DC METRO THEATER ARTS
Don Michael Mendoza
I am going to cut straight to the point before I explain why and say outright that Fulbright Scholar Miřenka Čechová’s S/He is Nancy Joe is an invaluable and spectacular piece of performance art that should be seen by everyone during this weekend’s run at The Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint. S/He is Nancy Joe is an in-your-face, real look at the issue of transgender identity and equality through art – not just in America, but in Europe too – as this show hails from the Czech Republic.
According to the show’s description, it’s “a movement and visual performance piece that combines hip-hop, pop, physical mime, contemporary dance and classical ballet with interactive comic book visuals, lighting, sound and spoken narrative,” and not only lives up to, but surpasses its outlined expectations.
Čechová’s movements fit perfectly with Technical Artist and Lighting Designer Martin Špetlík and Sound Designer Matouš Hekela’s multimedia video. The set and costumes by Meghan Raham made the performer and set ‘one and the same.’
Čechová was silent as she conveyed her pain and anguish as a struggling transgender through dance and facial expression. Raham’s set was made up of white screens – and Čechová’s costume was white too – where lights and video were synchronized to her movements along with music. In the beginning, it seemed as if there wouldn’t be a clear plot line, but the journey of the character grew obvious as the show went on, and it was easily accessible to any audience member open to learning more about the presented topic.
There were several moments that moved me the most. The first was the opening that represented a child growing up awkward and alone in a world full of labels. Čechová had a way of portraying that pain through mime that put my emotions on a roller coaster ride. The next was when the character hit rock bottom mid-show when the solution of gender reassignment surgery was described as ‘self-mutilation’ and part of a deeper ‘psychological problem.’
However, the moment I loved the most was when the character grew to love the skin he or she was in near the end of the piece – and celebrating with a dance filled with sweeping movements and surrounded by vibrant colors on the video screen and bright lights.
S/He is Nancy Joe is an experience that made me realize how little transgender issues are spotlighted in today’s society, and hopefully this high quality collaboration will bring this seldom discussed and misunderstood topic to the forefront when playing to many audiences around the world.
Open your mind and see into the mind of a beautiful transgendered character presented by the artistic genius of Miřenka Čechová.
THE WASHINGTON POST
It’s a paradox that artists in any medium struggle with: The best art comes from personal excavation that unearths what we least want others to see.
In other words, what we hide from the world is what audiences will respond to most. So it is that Mirenka Cechova’s solo docu-dance, S/He Is Nancy Joe, strikes a particularly powerful chord as it takes us deep into the confusion, shame and isolation of the transgender experience. (Scissors loom large. Just warning you.)
That Cechova, 30, a native of the Czech Republic, delivers this roller coaster of the soul through comic-book projections and a mashed-up dance language that borrows from hip-hop, ballet and the ooze of melted wax speaks to her theatrical talent. As does her ability to perform so freely within the confines of Flashpoint’s tiny black-box space. Her fractured, loopy narrative feels authentic, and she achieves this through wholly unrealistic means. Every one of her movements is stylized. The visuals that accompany her performance are rough-drawn, often-crude sketches (by fellow Czech artist Milos Mazal, with animation by Tomas Tomsa Legierski). Matous Hekela’s sound composition of warbles and groans is an indistinct landscape of turbulence.
This hour-long fantasy, presented here in its only U.S. stop, hits so hard because it springs from honest origins. Cechova has a transgender sister who used to be her brother. This piece, as she told me in a phone interview, arose from efforts to reconcile herself to that. In the process, she spent two years speaking with other transgender people, who shared with her their diaries and private pain.
As a result, what Cechova may have initially longed to bury, she embraces in a most intimate way. In “S/He,” she embodies the mirror image of her sister’s experience, showing us a man imprisoned in a female body.
As she interacts with a cartoon alter ego projected behind her, we see flashes of childhood teasing and bathroom awkwardness. Puberty engulfs her in an especially visceral way: A sea of red bleeds across the screen, we hear what sounds like explosions and Cechova, staring bewildered at the betrayal of her crotch, twists herself into a picture of tragicomic humiliation that the middle-schooler in everyone can surely recognize.
As much as she immerses us in a world of anxiety, Cechova also has a light touch. “S/He” is poignant but also terrific fun. And I’m not just referring to all the winged genitalia that flutter merrily on-screen as her character contemplates the physical equipment she longs to possess. Some of Cechova’s contortions reminded me of Pina Bausch’s corporal exaggerations; other moments brought to mind Gene Kelly’s responsive wit in “Anchors Aweigh,” in which he dances with a cartoon mouse.
You want dramatic? When confronting the surgical fork in the road, so to speak, Cechova’s character is convulsed by what could be pages out of a graphic horror novel. Drawings of organs and incision marks flash by too quickly for the details to register, but we get the idea. Giant scissors blink across the screen to an ominous beat that recalls “Psycho’s” shower scene.
But most impressive of all is simply Cechova’s body, which she turns into a battleground of self-identity and societal censure. Amid all the imaginatively used technology of this show, that body is an element of surpassing wonder. Cechova’s spidery limbs can turn her into a stick figure; a moonwalker; a rough, rubbery street dancer; or a fragile sylph. Masculine and feminine, two dimensions and three, play out on that magical canvas with schizophrenic velocity. There’s a message in that, about the universal beauty of the human form — its nonconforming breadth included.
Cechova is no stranger to this area. A Fulbright scholar who heads two physical theater groups in Prague, she has taught at American University and in 2011 performed in Synetic Theatre’s “King Lear.” Here’s hoping she returns, and soon.
© Translation by Alex Lorenzů
Theatre thrives more on the stage than in the streets, the Zero Point and Behind Doors festivals continue
Two brand new theatre productions have appeared at the united festivals of street, dance and physical theatre in Prague, Behind Doors and the Zero Point. Miřenka Čechová, the author, script writer, director and only live actor of S/HE IS NANCY JOE, which had its premiere on Tuesday [translator's note: should be Monday/Tuesday] at the Celetná Theatre, ranks among the best in Czech physical theatre.
Čechová’s new production is inspired by authentic stories of people who had or have problems with their gender identity. She works with a clever mix of motion (Miřenka Čechová), dynamic comics (Miloš Mazal) and sound (Matouš Hekela).
It all starts with a picture of a girl in a red polka-dot dress, who is drawn more to a toy truck than to a doll. The slim dancer in trousers and a sleeveless top might as well be a girl as a boy. Because, as the motto says, “The only way to know a person’s gender identity is if he or she tells you.” For jumping to conclusions based on clothing or behaviour may be quite tricky.
A profound account of chaos and desperation
Čechová gives us a glimpse into the confusion of a person experiencing doubts of their own identity through motion first and foremost, incorporating elements of classical ballet, street dance and pantomime influenced by comics and graffiti, which are projected onto the screen in the background and with which the dancer enters into an active motion-based dialogue. Both have the same dynamic urgency, further magnified by the sound and music.
Miřenka Čechová controls her lithe body flawlessly and can uncover the depths of chaos and desperation through motion and abrupt shifts in tension. Rarely, a humorous point lightens the serious subject matter. The hour-long performance is charged with a kind of energy that allows no respite for the viewer. And there are very few spots where any redundancy or overt descriptiveness might be felt.
THE WASHINGTON POST
Sarah Halzack June 3, 2013
The dead can’t dance, said Prokofiev, voicing doubts about the ending of his ballet “Romeo and Juliet.” But clearly, he had no idea what he was talking about.
The dead not only danced at the Atlas Performing Arts Center on Friday, they romped, wrestled, played with toys and made love. If the Grim Reaper is anything like his portrayal in two wordless physical-theater works, “The Death of the Marquis de Sade” and “Dante: Light in a Darkness,” I can hardly wait to meet him.
For now, it’s tempting to trust that Mirenka Cechova and Radim Vizvary, founders of the Czech Republic’s Tantehorse Company, have Death pegged. In “Dante,” he’s a ravishing seducer with attention-deficit disorder. Shirtless and wielding a carving knife, Vizvary stalked his prey (Cechova, momentarily comatose) on silent cat feet, while his arms and shoulders rippled like massive wings. It was a swimming, soaring, floating locomotion I’d never seen before, not at all human.
That was true of the whole evening. Cechova and Vizvary, both based in Prague, have backgrounds in ballet, mime, clowning and Japanese butoh dance — in short, they embody a treasury of physically expressive theater arts, and they brought them all to bear in the two brief works. But you couldn’t separate the dancing from the mask technique, the mime from the butoh. With their two amazing, infinitely malleable bodies — oozing like melted rubber one moment, hard-edged and dangerous another — the two performers conjured up a thrilling phantasmagoria. The stage became foreign turf with only the merest echoes of reality.
It was also full of surprises. Once Vizvary, as Death, claims Cechova, he dances with her lifeless form, and it’s creepy and laugh-out-loud funny. She’s a marionette in his hands, her long dancer’s limbs snapping up to meet his as if he’s pulling them by strings. He yanks her onto pointe, makes her spin and twirl. A corpse de ballet! They waltz crazily. Bit by bit you see her rigor mortis thaw, as if she’s remembering something of life.
Then Death gets distracted by a puppet, and his victim exacts her revenge. Lucky for us, she takes a good, long time to do it. It turns out hell truly hath no fury like a woman scorned; dead girls don’t like to be jilted. If things were weird before, now it’s a sadistic, sexy horror show, and wonderfully alive.
That’s the great gift of Tantehorse: As stylized, mysterious and preoccupied with death, sex and violence as these creations were, they sizzled with life. The source is the intensity of those finely calibrated bodies. Every shift and gesture holds the eye. In “The Death of the Marquis de Sade,” when Vizvary and Cechova don masks, their arms and hands become so energized, they’re like firecrackers. Emotions fire in every move. Martin Spetilk’s shadowy lights and Matour Hekela’s haunting sound design added much to the depth of feeling.
Cechova last performed here in November, in her tour de force solo about the transgender experience, “S/He Is Nancy Joe.” This program proved her brand of theater — they call it “physical mime theater” — is even more potent with a partner.
To read a preview piece--by Kaufman--about this production, click here.
DC METRO THEATRE ARTS
Justin Schneider June 1, 2013
If I were writing a one-word review, that word would be “Astounding.” But much more deserves to be said about Tantehorse‘s The Death of the Marquis de Sade & Dante, a ‘Must-See’ production at Atlas Performing Arts Center that presents the second and third parts of the Czech company’s larger Dark Trilogy.
Atlas lists Tantehorse’s run under both Dance and Theatre on its website, and even that bit of promotion shows a strong awareness of the company’s resistance to genre. Tantehorse describes themselves as “physical mime theatre,” but that description barely scratches the surface. The company blends Czech pantomime, Japanese Butoh, physical theater, and mime with modern dance and puppetry to create a type of theatre that isn’t a European style as much as it is Tantehorse’s specific modus operandi. All of the disparate production elements come together to form a beautiful, surrealism- and Baroque-inspired whole. Lighting Designer Martin Spetlik influenced by Chiaroscuro paintings, spends as much time using shadows to define the figured on stage as he does simply illuminating them. And the sound and music by Matous Hekela is done live during the performance, giving the soundtrack and the performers additional freedom in their work. Under the guidance of director Petr Bohac, Tantehorse has brought us something amazing here and the only flaw in the piece is the knowledge that we’re only getting a small glimpse of Tantehorse’s work.
There’s no narrative to summarize, which is a strength rather than a weakness. At a post-show talkback, actress and Founding Artistic Director Miřenka Čechová said that the company prefers to let the audience build their own narratives, drawing on their own experiences and associations to construct a personal version of the performance. Instead of a narrative, Čechová and Co-Founder Radim Vizvary (the only two performers) provide a constant stream of images, metaphors, and conceptual relationships. While the two halves of the show are clearly separate pieces with their own internal aesthetics, they also create a satisfying whole based on shared themes. Both parts explore the relationship between the male and female characters, and the way that each objectifies and projects on the other. Both share a fascination with consumption as a physical and sexual act, blurring the lines between eating food and being physically intimate. And both sections display a fascination with the way that death reduces a person to their component parts and paradoxically allows them to expand and display new dimensions.
I used the word ‘astounding’ to describe the production, but there are others that are worth mentioning. The production can be grotesque, concerned as it is with the ways in which humans are reducible to bodies. The company delights in sudden turns of darkness, as when a playful clay-mask pantomime becomes affectingly sinister, like Mummenschanz by way of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser. The production is also physical in a way most theater (and even dance) barely reaches. The movements of the actors are incredibly precise and specific, but bodies function as props and sound-generators as well as sites of drama and projected longing. Breath-taking is a good term for the both the impressive physical work done by the company and the amazing images that we’re presented with. The stage-lights go down between each vignette, and I had the urge to leap to my feet in applause after each and every one. The show is also necessarily sensual, keeping the audience constantly aware of the physical nature of the performers’ bodies and their proximity to each other. And finally, the production is (offered without commentary) charmingly funny.
The Death of the Marquis De Sade & Dante is one of those energizing works of art that serves as a reminder of the fluid boundaries between artistic disciplines. It’s also a reminder of the ways that brave artists are pushing the limits of theater itself, and of the offerings available to theatergoers who are brave enough to seek them out. If you’re interested in theater, whether as an art-form for as pure entertainment, you owe it to yourself to make the time and see this show.
MARYLAND THEATRE GUIDE
Elliot Lanes June 5, 2013
If I say the term physical theatre to you, what do you think of? Most likely your answer will be Synetic right? Well yes, Synetic with its dazzling choreography and intense approach is one form of physical theatre. But while Synetic is the only company in our area that performs in this style, there are other companies doing the same thing in other parts of the world. Tantehorse Physical Mime Theatre from the Czech Republic is one of those companies and their three day stint in the Sprenger Theatre at the Atlas Performing Arts Center this past weekend proves that this is a theatrical form that there is not nearly enough of in this country.
Here’s hoping Tantehorse Physical Mime Theatre comes back to the states soon so more of you can see their genius.
The program consisted of two sections from the company’s Dark Trilogy. The first was The Death of Marquis De Sade- On The Dark Road, which asks what does Death think about when he comes for us and what would happen if Death took on the face of a child and forgets about his job for a while? It is a world where human sins come to life like harmless monsters.
The second piece was Dante which basically says hell exists within us just as we contain within us the promise of heaven. Pretty intense stuff right?
Director Peter Bohac staged the show with minimal scenic elements, which is very effective. There are only two performers Mirenka Cechova and Radim Vizvary who are very well known in the Czech Republic for their work with physical theatre. I totally understand why they are so loved. Their grace and style in creating these unsavory characters is something to watch. There actually are two more performers in this show and they are Lighting Designer Martin Spetlik and Sound Designer Matous Hekela. The soundtrack in the show sounds as if the actors are triggering the cues with their movements.
Actually Hekela is running the show through a DJ set up and while watching the action he triggers the cues in perfect synchronization with the performers, which makes the sound just another one of the actors. Spetlik’s lighting effects are another part of the experience. Plunging us into darkness at the top of the show and gradually building to shafts of light and tight focus on areas of the stage he creates the world of hell as he envisions it. When the two components of light and sound come together with the two performers, you end up with a performance that is stunning both visually and audibly.
Tantehorse finally made it to the US after some obstacles last year, which canceled an announced engagement at Synetic Theatre’s performance space. I’m glad everything worked out this time because here was a chance to see a gentler form of physical theatre performed by a really good company. Here’s hoping Tantehorse Physical Mime Theatre comes back to the states soon so more of you can see their genius.
Amy Wilder November 2, 2014
The coming-of-age story of the young Anne Frank, immortalized in the diaries she kept while in hiding from the Nazis with her family in Amsterdam during World War II, has tugged the heartstrings of generations of readers. Young women, particularly, learn about the changes in themselves through Frank’s honest documentation and reflections of her own.
That raw, brutal emotion and the hopelessness of her experiences have been brought to life in “The Voice of Anne Frank,” with equally compelling visual and sound elements. Miřenka Ćechová, a Czech actor, choreographer and director, developed the performance several years ago and works with cellist Nancy Jo Snider to bring the emotional landscape alive further through sound.
The pair are visiting Stephens College on Sunday, giving workshops for students. Monday, they will host a lecture and demonstration that touches on the history and development of this production; it isn’t the full production, Snider said in an email, because they don’t have the space or their technical artists along for this trip.
“The Voice of Anne Frank” has been performed all over the world, picking up accolades and praise wherever it travels — its next stop is the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater later this month. Snider, director of the music program in the department of performing arts at American University and a co-creator in the project, said it has “required me to learn a new way of creating that involved original sound design, improvisation and a totally different creative concept. Learning how to create in this new way has been absolutely life changing for me!”
While Snider has composed much of the music, she improvises a bit during each performance, “and hopefully, even the parts that are ‘planned’ have something new each time, ... but mostly I would call it a sound design,” she said. “Everything has meaning related to the work.”
The emotion conveyed through the music offsets and compliments the striking movements of Ćechová, who has co-created a genre unto itself — a style that dips into various influences from the Japanese Butoh dance theater to mime. In fact, she calls it “physical mime.”
On stage, the combination of Ćechová’s physical narrative melds with the music and with stage design elements, like a sheet stretched and used as a sort of tympanic membrane of tension. “The lighting design, by Martin Spetlik, also adds tremendously to the atmosphere and emotion of the performance,” Snider said.
Snider and Ćechová have been brought to Stephens under the auspices of Gail Humphries Mardirosian, the school’s new dean of the school of performing arts. She is launching her tenure with a new initiative, titled Intersections, designed to connect national, international and interdisciplinary artists with the students and Columbia’s community.
Mardirosian, while a Fulbright scholar in Prague, met Ćechová at the Academy of Performing Arts. “We collaborated on a production of ‘Smoke of Home,’” she said in an email, “a play written by two young men incarcerated at the Nazi transit camp of Terezin. ... Subsequently, I was able to arrange for Miřenka to have an invitation to my home institution at that time, American University, and she also became a Fulbright scholar.”
Mardirosian and Snider have collaborated on several projects over the years. “She generated the design of an astonishing soundscape for a tribute to Vaclav Havel entitled ‘Kaleidoscope,’” Mardirosian said. “We were fortunate enough to present the tribute at the Embassy of the Czech Republic in honor of Vaclav Havel with an astonishing array of individuals, including Madeleine Albright. With this piece, we combined music and movement to bring to life one of Havel’s letters written to his wife while he was incarcerated.”
“The Voice of Anne Frank” is “a unique combination of music, the spoken word and physical theater,” Mardirosian said.
“Anne’s story is served in a magnificent way. When you hear the cello, it as if you are hearing her soul — joy, sorrow, frustration, a full range of emotions. When you watch Miřenka, you see her spirit enacted on stage. Stories of the Holocaust need to be presented to us a reminders of truth, and theater can do this for audiences. Theater generates such visceral connections for us and allows for important stories to connect and resonate.”