Quiet Revolution

Mary Matz discusses dramatic changes in ballet with dancer/choreographer Jan Kodet

This article originally appeared in Opus Osm, the free-of-charge, paperless daily magazine about Czech classical music, opera, and ballet, published in Prague for an international audience.

Right now in the United States and elsewhere, thousands of people are peacefully protesting in the streets in the "Occupy Wall Street" movement. They’re revolting against everything from environmental damage to outlandish profits taken in by banks and oil companies.

You can join a slightly different, peaceful revolution. You don't have to go to Wall Street to do it. And you don't have to worry about getting arrested. It's completely safe, quiet -- and it's even entertaining.

All you have to do is go to the ballet.

A revolution? In ballet?

Sure. If the noise of pop culture is making you squirmy, or on the other hand you're ready for something refreshingly new, check out the quiet revolution going on in contemporary ballet.

"Dance has been developing a lot recently," National Theatre Ballet dancer and choreographer Jan Kodet tells Opus Osm. "It's revolting against a long period of stagnation." Today, after centuries of dance following a traditional formula, it's moving in many different directions at once, he says. "We have to observe and understand it, and then decide what we like and what we don't like." And you can help decide its future direction. You don't have to take this revolution to the streets, simply to the theatre seats: Check out the ballet.

Mr. Kodet explains that video technology is making a large impact on dance today. "We have the ability to record dance, and that's changing everything," he points out. True, before video, the choreography could be written down. But now artists can study the whole archive of current dance in actual performance, precisely the way it was recorded at the moment.

But video technology is also being incorporated as a kind of additional character right into the dance itself. "For me as a choreographer, I like crossover abilities," Mr. Kodet explains. "I like very much the new media -- video projecting, live recording incorporated into the dance ... and today lighting design, set design, and costumes are especially important in this new way of 'feeling' dance." In some pieces even the orchestra gets involved, with dancers interweaving with musicians and musicians moving along with the dancers.

Take his choreography for Camouflage. "It's not just one, clear story," he says. "The audience is free to be emotionally active, to think, to create their own emotions and dreams. After the show, some people say they are emotionally 'woken up.' They can find parallels to their own lives -- and sometimes some people were even crying" because it was so moving, he says.

Today, audiences of any age can still choose a traditional Sleeping Beauty (at the National Theatre next spring) or try something more contemporary such as Moonshine, with music by Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones (at the National Theatre, mid-November and early December).

Mr. Kodet, who is currently creating the choreography for next spring's Gloriana opera, adds that more young people are discovering ballet. "Here's what usually happens," he says. "A girl wants to take her boyfriend to the ballet. He wants to go to the football. So they compromise: this weekend, they'll go to the ballet, next weekend, the football. They go to the ballet and the guy is really amazed. He likes it."

There's only one pre-condition for joining the ballet revolution, regardless of your age, background, or education, according to Mr Kodet. "You have to be open and curious, and ready to learn."

Let the revolution continue.

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