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On The Road_Echoes_Summary of Malá Inventura Festival by Orsolya Bálint

Malá Inventura is one of the most well-organized, artistically ambitious and professionally engaging performing arts festivals I have visited in the region, both regarding the performances, the programs for professionals and the added events – thanks to the 14 years of experience, the diverse international network and the creative resources added by the organizer Nová síť z.s. The mindful, precise and enthusiastic work and the exceptional hospitality of the members and volunteers of the association made the festival visit an especially memorable experience.

From the artists presented, we had the chance to see well-known, already established creators and ensembles of the Czech/Slovak area (Spitfire Company, Jaro Viňarsky, Petra Tejnorová, Handa Gote Research & Development, Andrea Miltnerová & Jan Komárek, ME-SA / BOD.Y etc.) as well as talented upcoming local artist featured in the association’s Young Blood on the Stage program.

Among them, I need to mention the group Ryba Řvouci, who performed their physical theater piece Práce (Work) in a set of a construction site. The performance was intriguing and inventive in its scenery, subject, musicality and execution as well. Although after the promising beginning the end was dramaturgically less dense, the performers on stage still held the attention with their charisma and quirky humor.

From the performances in Alfred ve Dvoře theatre, the ‘alchemist’ piece Mutus Liber by Handa Gote Research and Development and Wariot Ideal’s costume comedy, The Pirate and the Apothecary provided as extraordinary, complex, visionary and entertaining theatre experiences as the ones we have seen previously from the two groups, beautifully synching scenery, music, and dramaturgy on their very own and unique artistic ways. The excellence of the piece Tranzmutation we have seen this time from the dancer-visual artist power duo Andrea Miltnerová and Jan Komárek was rather the visual storytelling and the ambient-style screening on stage, a little bit overshadowing the sophisticated still energetic choreography. 

Since we have watched the performance Kabaret de Sade by Depresiní Dĕti in Czech language, I can only intuitively say that it was an intellectually challenging, text-heavy, provocative and absurdly comical piece, very entertaining for the mostly young adult audiences. Still I should note that Venuše theatre with its ‘baroque punk’ atmosphere and amazing underground – even though technically puritanical – stage cold be a superb residency spot for artists looking for smaller, more intimate venues (and they can be chosen as partners for VARP-PA applications as well).

The performance Sniper’s Lake by Spitfire Company (directed/choreographed by Miřenka Čechová) in Divadlo Ponec felt a bit uneven, not truly matching the high artistic quality of the performances I have seen before from this great ensemble. Especially because the subject – the human and social drama of the refugee crisis in Europe and anywhere in the world – should really hit a nerve with the audience, but mainly since there was an actual sniper sitting in the audience rows all the time, acting very calculable, it was really hard to get over his presence and move to a more metaphorical or abstract interpretation.

On the other hand, I have found the performance Let Me Die In My Footsteps by ME-SA / BOD.Y (choreographed by Renan Martins de Oliveira) a strong, mature and boundary-breaking creation, I could very well imagine this performance in the program of L1danceFest, and as I have learned, it has already been selected for Aerowaves Spring Forward showcase in Pilsen.

Because of its feminine subject and its original, serious yet hilarious approach to the many roles of women and their perception by the society, the performance Hit By a Flower directed by Petra Tejnorová felt the closest to my heart. Even in spite of the slight language barrier (since the performance was partly in Czech, but subtitled in English, except for the fresh input of the audience) the piece was not solely entertaining but thought-provoking too, with inventive, versatile and very conscious choreography by Jaro Viňarsky. Because of the similar Eastern-European socio-cultural background, this piece could really work in Hungary as well, where women are sharing similar problems and challenges with Czech women. In case it would be possible to invite this performance, the best would be to tour it in the country where women’s political, economical and social situation is even more lagging than in the capital cities.

The last performance of the festival was Cow Love by the France-based ensemble Société Protectrice De Petites Idées, presenting the mutual annoyance and pecking rituals of a couple with splendid absurd humor, virtuosic acrobatic movement language, great live music – and immense trust on both sides. The two performers (who are a couple in real life as well) created a masterfully entertaining yet very smart piece, with minimalistic equipment, but enormous wit and performing talent, which absolutely resonated with the audience – it will be worthwhile to follow their path in the future as well.

Among the programs for professionals I have to mention two important events: first the speed dating, where 17 artists presented their work, changing tables in Studio Alta every five minutes to each of the producers, festival organizers and managers present. The unusual setting proved to be very enjoyable as well as really efficient, since the artists could give a firm first impression about their projects, their creative processes, personal attitudes or at least raise interest for further conversation even in this short time. This method of networking is really useful when there are so many potential partners and collaborators to match with each other, since a short ‘date’ like this is already sufficient to decide whether the artist or their work fits into a program of a festival or theatre, and if they are open/available for co-operation with an association, and ask later for more material, trailers etc.

The other important event was the discussion round Looking for Partners, where every invited guest could introduce the association, theatre etc. they are representing in plenum, and I was especially fond of seeing so many friendly and interested faces at the tables. Although many already knew or heard about the activities of L1 Association, it was a great opportunity to go more into details and tell about our plans for the annual L1danceFest in September and the activities of the Critics’ Self-Educating Workshop KÖM by L1 Association. Summing it up, it was a really rich, substantial and productive experience to participate at Malá Inventura festival, with several memorable performances and meetings with many long-time and lots of hopeful future partners. 

Orsolya Bálint - KÖM by L1 Association
Malá Inventura 2016, Prague (CZ) 25-29th of February 2016

On The Road_Echoes_BOD.Y – ME-SA: LET ME DIE IN MY FOOTSTEPS by Orsolya Bálint

The pursuit of togetherness 
„Instead of learning to live, we are learning to die” (Liner note on Broadside Ballads by Bob Dylan)

Unlike the Bob Dylan song quoted in the title, the performance Let Me Die In My Footsteps, choreographed by Brussels-based upcoming Brazilian artist Renan Martins de Oliveira, starts under extreme pressure, without sound.

We only hear harsh breaths, and immediately sense the compulsive energy of the four dancers, Soňa Ferienčíková, Karolína Hejnová, Martina Hajdyla Lacová and Benjamin Pohlig. They are pushing and pulling each other until their physical limits, grabbing the other where they find a spot to grab, almost drowning in need for touching and connecting. Whenever they happen to let go of one another, a mysterious force like a gigantic magnet pulls them together again. As if they could not exist without each other, like atoms of the same molecule or inseparable twins, their movements are synched in a suffocating dependance.

When the guitar starts playing (this time pre-recorded by Gašper Piano), reflecting the feeling of being on the edge, the tension rises even higher. As if gravity didn’t work in this space, one’s weight exists through the impact on the others. The connection stays even if they are separated into smaller groups, through vision and the attraction between the dancers, like an invisible elastic band connecting them. We can see on their strained faces the desire to let go and the effort to hold on at the same time, and for moments it is unclear which force is stronger. They are tormented by their desires and needs just like by the powerful forces of physics, attraction and repulsion.

The longer we are watching them, the more it feels as if not the dancers, but the space was swinging-moving, like being on a ship on the sea. A change of perception occurs, because the togetherness of the dancers seems to be the most stable and the strongest bond or entity in this room, even firmer than the walls of the theatre. How long can this go on? What could ever divide them?

But slowly the distances and the personal freedom starts growing, and parallel to this, the touches are becoming gentle like caresses. There is a sudden softness contradicting the fierce pressure, even the music goes fluid and airy, instead of the staccato electric guitar. The dancers become more and more organized and start to move to the same rhythm, following each other’s steps, marching like a train or a centipede. The arms are hugging instead of grabbing each other, and for once, there is no need to push and pull, they all want to share the same movement.

The steps are getting wider, and they are slowly letting go of each other. The music goes off. There is a still point, where we see a different quality of togetherness, a new-found unity. Or is it rather conformity? An order, that emerges from giving up on their individual desires and drives? Is it the result of exhaustion, or is it a conscious, rational compromise, after figuring out that co-operation can indeed work better than chaotic anarchy? But suddenly the stage goes dark. Is this the end of the performance? For me, it could have been. I have felt satiated by what I have seen so far, the path and progress the dancers went through – taking a lot of risks by physically hurting themselves, ending up torn and wounded – was so intense that a relief was very welcome.

Still, like a surprise twist, the dancers go into the back corner of the stage, sit down and take their shoes off. The guitar melody gets distorted, and we see a familiar but broken relationship between the four. It is clearly not the same as before, like old friends meeting and missing ‘the social glue’ that held them together. What could have changed? Could the bare feet be a metaphor for returning to a natural state, the release of social pressure and customs?

The music starts playing again, but this time more melodic, while the bodies are slowly sticking together again. The movement is slow, poetic, gentle and fluid, speeding up by every minute. But the game is getting rougher and wilder, the extreme stimuli are overwhelming the senses. The dancers are already shouting and laughing euphorically, while they are lifting each other swiftly, hardly touching ground, almost like flying.

This might be the utopia, the ideal state they had been striving for, where every person (up)lifts and carefully watches out for the other, making the daring movements less risky by sharing the responsibility and each other’s weight. Even though we have already experienced a unity, a willfully shared community when they were walking together, joining the same rhythm and the same direction, now we see that there could be another, even more rewarding quality of togetherness, which is of mutual benefit, while each person still retains the individual freedom of movement.

Whilst this is rather an optimistic ideal future, it is open whether the present (the world we know) is ‘the unison with no fun at all’ or the constant pulling-pushing into different directions, still not having the strength or the self-consciousness to let go of each other. Either way, both states have a system-creating power, an underlying organizing principle in them, as it is a basic human need to find harmony, integrity, our place in the world. It is strongly a matter of development of individual consciousness vs. society’s structures, even the level of democracy, which way we are heading.

If the first part of the performance was ‘the way we are learning to die’, slowly giving up on our ideas, dreams and hopes, blending into the crowd, the latter could be ‘the way we may learn to live’. Here’s hoping we could. And for this, we don’t need to start over and remake the world, we only have to start the change within ourselves, just as we saw from these four wonderful dancers. 
Orsolya Bálint – KÖM by L1 Association
Malá Inventura 2016, Prague (CZ) 25-29th of February 2016 

On The Road_Echoes_ME-SA (BOD.Y) / Renan Martins de Oliveira: LET ME DIE IN MY FOOTSTEPS by Kristóf Farkas

Panta rei

If everything flows, to die in my own footsteps is possible in every, but very present moment, which means that I could stop anytime. Even if I take one step back or I get to the point again where once I was before, is not the same, it can't be the same, because nothing stays. But, the topic in this case is not a philosophical question-of-time problem, but a social one in which it is impossible to be or to die alone. Why? Though it is interesting that notwithstanding, the performance proposes a superficial answer by putting this micro-social aporia in a time based structure, the root itself stays undiscovered. And here comes the gap.

Lucky I am that I had the chance to see this performance two times in two very different venues (in the intimate Studio Alta, Prague and in the enormous DEPO2015, Plzen), once without the guitarist-composer Gasper Piano and once with his suggestive attendance. On the white floor of the stage the four dancers (Martina Hajdyla Lacová, Soňa Ferienčíková, Karolína Hejnová, Benjamin Pohlig) are waiting. First, we can only hear them breathing as they meet and what is more, collide with each other in the space, like atoms – just to separate after as it is in a nuclear fission.

The experimental, but melodic music is getting more and more audible, parallel with the increasing physicality of group dynamics. But after several abortive attempts to connect, predictably a stage comes which could be described as harmonious, when the four bodies unite in one with sixteen limbs, stepping simultaneously just to sit down together after and have a rest. This is the climax point of the music, the noisiest when the others on the stage are vegetating exhausted. Just like after winter comes the spring, the group rebounds and gets vivid and vital again, and after a while something of a liar, like an artificial flower on a meadow. At first, I can't decide if there is a reason to behave like this – I could accept it – but step by step I am sure that this should be the land of covenant, but unfortunately it is only conative.

They went through all the possible situations four people can produce and the construction built from the different exercises is logical and consequent, but on the whole, too long to put it on the stage as it would come in a rehearsal place – I imagine. The constant state of research and presence they are in, is obvious, but I miss the self/selves-reflection which could answer the main question, why somebody would want to be and then/or die alone? Only representing/reproducing – all too well I must say – the alone-or-together fever is a question of aesthetics, but if you look under the surface, it can become easily something of a multitudinous murmur. Without touching the bottom, for me, it stays a well-developed exercise – from which you should gain a quintessence you will use in the next moment in order to step on – it: your own footstep.  
Kristóf Farkas – KÖM by L1 Association
Malá Inventura 2016, Prague (CZ) 25-29th of February 2016 
Spring Forward 2016, Plzen (CZ) 22-24th of April 2016