Mirenka Cechová returns to Washington for three performances only at the Atlas Performing Arts Center with her critically-acclaimed Tantehorse: physical mime theatre. This ensemble is known for combining surreal and decadent poetry with elements of physical theatre and modern dance.
Tantehorse will present Dante: Light in the Darkness and The Death of Marquis de Sade at Atlas Performing Arts Center Friday, May 31 at 8 p.m., Saturday, June 1 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, June 4 at 4 p.m
Cechová’s performances here last November received great acclaim and she was awarded a Best in Contemporary Dance for S/He Is Nancy Joe in the Washington Post.
Susan Galbraith: You will be returning to Washington at the end of May with your physical mime theatre, Tantehorse. What is very different about this work?
Mirenka Cechová: I and my co-founder of Tantehorse, Radim Vizváry, wanted to bring two parts of an original work, Dark Trilogy, which we created between 2007 and 2009. It’s an intense and visceral exploration of all types of love and I think ultimately says something about the human spirit with all its fragility. The first part, Dante: Light in the Darkness, focuses on passionate and sinful love and the notion that darkness exists inside us alongside the light within and without.
The Death of the Marquis de Sade explores dying love and society’s perception of death through a series of dream sequences and fantasies. We wanted to share this work we do which springs from this very specific genre of theatre that this company does, physical mime.
You do so many kinds of theatre and wear so many hats, Mirenka –physical mime, dance, Japanese butoh, and other blends of movement theatre. You are a director, choreographer, dancer, filmmaker, and “author” of your own works. Each of these artistic selves, is remarkable in its own right, how do you synthesize these separate selves?
In every work that I create there is present the authorial expression, that is the expression of my ideas, as well as I hope the sensitivity to movement, the strong relationship with collaborators, and inspiration of other sources. But the source always comes from a personal engagement with the material, and this is processed inside. It is my view of the world and, by transforming what I see as the reality outside of us, I try to recreate the dreamworld as a way of accessing the inner realities, and hope that, in some way, I bring these dreams to our audiences.
Indeed, you shape a very clear artistic expression on stage, but would you say something more about this process that allows you to synthesize and edit such varied material, subjects, and themes?
Let’s take S/He is Nancy Joe, which I performed in Washington last November. The show was the result of a very personal experience in my family, specifically about my sibling. But that led me to do research and meetings with this special group of people to learn about them, and not just to understand intellectually but to empathize deeply with them. I feel compelled to go deeply into the heart of these pieces. And each work is driven by this strong need to say something – through me. The inspiration can come from visual art, nature, music, or something that comes from everyday life. My job is to search for the language to transform the material to the stage and find what will best support the theme.
Indeed, it does. I studied piano and clarinet. I have been surrounded by professional musicians in my family. My daddy plays organ and my half-sister is a violinist. My response to music has always been very strong. Then I had classical ballet training, which developed my awareness of music and my understanding of how movement and music work together. In my work with both companies I direct, music provides me with an emotional anchor. In Anne Frank, a certain theme on the cello would help me go straight into the emotion of that moment. Music for me is not just another element layered on at the end, it’s an essential means in the collaboration. I rely on the music as a very important part of my inspiration.
The Voice of Anne Frank, the first work you presented in Washington, was originally produced by Spitfire Company, another company you founded. What is its mission?
The two founders of this are Petr Bohac and myself. We co-authored and Petr directed Anna Frank as the company’s first work. It doesn’t have its roots in mime but in theater. Of course, there is some overlap, and I think where one stops and the other begins is not always so easy to tell. Petr would say that Spitfire is acting with physicality, and the impulse is always emotionally charged even if we incorporate gesture and choreography at times.
Now, tell me more about Tantehorse and what this company means for you.
Tantehorse was co-founded with my fellow student at the Academy, Radim Vizváry, when we were both studying non-verbal theatre. We started off in traditional mime, studying the forms developed by masters like Jacques Lecoq, Étienne Decroux, and Marcel Marceau. As we worked together, we were discovering this great collaborative energy and then through the act of creating pieces together, we began to formulate a new genre we call physical mime.
How does the form differ from mime? Isn’t all mime physical?
There are different influences that we have integrated in our work, forms like Japanese Butoh for instance. I would say physical mime draws together many styles and the result, which still exemplifies the rigor and control, is freer.
What works has Tantehorse developed then out of this new – may I call it “hybrid style?”
There are two of us, Radim and myself, and each of us has created one- person shows as part of our repertoire. I have Salome and S/He is Nancy Joe and Radim has Lorca: Love in Vain. We help each other by providing an outside eye, but the works themselves remain very personal and independent.
We also created a first big work together, Dark Trilogy. We conceived it together and formulated ideas based on an artistic aesthetic of surrealism, minimalism, and physical theatre. We are both very excited to bring this work to Washington.
What’s important for you to say with this piece?
Because I have established such wonderful relationships in Washington and I have been so generously received here, I want to share my most important work with area audiences to continue this relationship. It’s a way of bringing the totality of my work here over time and to repay the openness and generosity of people and respond to their curiosity about my work.
Has the work changed since you first developed it?
We have changed, Radim and I. Artist years are indeed different from regular years, and so the phase of our work has changed. The work is deeper, I’d like to think, and more nuanced. To understand the genre that has been created, you have to experience this piece.
Dante: Light in a Darkness and
The Death of the Marquis de Sade
Produced and performed by
Tantehorse Theatre Company
Atlas Performing Arts Center
1333 H Street NE
Washington, DC 2002
1333 H Street NE
Washington, DC 20002
1 hour 20 minutes with no intermission
Friday, May 31 at 8 p.m., Saturday, June 1 at 8 p.m.
and Sunday, June 4 at 4 p.m.
Details and Tickets or call 202 213 9471
I have the wonderful opportunity to continue the work that I have begun with the Alliance for New Music-Theatre. I was invited to create a performance event to celebrate Vaclav Havel as part of the Czech Mutual Inspirations Festival. Havel, as you know, is very important to Czech people, as playwright, artist, “activist and former president of the Czech Republic. To me, he is a hero. So, to bring the work of this most important Czech creative voice to America is both an honor and great responsibility. I will bring two of his most famous and beloved plays, featuring the Vanek character, as special refractions of his work.
Who is Vanek?
The Vanek character gives great insight into the Czech people and particularly about this time period in my country. Vanek was the consummate outsider, a “stranger in a strange land.”
In a minority of one he represents artistic truth and exposes the absurdity of the many. I resonate with this. As a person who is often in other countries and cultures, I feel often I can’t express myself well despite that I am welcomed so warmly. And, at the same time, the alienation that I feel with this character provides me with strength and with a sense that while solitary I am not alone. Yes, because of Havel, I feel that I am part of this vast community of artists.
You are approaching them differently and are taking some risks by tackling these plays that are considered almost sacred, no?
There is always a risk in the challenge of bringing an author’s intent and voice out, as well as a very real responsibility to all Havel stands for. But I think his sense of humor and his very important voice representing the “outsider” will be shown. This would please him. Please come to the performances and find out.
The Vaclav Havel Project will also be in performance at the Atlas Performing Arts Center produced by Alliance for New Music-Theatre in conjunction with the Czech Embassy as part of the Mutual Inspirations Festival. Tuesday, September 24 and Wednesday September 25, both at 8 p.m.