing in common: they are proud alumni of the DKP – Dance Conservatory of Prague (Taneční Konzervatoř Klavního Města Prahy).
The Dance Conservatory of Prague was founded shortly after the end of WWII, on October 11, 1945. Students study the normal academic curriculum while dipping their toes into these dance classrooms at age 11.
Training stretches through age 19 or 20. This year roughly 150 dancers are carefully balancing lessons of history and physics with intensive dance lessons.
And this is no ordinary year. A gala concert on October 11, 2015 kicked off a celebratory season to mark both the 70th anniversary of the Dance Conservatory of Prague and the 10th anniversary of the founding of its performing company, Bohemia Ballet.
Setting the Stage for the New Generation
Imagine a young, graduating dancer who has spent years training to improve his or her craft. But wait — who’s going to hire a newcomer with no real-world experience?
The idea of Bohemia Ballet was born under the guidance of Jaroslav Slavický, who also serves as the current director of the Dance Conservatory of Prague. Bohemia Ballet dancers spend no more than two to three years in this performing company, to ensure space for more upcoming talent.
“Bohemia Ballet’s purpose is to bridge the gap between ballet teaching and professional practice,” explains the company’s Executive Manager and Producer Helena Potměšilová. “The difference is that in bigger companies, most recent graduates end up performing minor roles. In Bohemia Ballet, the members get much more interesting roles and are given more personal attention.”
There is a perfect symbiotic relationship between Bohemia Ballet and the Conservatory, she says. Yet Bohemia Ballet retains a sense of independence through separate funding and NGO status as a professional performing company.
One of the Dance Conservatory of Prague’s most famous graduates is dancer/choreographer Jiří Kylián, former artistic co-director of the legendary Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT), and co-founder of NDT II (young dancers) and NDT III (for senior dancers). Since 2010 he has been involved in several dance and film projects.
In a program last fall, Mr Kylián premiered his film Between Entrance and Exit and his directorial work in the short film Schwarzfahrer
Both films center around his wife, dancer Sabine Kupferberg, whom Kylián often credits as his muse and has described as a beautiful dancer to this day. You can watch an excerpt here.
Bohemia Ballet members are required to have graduated from their respective training programs, but not always from the Prague Conservatory – recent members have come from as far as Brazil and France.
Bohemia Ballet performs roughly 50 times a year: 20 in Prague’s National Theaters (including the Estates Theater and State Opera) and at others spread across the country; dancers also participate in competitions worldwide, from China to South America.
Recognizing another gap in opportunities — for young choreographers — Bohemia Ballet added a special program called Premiere to showcase new talent.
“Our ['Premiere'] plan is to make support of young choreographers a permanent part of the Bohemia Ballet program – and also to teach our audience to follow them,” according to Ms Potměšilová.
Premiere 2016 Apr 7 at the Theatre of the Estates, featured two local Czech choreographers and two from abroad.
Vinklát & Pechar: Two Young Choreographers You May Already Know
Two young Conservatory graduates talked to Opus Osm about their experience (while often finishing each other’s sentences): Ondřej Vinklát is a soloist with the Czech National Ballet; Štěpán Pechar joined CNB in the 2015-16 season, after years of performing with contemporary dance company 420People, Laterna Magika, and the Prague Chamber Ballet.
Both men came to ballet from a sports background, but discovered dance at quite different ages.
Choreographer Gustav Skala discovered Mr Vinklát as a nine-year-old gymnast and cast him in a role that changed his future plans: “I didn’t like mathematics or school so, at twelve years old, [Skala] encouraged me to join the Conservatory.”
Pechar, a track and field athlete, didn’t start dancing until age eighteen, when his high school PE teacher cast him in an amateur dance performance. After moving to Prague, he met the director of the Dance Conservatory of Prague. “Jaroslav Slavický accepted me at such a late age, which was quite unorthodox, and very nice of him,” he says.
But now a desire for more expression has inspired both to branch out into choreography, often collaborating with one another, as well as with the young artistic dance group DekkaDancers. “It’s really nice to share and create something new,” Mr Vinklát explains, “not just interpret someone else’s ideas.”
“After interpreting something a number of times, you’d like the chance to say it your own way,” Pechar added. “So you try it out and see if you get hooked, or you don’t.
“I got hooked.”
Both men enjoy dancing to both classical and contemporary music, but for their own pieces they like to experiment. Their contribution to the 2015 Tanec Valmez Dance Festival was based on excerpts from Charlie Chaplin’s monologue from the film The Great Dictator. Their piece using Smetana’s Vltava “was used to show the evolution of monkeys,” they laugh.
* Sigh * Must Artists Be Poor?
However, “The financial situation is really, really bad,” Mr Pechar points out. “There is this idea that an artist should be poor and I really don’t agree with it. The same goes for everyone surrounding the theater – dancers, creators, authors, musicians, technicians – it’s really, really difficult. When we had the chance to compare it with other companies abroad – ”
“– it is ridiculous,” Mr Vinklát sighs.
“But then there is progress,” Mr Pechar insists. “We don’t want to be too dramatic. I think we are quite lucky that we have a number of followers who like our work and I believe that slowly, in five or ten years time, it will get better.”
You can watch the next performances of Bohemia Ballet in Oliver Twist, May 15 and June 4, 2016 at The Theatre of the Estates.
– Auburn Scallon, Opus Osm writer
Photo Credits: Dance Conservatory of Prague / Bohemia Ballet; Vinklát/Pechar, Auburn Scallon.