West Side Story - Première National Theatre Brno/ Czech Republic - Nov. 25th, 2017
National Theatre Brno, Czech Republic
West Side Story (full-length Ballet), Première, November 25th 2017
To mix a cultural week-end in Brno with a Ballet-Première is just the right thing… Brno and its architectural treasures that survived WW II, its amazing 5 Moravian Art Galleries. Combine all that with a good guided tour by foot through the inner city with a private guide (it will take you around 2 and half hours) to later on enjoy good food and wine either in lovely international restaurants or, like I did twice, have good local food in typical Moravian restaurants is simply a treat to start a very fine week-end!
You should not miss the opportunity to mix all those “ingredients” mentioned above and book either an Opera or Ballet performance in the evening. Your week-end, or stay in Brno will surely be a perfect one! A city with a very strong culture scene (and lots of foreigner students) in which you cannot “reject” the fact that your stay there will be one “filled” with culture on many different levels: modern Art and Photography, classical paintings, Sculptures, fascinating churches, modern and “old” architecture, top restaurants and a very busy Opera House which at the moment is being restored!
The Première of “West Side Story” was one from which I was not quite sure what to expect. I could not have been more delighted and surprised.
A very young and highly motivated company under the guidance of Mário Radačovský, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing just after the performance. You may have noticed that I did not use the word “direction” but “guidance”, which is for me a much stronger word, much more “intimate”. Yes. During the première party I had not only the chance to talk a lot to Mr. Radačovský and to Miss Hniličková (PR- and Marketing) but also to the dancers – and I was more than thrilled by the fact that they are a bunch of young people working together… in such a motivated way! But I will come to that later while the describing the work process in which WSS was created!
Of course, and probably like everyone else in the audience, I was sort of annoyed with myself because I could not get Jerome Robins’ choreography out of my mind… It is quite difficult to set yourself free of those memories which were in fact also one of the reasons why I started dancing… The ballet started: first, at the very first confrontation between the Jets and the Sharks, I thought of how the dancers were not synchronized. But this impression took only a few minutes to diminish. This “group work” is more than just a new choreography. It is, as I have just said, a GROUP WORK. And a very intense one.
Still very early in the evening we had the pleasure of watching “Dance at the Gym” and my fears of comparison were gone. Being my favourite part of the (musical) show I felt that this would be the right moment for me to be free from “Jerome Robbins’ ghost”. And I surely was.
The whole evening was filled with great mise en scène effects and with a very special touch of "change" in this work - in fact a new "reading" of it. The music was not used in the same chronological order like in the play and in the movie but in the same sequence like in the famous Bernstein-Carreras-Te Kanawa recording of the 80's. All of a sudden you find "Cool" in a completely different spot of the show, giving another meaning to the plot of the story (in a very thought of new conception). Also the use of "Somewhere" (there's a place for us) not as duo to Maria and Tony but as a sort of posthumous scene for Riff and Bernardo, in the presence of the Jets and the Sharks was extremely effective.
I must mention a very “tiny” thing that perhaps no one has noticed or has paid attention to: I loved the fact that some of the Shark-girls (Puerto Ricans) were blondes… Yes, a fact like nowadays: Latins love to grab a bottle of peroxide to become blondes!
One “show-stopper” is “Gee, Officer Krupke” (which I was to find out later, was the first or one of the first pieces to be choreographed) Here I must mention a young talented dancer that impressed me extremely: Martin Segeťa. I surely hope to hear more of such a talent in the future. By the way: Officer Krupke was repeated as an encore – the audience went mad! Also with Mário Radačovský’s presence on stage having lots of fun with the dancers!
Maria was danced by the gifted Australian Taela Williams, a member of the Corps-de-Ballet giving her solo début. Technically very, very clean and emotionally exactly “right” for Maria. Especially Maria’s forced change into bitter womanhood after Tony’s death were beautifully portrayed.
The Canadian Arthur Abram, who had worked before with Mário Radačovský in Bratislava, gave life to a real “flesh and blood Tony” not only the "dreamer" like he is sometimes interpreted.
One of the highlights of the evening: Miss Ivona Jeličová as the fiery Anita. The “rape scene” was strongly staged and only a good dancer/actress can be able to come along with that. Chapeau. Absolutely a delighful dancer!
Martin Svobodník as Bernardo did a very correct job. The thing about this WSS is that it is not technically challenging. But the choreographer must rely on a certain emotional "quantum" to be able to get solid performances out of the soloists.
The dancer that portrayed Riff (Ivan Popov) impressed me less. He was sort of giving a very clichée-like interpretation of what an american gang leader should be. Mr. Popov, an audience’s darling – like I could hear from many followers just behind me – was always a bit too late musically, a fact that is quite obvious in group scenes! Perhaps he is simply too Russian in style and not quite at ease in roles like in this. I have heard very well from his Siegfried in Swan Lake.
But don’t let this influence you. There are, as far as I know, three different casts. Performances this season will continue until January 30th.
After getting a glass of red wine, we started our Interview in a separate room where the dancers had, so to say, their own party: I could not resist and ask Mr. Radačovský “But why West Side Story”?
His answer was as clear as water: “The Opera is being restored, we had to do some performances here at the Congress Center and as you’ve seen, the audience sits on both sides of the stage. I had to do something special for this “situation”, you see? We were supposed to stage “Romeo and Juliet” but for this more informal atmosphere I decide for WSS instead. In fact this idea “came to me” once at three o’clock in the night!“
And I must add: what a wonderful inspiration!
Next I asked “How is your creative process while choreographing a full-length Ballet like this?”
“This time it was kind of workshop-like… Officer Krupke, America and the balcony scene were the first ones to be created. I was so nervous but we all worked together and had so much fun. All of a sudden I realized the earnestness of these young dancers while they were giving me so much energy! A great troupe!”
A last question that was intriguing me: “When one thinks of West Side Story, one thinks immediately of Jerome Robbins – how do you live with eventual comparisons?”
He smiled and said, once more, as clear as water to me: “I honestly try not to think about that. I know I choreographed something my way. My big Master, Jiří Kylián, said once to me „If you want to create something, be honest! “.
I’ll leave you with that today.
Ricardo Leitner / attitude-devant
Mário Radačovský – BIOGRAPHY (Text taken from The National Theatre's Homepage):
Artistic Director of Ballet of the National Theatre Brno
After graduating from the Eva Jaczová Dance Conservatory in Bratislava, he joined the Ballet of the Slovak National Theatre in 1989. Within a short period of time he became a Principal Dancer. He received acclaim for his ability to combine a brilliant dancing technique with a natural acting talent and a masculine expression. Indisputable proof of his extraordinary talent was the 1st prize in the Czechoslovak Ballet Competition in 1990.
In 1992 he was invited to dance with Jiří Kylián’s Netherlands Dance Theatre in The Hague. During his seven years with the Company he had the opportunity to work with world-renowned choreographers including Jiří Kylián, Mats Ek, Nacho Duato, Ohad Naharin, William Forsythe, Édouard Lock, Hans van Manen, Paul Lightfoot, Johan Inger and Paul Ribeiro. The following choreographers particularly influenced Radačovský’s artistic and personal growth including Gideon Obarzanek, Itzik Galili, James Kudelka, John Alaine, Christopher Wheeldon, Stijn Celis, Fernand Nault and Libor Vaculík. In 1999 he accepted the offer to become Principal Dancer of Les Grand Ballets Canadiens in Montreal, Canada.
Mário Radačovský has been a regular participant of international ballet galas – Gala des étoiles in Montreal (2000-2006), Gala Stars in Toronto (2003), Gala Stars in Budapest (2005 & 2007) and Gala Meeting in Prague (2003–2006). He also performed as a guest star with many major dance companies including the Royal Winnipeg Ballet (2005), Ballet British Columbia (2004 & 2006), National Ballet of Canada (2005) and Jacob’s Pillow (2007).
Radačovský began choreographing in 2002. His debut was a work called The Letter. His other works include: Passage à l‘eau trouble (2002), Valse and Inspiration (2003), Bolero (2004), Shadows and Lights (2005), Balansoire (2006), Meeting with a Swan and Soufflé des oiseaux (2007). For the Ballet of the Slovak National Theatre he created Change (2005), Warhol (2007) and 68 (2008). In April 2009 he premiered two new works: A Dinner, presented by the Magyar Ballet Színház in Budapest, followed by a duet Ulrich for the National Theatre Brno. In late 2009, the Ballet of the Slovak National Theatre premiered his second feature ballet titled Everest. In the 2010/2011 season, two of his feature works were premiered: María de Buenos Aires with the National Operetta Theatre in Bucharest, Romania, and Romeo and Juliet with the Grand Rapids Ballet in Michigan, USA where he was resident choreographer for the 2011/2012 season. In 2011, Radačovský also created the choreography for Claude Debussy´s The Toy Box played by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Ken Nagano. For Ballet Bratislava he created the works Romeo and Juliet, Three Duets and most recently, the very successful ballet Queen. His works have also premiered with the Diablo Ballet in San Francisco and the Latvian National Ballet. In 2013 he choreographed True Love for the Ballet of the National Theatre Brno.
Mário Radačovský served as Artistic Director of the Ballet of the Slovak National Theatre Ballet from 2006 until May 2010. He was also the founder of Ballet Bratislava, which later operated under the name of Dance Company of the New Stage Bratislava (Taneční soubor divadla Nové scény Bratislava). Since the 2013/2014 season, he has been Artistic Director of the Ballet of National Theatre Brno.