VerTeDance: Fresh on Stage

Czech Position

Czech duo’s new contemporary dance piece offers a bit of theater, a bit of zaniness, with help from Sweden’s Charlotta Öfverholm

As we wind our way through the maze of warehouses, looking for the building where contemporary dance company VerTeDance is rehearsing their newest piece, Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” suddenly comes blaring from behind a metal door. Upon entering, we find a girl with a bow in her hair manically screaming out the lyrics while another girl is swinging wildly, hooting and hollering and throwing things into what would be an audience. Welcome to “Found and Lost.”

“This piece is about relationships and a specific relationship,” Swedish choreographer and dancer Charlotta Öfverholm, who created the piece specifically for VerTeDance, told Czech Position. “I like to talk about life and twist reality a bit but into something everyone in the audience can relate to.”

VerTeDance is about to premiere the piece, and the look of exhaustion is apparent in the dancers’ eyes. They’ve had about three weeks of actual rehearsal with Öfverholm, and she works hard to keep the energy up. She’s showing — not only telling —the girls what she wants, and hollering out pointers from the stands: “The tempo is too fast; keep it slower,” “Remember the light, not just the steps,” “Be more in it.”

“Whomever I work with, the piece is specifically for them; it comes to you as a creator, where you are in your life, and this subject came to me very easily,” Öfverholm said. “When you work with strong dancers, it’s a pleasure.”

VerTeDance was founded in 2004 and consists of two dancer/choreographers: Veronika Kotlíková and Tereza Ondrová. Their first piece together, which they choreographed and danced, won second prize for contemporary dance choreography at a Belgium competition.

“They were at the beginning of Czech contemporary dance; the company was like developers in Prague and the Czech Republic of contemporary dance,” said VerTeDance’s producer, Marketá Faustová. “They began with duets, and then they began to bring in other dancers and choreographers, as well as invite foreign choreographers.”

“Found and Lost” premiered in Olomouc, central Moravia, and Prague in May, and the young women say the reviews have been positive. “People were very surprised; for those who know us, there were a lot of changes in our look, it was refreshing for them,” Kotlíková said. “For people who don’t know us … maybe they were a bit lost if they don’t understand contemporary dance.”

A different type of dance

Contemporary dance is an art form in itself, combining not just the usual dance steps and music but also a creative use of lighting, costumes and more. There’s a bit of theater involved as well, and audiences need to be open to interpreting a piece on their own.

“For people who are unsure about contemporary dance, this piece (Found and Lost) is more understandable because there is more theater,” Ondrová said. “But a piece needs to be clear so people aren’t lost; some dance pieces are more abstract.”

For Öfverholm, the theatrical aspects of this piece were very important. “I don’t like acting, but being, and this has changed a lot with this piece,” she said. “I wanted it so extreme to be almost absurd; it makes the piece more understandable and real. If not, it almost becomes a pantomime.”

The theater facet is one reason Faustová believes this piece is special.

“It is not pure contemporary dance but also theater: The girls have roles, words, there is a story in it, but everyone can understand it in a different way,” she said. “On one side, it is funny but also very deep and decadent. You can laugh but also feel very lost inside yourself from all you can see and feel; there have been very emotional reactions from spectators.”

Contemporary in Czech

Contemporary dance is still evolving in the Czech Republic, even with festivals like the Czech Dance Platform and the upcoming Tanec Praha, which give contemporary dancers and choreographers a platform on which to present their work. The girls are optimistic about the future but realize that things need to change.

“There is not enough support from the state; we need a little revolution,” Ondrová said. “A group of companies is putting together materials and wants to talk to the politicians about the importance of supporting it — to save our Czech contemporary dance for the future.”

“Companies aren’t paid, only project by project; it’s not possible to do it as a fulltime job,” Kotlíková added. “You have to work somewhere else, we also teach.”

VerTeDance does a lot of teaching and choreographing work for others, in addition to their own dancing. Next up for them is “Emigrantes,” which tells the story of refugees through children’s eyes. The piece uses both child and adult dancers, and they included two musicians as well who play live in every performance.

They will also be reviving an older piece, “43 Sunsets” (Třiačtyřicet slunce západů), which will be performed as part of Tanec Praha. As for new work, Ondrová says they are putting together a project that integrates physically disabled people that they hope will premiere next spring.