The Taming of the Shrew with Alena Peskova


Author Irena Štěrbová

Theatre Review of J.K.Tyl Theatre, October 2018

With Alena Pešková, dancer, choreographer and current head of the F. X. Šalda in Liberec, we talked about the upcoming premiere of the ballet The Taming of the Shrew, her work and inspiration.


As a choreographer, you have a clearly recognizable movement vocabulary. How was it formed and where do you get your inspiration?

Honestly, I worked on the dictionary quite a bit at first. He's always quite a problem for a dancer - or former dancer, to forget everything he ever danced. Muscle memory is a bitch, sorry. So I spent hours with myself to figure out what was merely learned and what was honestly in me, what was my nature and how I would express this or that with my body. But at the moment it's also about enriching that vocabulary, I'd hate to spend the rest of my career "pulling from my drawers". Well, that's where the inspiration comes in. Often it's experiences outside of dance. For example, I watch people on the tram, how they gesticulate when they're angry, when they're amused... Fine art, literature, film... But lately I've actually been coming back to dance. Folklore, historical, social dances... it's just incredible the connections you find. Now, for example, I'm "riding the swing" in Taming.


For your choreographies you often use newly composed music directly for the title. How do you prepare the assignment for the composer and what does the whole process look like?

Usually, a year before rehearsals start, I write a libretto with instructions for the music or a kind of musical scenario. It's a little different with each composer, but I usually describe the action, the atmosphere, specify the approximate length, often determine the tempo, the measure and the exact rhythmization. And my audacity sometimes goes so far as to choose the key. It can then look like this: The duet of Petruccio and Katherine: Adagio amoroso, ¾ T, MM= 56, E minor, approx. 4:30 min., climax in the middle section, spaced chords, action and atmosphere in the background - described above. But I'm not always this brash - when I feel the content is clear, I want to be surprised and inspired in retrospect. This is the first time I've collaborated with Honzík Kučera in this way. We've been courting for a long time and now it's worked. I don't want to jinx it, but so far we seem to understand each other. And of course I'm looking forward to the whole orchestra. Live music is just a completely different experience.


In an interview you revealed that you want the audience to say to your ballets: "Oh, but this is not the story of Romeo and Juliet, which took place many centuries ago. Romeo and Juliet walks among us." Is that why you moved The Taming of the Shrew to the 1950s? To make it easier for the audience to find Katherine and Petruccio among themselves?

Something like that. That's the eternal debate whether to update or not. I always point out that the fact that we are looking at Rembrandt's Holy Family in Baroque clothes is of course no longer surprising, but if you dress Romeo and Juliet in jeans, immediately this version has many opponents and many supporters. Of course, if it's only on purpose and self-indulgent in the sense of we're going to be "origosh" - which of course nobody will be these days - it's always embarrassing and an intelligent viewer will recognize that. But Shakespeare in particular encourages such things. As a genius, he knew that only what is outside us can change, by which I mean fashion, household furnishings, means of transport... but human nature? Basically, still the beautiful Middle Ages.


The Taming of the Shrew, one of Shakespeare's most famous comedies, beloved especially for its clever puns. Won't you miss the words?

Do you know how much cleverness, stupidity, beautiful puns and double meanings we can express without words? Just a gesture, a body, a facial expression. And often more eloquently. But I know what you're getting at. Shakespeare is truly the master of masters. But I'm convinced that if he devoted himself to choreography, he could achieve the same mastery. In fact, he already has. So I don't want to approach him because he's already done it for me. He's already "built" the choreography, in a way. Just don't spoil it for God's sake! And understand him well. And he's always there, and it doesn't have to be just Shakespeare, a certain text and a certain subtext. And understanding the subtext is, I think, of the utmost importance - otherwise you're betraying the author. Because the SUBtext goes immediately to the SUBconscious, which has a far more powerful effect on us than consciousness. Just as you can say the words "I love you!" very sincerely, you can say them in a completely ironic way and the whole game is about something else. We have, for example, a grand pas de chat that you can jump through with a sense of perfect happiness and utter despair. The choreographer is there to give you the text (dance figures, steps, jumps or gestures...), the librettist, the director adds the subtext. In ballet, it's often three in one. That's why I always have to remind people that the work of theatre directors is not the same as ours. If it were, then the drama director would have to write the play and the opera director would have to compose the opera, write the libretto, write and write the parts...


To what extent do you keep the libretto faithful to the source material?

Pretty big. Apart from the fact that we are in a different time but in the same place, I don't edit much. Of course, if it's non-verbal, adjustments are needed - reducing plot, characters, adjusting motivations - and instead "showing" what is only talked about in the play. But I think it will be a very recognizable Shakespeare's Taming on first viewing.


As a choreographer of ballets Pilsen knows you from The Garden, Marysha, Blood Wedding and The Rite of Spring. In each production you brought something unusual to the stage, black theatre, water, grain... Will your Taming of the Shrew bring something special again?

Just a dog, popcorn, a bicycle with an ice cream cart and disinfectants.:)

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