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Four dancers, suspended upside down, invent a new movement vocabulary. Choreographer Ctibor Turba is a founding father and living legend of modern European pantomime.

cast of
left to right: Ondrej, Lipovsky, Kamil Bystricky, Halka Tresnakova, Petr Kruselnicky. Photo: Daniela Hornickova  

March 3-6 at 8:30 pm at The Kitchen, 512 W. 19th Street
A co-production of Mime Centre Berlin and Mime Theatre Alfred in the Yard, Prague in cooperation with the Czech Center New York supported by the Trust for Mutual Understanding and the Foundation for a Civil Society.
Symposium follows March 4 performance
American premiere
running time: about one hour
$15, (212) 255-5793
Hanging by their feet for the entire performance, four performers re-invent the shape of movement in "The Hanging Man," an acrobatic dance work from Prague directed by Ctibor Turba, the internationally-renowned mime, director and teacher of non-verbal theater. Performed in 11 dramatic sequences--with the cast sometimes hanging by one foot or a roller-skate, sometimes weighted down by stones--"The Hanging Man" suspends the logic of perception. Since the horizontal plane no longer determines the nature of motion, the performers are forced to invent a completely new emotional vocabulary of interaction.

The work represents an exciting and provocative new development in movement theater from the Czech Republic, whose pantomime and puppet theater are truly world-class. Director Ctibor Turba is a pioneer in the uses of alternate movement in space. (He is also a formative Clown Theater artist and received the American "Red Skelton Award" in 1991 for his influence as a pedagogue, artist and director in that field.) Turba observed that in the standing position, gravitation and horizon determine the character of movement. But in the hanging position, movement is considerably reduced and radically transformed into a strange new morphology. He notes:

Working in the hanging position does not allow for physical contact with the surroundings. Only two or three suspensions side by side can touch, push aside or attract. The hand conducts one shape, the leg another and the body becomes a little orchestra which creates a unified symbolism which is, however, composed of indirectly related shapes. These are not known contexts of movement but new multiple movements in new situations.

There is much arching and bending movement and occasionally, a floppiness that can only be achieved with inverse gravity. One sequence has two simian figures moving on and off cushiony bolsters. In another sequence, avian movements are evoked as a hanging woman interacts with a standing man whose shoes seem bolted to the floor, allowing him to sway in imitation of her hanging movements while he is standing. Some dances are blended with loud mechanical sounds, like one in which a dancer waves and drops long metal rods and another in which the performer, hanging from a roller skate on a rail, locomotes left and right by spinning a large circular chain drawstring. There is a "tongue dance" executed by the woman performer, who hangs stock-still except for her face. A hanging man and a sitting man, their heads tethered with a long, stretching "sock," experiment with forces of attraction and rebound. Finally, there is a triangular dance in which energetic and contorted movements are performed by three men, hanging slap-against one another. The aural environment is primarily minimalist sound--woodwinds, reeds, shakahatchi, Jew's harp and mechanical noises like a loud squeaking door--broken by periods of thick silence.

The performers are Halka Tresnakova, Kamil Bystricky, Petr Kruselnicky and Ondrej Lipovsky. Director Turba believes that the character of the four artists has conditioned the work as they have not simply responded to the image in its external form, but internalized it in combination with their basically "introverted" natures. Their light weight also helps form the piece. (Turba notes, "Fleshy actors cannot spread out their weight to form the necessary shapes and rhythms; they simply look like slabs of meat on a hook.").

The piece premiered in Prague in 1997. It quickly dispersed misgivings that it would constitute a show of gymnastics as an end in itself and was recognized as one of the most ambitious productions of the year. Since then, It has been performed throughout the Czech Republic, at the MIMOS Festival in France (the world's largest festival of pantomime) and at the Berlin festival Tanz. One Czech critic dubbed it a "bat's ballet." Another wrote that it calls to mind the concentrated strength of imagination of haiku and the free expression of the dramatic texts of Samuel Beckett.

Ctibor Turba (pronounced "stee-bor toor-ba"), born in 1944, began his professional career in 1968, after an amateur career of five years, when his pantomime theater of Alfred Jarry, in its first performance ("Harakiri"), was recognized as a turning point in European pantomime theater. He and his collaborators, Boris Hybner, Richard Ryda, and Josef Platzer, rejected the elegant poetics of the lyrically imaginative pantomime Ladislav Fialka in favor of mute physical dramatic art and black grotesque. On stage they made use of the devices of the dramatic theatre (scenery, props, and the like) and as clowns in hobo suits and without white masks, Hybner and Turba paid homage to the legacies of Jarry, Artaud, Beckett and especially, Keaton's grotesque comedic cinema. Turba became quickly classified as one of the foremost talents of Czech theatre, not only for his original acting, but also for his spiritual and theoretical harmony with progressive tendencies of the Czech dramatic (Jan Grossman) and literary (Bohumil Hrabal) scenes.

A three-month affiliation with Jacques Lecoque in Paris in 1972 launched Turba's career abroad and he turned more into pedagogy and directing when, for health reasons, he was unable to continue performing. His career in Czechoslovakia before the revolution was continually marred by his uneasy relationship with the authorities, but since the fall of the socialist regime, he has been given the chance to systematically realize his ideas and intentions at home. In the '80s, he collaborated primarily with P. Byland in Paris and was a member of the faculty Dimitry in Zurich. After the 1989 revolution, he was named Professor and Chair of the Department of Non-Verbal Theater at the Academy for Performing Arts in Prague. In the '90s, he founded the International Studio of Movement Theater and the Studio Kaple laboratory and in 1997, opened a new theater in Prague known as Alfred in the Courtyard (Alfred ve dvore), where this piece originated. [NYTW]

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