Snowboard Revolution

Czech Position

Crossover piece at Prague’s Ponec theater showcases snowboarding history in the Czech Republic through dance, song and acrobatics

Did you see that alley-oop and chicken salad air? If you know these terms, there’s a new theater piece for you playing at Prague’s Divadlo Ponec. Snežná revoluce (Snowboard revolution) puts the history of how snowboarding came to the Czech Republic on stage, complete with a halfpipe and professional snowboarder.

As assistant producer Radka Chalupová tells it, a group of friends were sitting around when the subject of how snowboarding came to the Czech Republic came up. One of those curious friends was Zuzana Páleníková, who hooked up with Tereza Klápšrová and together their started researching and designed the show’s theme. After a year, they settled down to work, with Tereza looking for funding and Zuzana designing the script.

“Tereza said ‘I want this idea transformed into theater,’” Chalupová told Czech Position. “She has an interest in creating theater for young people and thought this topic would be a good one.”

The piece is a bit of everything – a play, with dancing, singing and some acrobatics. The main piece of scenery is an actual large halfpipe; built on wheels it rolls around the stage acting as a variety of backdrops. Chalupová said they chose actors who could also sing and dance, and inserted a real snowboarder, Matej Novák, who when he’s in the snow specializes in Big Air, Halfpipe and Snowboardcross. Chalupová says it is all these elements that make the show so interesting.

“There’s popular music from the ’80s through today, like the Sex Pistols, but also hip hop and rap,” she said. “The music creates a special atmosphere, since it’s directed to young people; we used the music to make it more attractive. It was done by one of the actors in the show, Petra Horváthová, who also acted as the sound designer.” Chalupová adds the music follows the chronology of actual events and the styles riders listened to at any given time. So when back in the ’80s punk rock and hardcore were popular among snowboarders, that’s what has been worked into the play. Later on, rap and hip hop and all kinds of crossovers became dominant.

Dancing actors

The dance moves for Snežná revoluce came from dancer and choreographer Tomáš Protivinský. Referred to Klápšrová by another dancer, he was intrigued by the project. “This was different because they are actors, not dancers, but it was a fun, new experience,” he told Czech Position. “It’s not dancing so much — more like moving.” As he doesn’t do acrobatics, they recruited Marek Svitek to design the cast’s jumps and spins. A bit of creativity had to go into the practice sessions.

“As actors, they had had dance classes in school. The first two rehearsals were more finding out what they could do and introducing what we wanted,” said Protivinský, desribing as “amazing” the end result. “At rehearsals, I only saw ‘my’ part, and I didn’t see the whole thing until the premiere. … It was really funny, and the dancing and acrobat parts were good.”

Attracting a younger audience

Klápšrová has been snowboarding for 15 years and involved in theater for ten. Making theater attractive to young people is a major goal of hers.

“I think what is missing from theater in Prague are themes for young people, with music they like and something they know, like from their life or childhood,” she told Czech Position. “In Prague, we have only theater for cultural people, not ‘normal’ people off the street. Theater needs an easy theme, many people are afraid, think it’s expensive and it isn’t welcoming. Plus none of the advertising for theater is directed at young people.”

Reaction to the two premieres in February was positive. Chalupová said they were most surprised by the interest they’ve received from radio stations and other media outlets directed at younger people. The production may be filling a niche, maybe youth today don’t just want to go to the cinema or sit on the Internet.

“Reaction on Facebook from people who attended has been really positive; they seemed happy to have an alternative to see and said they are still smiling,” she said. “They couldn’t imagine how it could be done and didn’t know what to expect, so we surprised them.”

Waiting in suspense to find out the history of snowboarding here? According to Chalupová, two mischievous teenage boys named Ivo Dragoun and Ivan Pelikán were home alone in the early ’80s when they found a VHS tape they were hoping had porn on it.

They were semi-lucky, as there was about three minutes of porn, but then the tape cut to people skiing abroad — on only one ski. Snowboarding. Czech snowboarders have Dragoun and Pelikán to thank, along with friends Ladá Rys and Ludek Vaša, who built the country’s first snowboard out of two skis.

So what is an alley-oop and chicken salad air? An alley-oop is a term used to describe any maneuver in the halfpipe where one rotates 180 or more degrees in the uphill direction, and if you can do some chicken salad air, it means your rear hand reaches behind your front leg, grabs the heel side between the bindings while the front leg is boned at the same time as your wrist is rotated inwards to complete the grab. Better just go see the play.