Author: Monika Štúrová
Dance News 14.4. 2019
I met with Alena Pešková the day after she posted an announcement on her social network profile that she was quitting her position as head of the ballet company of the F. X. Šalda in Liberec. The post provoked many reactions and I myself was surprised by her decision. Therefore, I did not hesitate to ask about the circumstances of her departure, which followed just two weeks after her successful premiere The Storm in the Liberec theatre.
What is the reason for your sudden departure from the Liberec ensemble?
First of all, and this is above all, I don't want to say goodbye to Liberec in a bad way. I'm not going to spit on something that I've been working on for a long time. I can summarise the reasons, but nothing is black and white and there is never only one side to blame. What was happening in the theatre reached a stage where it was no longer humanly and professionally bearable for me. The last three drops contributed to it. First, the management threatened to take away our third premiere, the choreographic studio. I have stressed several times that in order to keep quality dancers and attract new ones, the company needs an attractive repertoire for them, because salaries are definitely not it, and facilities are definitely not it. Furthermore, I have encountered reluctance to move some dancers who have been dancing solo roles for even three years to the twelfth pay grade and appoint them as soloists with chorus duties. I did not understand why opera soloists should be anything more than ballet soloists. In the director's defense, however, I must say that she did compensate us financially in some way for not being in the twelfth grade, but in this case it is not just about money, but more importantly about social status and respect. At the moment all the dancers are choir members. Thirdly, the cooperation of the opera and Mr Doubravsky's behaviour is absolutely unacceptable to me both humanly and professionally. I hope that my reasons for leaving will help you to think that something should change. I had to beg every technician, costume designer. I lost the strength to fight for the company. The truth is I don't like aggression, maybe I didn't say some things forcefully enough.
Is ballet underrated next to opera and drama?
Unfortunately, the situation there now is such that "you are now at our disposal and you will serve the opera"instead of joyfully creating together. Communication with the head of the opera is really unpleasant and can make the whole collaboration frustrating. Ballet should have as much space on and off stage as opera or drama.
Will you lead the Liberec team until the end of the season?
I give my notice on the first of May, so the end of July. Plus, the director wants me to prepare for the fall premiere.
Do you know who will take over as ballet director?
No, it's still very hot right now. I've been getting one phone call after another since this morning. I had no idea what one Facebook photo would unleash. Anyway, I don't care who comes after me. I feel responsible for the dancers who stay and the new ones who come.
What should the next boss be?
The ballet boss must have the power to solve all the problems I mentioned and improve the conditions for the dancers. But he must also be an artist with choreographic ambitions, not just a pragmatist. Especially at the head of a company this small, there has to be a choreographer who creates a face, a style and a specificity.
Back to your work in the Liberec Ballet. Have you always created one premiere a year? Was it a necessity or your invention?
It's in my contract. I was in Liberec as ballet director and choreographer.
Do you have fond memories of Liberec?
I have only good memories of the show and the people. My leaving is a mixture of the situation, there are objective reasons and my circumstances where I just don't give it anymore. I think the ensemble is at a good level, and there was a nice atmosphere. I didn't have to persuade the dancers to do anything, they always wanted to, they worked on themselves. It is very interesting to see how differently the dancers behave when they have three alternates behind them, or when there is no one to replace them. There are advantages and disadvantages. I'm not the kind of boss who checks that "in five minutes nine, everyone will be warmed up or it will be bad", I always wanted to have people in the ensemble who know that they have to warm up on time, because otherwise it will be bad for them.
Did you have any visions when you came in that you were able to achieve?
I never thought of being a ballet director before. But the offer came when I had three full-length ballets under my belt, each with a different company. Every time I came to see a reprise, I couldn't believe what was left of my choreography. Clinging to the music and the different little details, I was attracted to the opportunity to work with people who would already know my style, long term. In the Liberec company it was smoother and faster with each premiere, the dancers knew that I couldn't stand this accent and that it was mine... A choreographer always has a certain style and handwriting and I think it's okay if it's recognizable.
What was your job as a boss all about? I suppose it would be a lot of paperwork besides choreographing?
Fortunately, I had my former boss, Vlasta Vindušková, on hand, and I couldn't have lasted a week without her. Although she is officially listed as an assistant, she works more as a secretary. She prepares fermans, calls people, handles production matters. That way, I didn't have to get so caught up in administration that I'd forget about choreography. But, of course, when you choreograph in a company other than your home company, you can have a lot more fun with the dancers, you don't have to deal with contracts, unpaid leave and so on.
What is the personnel situation in the ensemble now? How many ballet masters do you have?
We currently have three - Zuzka Susova, Anička Sčekaleva and Marika Hanouskova. That's enough, but I always wanted to have a man there for the men's training, but unfortunately I couldn't find one.
How do you feel after announcing your departure? Do you have any other plans?
A huge stone fell from my heart. I'm tired, it's after the premiere, but I don't have to drag my unfinished business behind me anymore. I know I'm taking a risk because freelancing is not at all certain to make a living, but I don't mind, I'm looking forward to it. A job in the theatre was already a certainty that weighed on me. I'm really looking forward to everything.
Alena Pešková (*1976)
In 1994 she graduated from the Dance Conservatory of the Capital City of Prague. She graduated from the Prague Conservatory in 1994. After one season at the Karlín Musical Theatre she worked at the J. K. Tyl Theatre in Pilsen. Since 1999 she has been working as an independent dancer, choreographer and director. She has worked with the Prague State Opera, the Czech Chamber Philharmonic, the North Bohemian Opera and Ballet Theatre in Ústí nad Labem, the Vienna Walzer Orchestra, the Manuel Theatre and others. She choreographs for operas, musicals, festivals, openings and commercials. He creates full-length ballets to his own libretti (Marysha, Café Aussig, Periferie, Jessie and Morgiana, The Nutcracker, Blood Wedding, Gustav Klimt, Cinderella, Rite of Spring). He directs operas (Carmen, The Magic Flute, Il Trovatore ad.), is the founder of an independent association of professional dancers called Ultra-minimal-ballet (UMB), which had its debut in 2008 in the Blues Cellar (5 m2). She has twice been shortlisted for the Thalia Award. Since 2010 she has been choreographer and head of the ballet at the F. X. Šalda Ballet in Liberec, she will end her tenure in June 2019.