Review: Slovak Dance Theatre in The Firebird at Jacksons Lane

Performance: 3 March 2009
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Friday 6 March 2009

Slovak Dance Theatre, 'The Firebird' 3 March, Jacksons Lane

What a thrill it is to get back to the raw edginess of unknown performers giving their all in an intimate, no frills setting; to experience at very close quarters the passion of dancers who are still in the throes of caring deeply for their art. I have to say that this hour-long performance by the Slovak Dance Theatre was an immense pleasure from first to last.

Modern dance still seems to be in its infancy in Slovakia since the SDT (the Slovenské Divadlo Tanca to honour them with their indigenous name) is directly descended from the Bratislavskèho Divadlo Tanca, which was formed in 1997 as a pioneering modern dance company in Slovakia. The same man, Ján ?urov??k, is both the driving force behind these companies and the choreographer of this interesting and thoughtful interpretation of Stravinsky’s Firebird. It is clearly set in the recent past, prior to the crumbling of communism, with the strong political driver of liberated human spirits rising above the long-term yoke of an enforced lack of freedom; symbolically represented by the peasant community that is infiltrated by the Firebird wearing (and dancing in) wellington boots that are finally removed, like the shackle of state control, in the concluding scene.

Ján Špoták and Petra ?ernová made an impressive lead pairing, well matched in their technique and artistry and providing two passionate and challenging duets, all the more so in the confined space of Jackson Lane’s 11×6m stage; the dynamism of the whole production was enhanced by the intimacy of the setting with the harmonised group choreography for the peasant community being especially effective. ?ernová managed to make dancing in plain black wellington boots look both surprisingly graceful as well as intentionally earthy. The drudgery of a controlled society was very cleverly represented by the relentless peeling of a single potato, as others sat around aimlessly waiting for something to happen. This occurred in a sudden and passionless representation of a quick sexual coupling between the husband and potato-peeling wife, with the family all sharing the same room, that managed to be funny without being crude.

It was a real pleasure to happen upon this one-off performance in London, which is part of perhaps the strangest world tour I’ve ever encountered, encompassing a host of single performances in places like Amsterdam, Antwerp, Prague, Kracow and New York. It seems their appearances are as fleeting as that of the mythical Firebird itself. Once seen, not forgotten; but you’ll have difficulty ever catching it again.

What’s On