Interview: Vlastimil Harapes, Artistic
Director of the Prague National Ballet
By Patricia Boccadoro
24 June 2002The Prague National Ballet, a company
founded in 1883, made its first appearance in France at the Nouveau
Festival International de Danse de Paris at the Chatelet earlier this
season. Since Tchaikovsky's visit to the Prague National Theatre when
Swan Lake was staged in the composer's honour, the company,
despite the influence of Diahilev's
Ballets Russes in the 1920's, had remained resolutely classical
until the nomination of Vlastimil Harapes as artistic director in
"A company is the reflection of the man who leads
it", the multi-talented Mr. Harapes, also famous in his own
country as a singer and movie-actor, told me in a recent interview.
I took over the troupe, many of the dancers were getting a little long
in the tooth with their never-ending contracts, so that was the first
thing I had to change. Now the average age is between twenty-three and
twenty-four years old. Then I turned to the repertory to make a
harmonious balance between the traditional ballets and contemporary
works. Today", he announced proudly, "we are working with
Grigorovitch as well as Kylian, and of course we dance Balanchine
without whom ballet doesn't exist".
who was the company's star dancer in the 1970's and was himself
trained at the Prague Conservatory before completing his studies with
Alexander Pushkin in Saint Petersburg, sets great store by technique
although not to the detriment of "the heart".
dancers, of whom all but three are of Czechlosovakian nationality,
must dance with their hearts", he emphasised, "not like at
the Paris Opéra where the soloists I saw in "Notre-Dame de
Paris" were dramatically weak. In many companies, over-due
emphasis is given to technique these days", he commented.
their origins, the dancers, all trained at the Conservatory of Prague
interpreted a programme of works of their famous compatriot
Jiri Kylian, who fled
the country in 1968*, because their director considered
belong to them.
insisted, "is our ballet. Janacek, who, incidentally is from
Moravia, composed the music in 1926 as a hymn to freedom and liberty.
The dancers love the work not only for its beauty and spirituality,
but because they feel Kylian wrote his ballet ** with its
undertones of sorrow mixed with nostalgia, with us in mind. Certainly
for the Czech people. We dance Sinfonietta differently from
any other company because the music is part of us, and the style suits
our soloists who are exceptionally musical and totally involved
The second work of the evening, Return
to a Strange Land, again to a score by Janacek, was created in
1975 as a tribute to the great South African choreographer, John
Cranko, who died in the summer of 1973. It is a meditation on life and
death, where the title embodies the concept of the place we come from,
and to which we return. The ballet is a lovely lyrical series of duets
and pas de trois ideally suited to the temperament of the
interpreters, and was beautifully danced.
The programme was
completed with, L'Enfant et les Sortilèges, based on a
poem by Colette, and set to music by French composer, Maurice Ravel.
Harapes told me he had brought it to Paris more because it underlined
the strong dramatic qualities of the company rather than because he
thought it might appeal to a French audience, but whatever the reason,
it fell a little flat. The troupe seemed less at ease with the style,
lacking the sense of fun that should accompany the work, and not
understanding its quiet charm.
Before I left, Mr. Harapes
told me that the next programme would include two pieces by
Balanchine, and one
by Alvin Ailey,
adding that he liked changes, believing it enriched the dancers to
bring in the work of different choreographers.
the future as a judicious mix between people like Balanchine, Glen
Tetley, Alvin Ailey, and the classics which I re-stage myself. But I
am first and foremost a director. I don't hold with choreographers
running companies. I like to finish their work and stage it the way
that suits my troupe", he said.
time of the Russian invasion.
**Created for the
Netherlands Dance Theatre in 1978.
The Prague National
Ballet will perform at the Granada
International Festival of Music and Dance in Spain on 24 June
Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe.
She contributes to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and
was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev.
Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.com.