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„It begins like a flowing river and ends in an ocean storm.“

Jiří Bubeníček on his narrative ballet “The Piano”

Dancer vs. choreographer

“Bubeníček has again shown how sensually and intelligently he approaches emotionally turbulent stories; further, he tackles delicate issues with a fine nose for what is necessary and possible. A successful balancing act.” One could assume that this press quote is a sensitive description of a premiere performance by the ballet dancer, who, from the moment he steps onto the stage, captivates the audience as well as the critics. In fact, these lines refer to an alternative professional pathway that Jiří Bubeníček has been pursuing for some time alongside his unique career as a dancer, namely that of choreographer. The critic Gabriele Gorgas (Sächsische Zeitung) was praising his piece “Faun”, created in 2012 for the Semperoper Ballett, which is a challenging and unsparing examination of sexual abuse in the church. The work was premiered when Jiří Bubeníček was still dancing lead roles in Dresden before his final departure from the stage in 2015.

Step by step

His choreographic career began as a bit of collegial fun when he created a dance work to accompany a song performed by a chansonnier friend at an evening recital. Thereafter he twice took part in the Dom Pérignon choreography competition in Hamburg. The fact that Jiří Bubeníček was not among the winners did not dampen his enthusiasm for this newly discovered passion – quite the contrary. Having already discovered his choreographic potential, John Neumeier invited the dancer to create a piece for the Hamburg Ballet School. This new outlet for his artistic talents which Jiří Bubeníček discovered at the turn of the millennium expanded rapidly over the following years through his activities on the international stage from the Czech Republic to Denmark and as far afield as Japan.

The choreographies became more complex and the clients more prominent, such as Ballett Zürich, which commissioned Jiří Bubeníček to create the contemporary piece “Le souffle de l’esprit” in 2007. Over the years, the two Bubeníček brothers danced the last movement of the ballet - a highly musical trio for male dancers - with different partners at countless guest performances. And just as the performer Jiří Bubeníček was avidly followed by dance critics for many years, he soon came to be recognised for his work as a choreographer.

One particularly significant piece is the neoclassical “Toccata”, commissioned by the New York City Ballet in 2009, which harmonises aesthetics and proportionality in a strikingly convincing fashion. According to Gabriele Gorgas (tanz – Jahrbuch 2014): “This work has its very own coherent structure, while also offering moments of quiet reflection. We observe choreographic images that breathe and are alive, where nothing is missing and nothing is superfluous.”

A similar opinion is expressed by Igor Stupnikov in his review (Dancing Times) of “Gentle Memories”: “The choreography is in no way a narrative but each fragment is full of its own feeling and sentiment. Bubeníček’s work tends towards pure classical movements, and he uses his very personal dance language to create emotionally fraught dance that maps the spiritual and psychological states of the cast.” In this work, which premiered in New York in 2012 and received its Russian premiere in an expanded version at St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre in the same year, Jiří Bubeníček brings together with easy confidence the various elements of emotion, movement and music.

Seemingly, Jiří Bubeníček is unafraid to return to and further develop older works, as in the case of “Fragile Vessels”, one of his early choreographies from 2001. Originally inspired by the 2nd movement of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2, he then expanded it in 2017 for the San Francisco Ballet by including the other two movements. According to Claudia Bauer (Dancetabs.com), while stylistically “imbued with the expressionistic influence of John Neumeier, […] Bubeníček’s approach is wholly unprecious about classicism. Dynamic torsos and arms, deep pliés and pas de trois entanglements added wonderful elements of surprise.” And writing in the yearbook “tanz” in 2015, Boris Gruhl also traces a line of descent in Jiří Bubeníček’s choreographic work to his ballet mentor: “The fact that he draws inspiration from John Neumeier, with whom he danced for several years, is obvious. But the way he emancipates himself from the Hamburg master makes him a beacon of hope in the field of narrative dance.”

And today, after several years of artistic growth and maturity, these choreographic roots are certainly no longer so clearly discernible – because in his work, Jiří Bubeníček often consciously and openly negotiates the contemporary potentials of expression. Where the two choreographers still resemble one another is in their core interest, namely to tell stories using all the means of dance.

The storyteller

“Of course, ballet can tell stories just like drama and opera. In so doing, steps and movements become language. But this is not a national language - it is universal. Our body is international. It always discloses our human feelings. Action is the background against which emotions become visible.” This statement by Jiří Bubeníček regarding his piece “The Piano” finds its realisation in this successful production, based on the acclaimed film. Created as a one-act piece for Ballett Dortmund in 2015, the work was expanded in 2018 into a full-length ballet for Wellington’s Royal New Zealand Ballet. In this parable about a woman liberating herself through a forbidden love affair, Jiří Bubeníček traces the psychological depths of the poetic and dramatic plot, providing each character with their own unique physical vocabulary.

The lines just quoted are generally applicable to all of Jiří Bubeníček’s productions, for which he transforms stories into movement. His method of preparation is as follows: in his private studio, he examines novels for interesting themes, which may be discarded or further scrutinized for their suitability as choreographies. In this way, he cuts some roles or scenes to focus on others, giving them additional weight, while creating spaces to admit emotions between characters. Enriched by the element of music, he builds his dance libretti on this textual foundation.  

His full-length narrative ballet “Doctor Zhivago”, based on Boris Pasternak’s beloved novel, shows how he never loses focus of the central story. This commissioned work was created in 2016 for the Slovenia National Theatre Opera and Ballet in Ljubljana, after the dancer had just finished his career at the Semperoper Ballett and was establishing himself as a freelance choreographer. In “Doctor Zhivago”, Jiří Bubeníček succeeds in taking the audience on an emotional journey through the life of the eponymous hero - from raw militaristic images to beguiling pas de deux to opulent ball scenes, convincing in its movement and dramaturgical structure.

This could also be said of the work “Anita Berber – Goddess of the Night”, which the Bubeníček brothers jointly developed for the Thuringian State Ballet in Gera: “The Bubeníčeks surprise with refreshing ingenuity. They are resourceful, love detail and have a sure sense for accents, timing and intensity.” (Ilona Landgraf, 2016). Echoing the unflinching gaze of Otto Dix, who created a world-famous painting of the scandalous artist of the wicked 1920s, Jiří Bubeníček peels back the carapace of this femme fatale, layer by layer, to reveal the human side of the infamous dancer.

Primordial forces seem to rage in Bubeníček’s “Processen” based on Kafka’s “The Trial”, a labyrinthine and surreal work tracing the fate of Joseph K., which premiered at the Royal Swedish Ballet in 2019. Compared with other narrative ballets, this work has a hugely eclectic score, running from Alfred Schnitte to Alva Noto by way of Jewish folk songs. The choreography itself is correspondingly complex and expressive, revealing Jiří Bubeníček’s interest in developing his own – at times unconventional – ways of articulating situations or characters. This valuable process of maturation can also be seen in Bubeníček’s interpretation of “L’Histoire du soldat” by Igor Stravinsky, in which, according to Boris Michael Gruhl (tanznetz.de), “the choreography of fractured poetry and clownish circus aesthetic is captivating in its ambiguity.”

Jiří Bubeníček has long since joined the ranks of the dance world’s foremost storytellers. Just in 2019 came two premieres, namely his full-length version of “Carmen”, performed at the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, and his interpretation of “Cinderella”, presented by the Nuovo Balletto di Toscana at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Theatre. This latter work is a colourful fairy tale for modern audiences in which the cleverly conceived figure of Cinderella wears golden sneakers. After the premiere, Sergio Trombetta writing in “La Stampa” called the ballet “a must-see event.”

Pursuing his own path, not being afraid of the choreographically and stylistically innovative, yet never losing sight of the story, the dancers and, of course, the audience – this is Jiří Bubeníček’s very personal recipe for success.

Les Ballets Bubeníček

But he not only creates choreographies for diverse companies: as an enthusiastic team player, Jiří Bubeníček frequently collaborates with his brother Otto, who creates the sets and costume designs for his works; moreover, together they founded their own company of international dancers, “Les Ballets Bubeníček”. In various combinations, the company has been touring regularly with its own creations since 2009, for example presenting the work “Orfeus” to European audiences or various gala programmes around the world.

A public figure

It was a particular honour for the Czech artist to be asked to dance the epic orchestral cycle “Má vlast” (My Fatherland) with “Les Ballets Bubeníček” on Prague’s Old Town Square in 2018 to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Czechoslovakia. This national celebration was televised by the Czech public broadcaster ČTV Art. This is only one example of countless productions broadcast around the world. Documentaries about his work have also been made, such as “The Heart Dances” by Rebecca Tansley on “The Piano” or earlier reports on the ballet twins during their years of active dancing in Hamburg. In 1999 and 2016, the legendary New Year’s concerts of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, which are broadcast each year, also featured the work of Jiří Bubeníček (the performances have been released on DVD).
His success as a choreographer is also confirmed by various prizes such as 2nd prize at the International Ballet Competition in Varna (2002), the Audience Prize at the International Ballet Competition in Hanover (2004) or the “Europa in Danza” prize for his 2019 version of “Carmen” in Rome.

The socially-engaged choreographer organised the charity ballet gala “Ballet for Japan” to aid victims of Japan’s devastating tsunami of 2011. He has long been honoured for this and other work outside the field of choreography. In 2015, for example, Jiří Bubeníček was awarded the “Jan Masaryk Silver Medal” by the Consul General of the Czech Republic in Dresden Jiří Kuděla, on behalf of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for his successful, long-term representation of Czech culture, thereby strengthening the reputation of the Czech Republic abroad. A year later, he was given the “Gratias Agit” award by the Czech Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek for spreading the good name of the Czech Republic around the globe. In 2017, he received the Prague Capital Prize from the Mayor of Prague, Adriana Krnáčová, along with a “Silver Medal” from the Prague City Council as a special sign of respect and appreciation for exceptional services in helping to develop the capital in the field of ballet as well as promoting Prague throughout the world.

Jiří Bubeníček’s career has passed through several interrelated phases: from the star ballet dancer, respected and acclaimed worldwide, to a new incarnation as an internationally renowned choreographer. And a new role as cultural ambassador for his native Czech Republic is just manifesting itself. Charisma, authenticity, irrepressible creativity and the will to make things happen are the hallmarks of Jiří Bubeníček’s life – and he is sure to surprise the world in coming years with new messages, ideas and activities.

CHOREOGRAPHIES

CINDERELLA – full length ballet story
For Nuovo Balletto di Toscana, at the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
Florence, Italy
Premiere 15.12. 2019

PROCESSEN – full length ballet story inspired by the novel of Franz Kafka “The Trial”
For Royal Swedish Ballet, Stockholm, Sweden
Premiere 17.05. 2019

CARMEN – full length ballet story after Prosper Mérimée
For Teatro di Roma, Rome, Italy
Filmed by Rai5 and DVD
Premiere 2.2. 2019

METROPOLIS – full length ballet story inspired by Thea von Harbou novel and German expressionist science-fiction drama film directed by Fritz Lang
For Croatian National Ballet in Zagreb
Premiere 3.11. 2018

MÁ VLAST – full length ballet
“Mein Vaterland” 6 musical poems on Bedřich Smetana’s “Má vlast”
For Les Ballets Bubeníček, Old Time Square in Prague, Czech Republic
Live National TV broadcasting by ČTV Art for the 100 years of Czechoslovakia existence celebration.
Premiere 27.6. 2018

THE PIANO – recreation of existing one act to full length 2 acts story ballet
after the film by Jane Campion
For Royal New Zealand Ballet, Wellington, New Zealand
About this work – documentary film “The Heart Dances”
Premiere 23.2. 2018

CHAPEAU – 40 min contemporary piece, own story concept
For State Ballet Nürnberg, Germany
Premiere 23.6. 2017

RUSALKA – full length story ballet, Czech traditional fairytale  
For for Ballet Karlsruhe, Germany
Premiere 29.4. 2017

FRAGILE VESSELS – neoclassical ballet
Complete 3 movements of 2nd piano concerto by S. Rachmaninoff
For San Francisco Ballet, at the War Memorial Opera House, California, USA
Premiered 24.1. 2017

JE REVE – video clip
feat. Onejiru & Kele Okereke, Producent and Composer Atthias Arfmann
Choreography of Music Video by Jiří Bubeníček
Dancers by Jiří Bubeníček & Otto Bubeníček
Premiere 25.11. 2016

DANCE GALLANTRIES – neoclassical piece
For Royal New Zealand School, Wellington, New Zealand
Premiere 16.11. 2016
ORPHEUS – Tanztheater full length story
Created for Les Ballets Bubeníček, Czech and German tour 2016 – 2017
Filmed by Czech National TV Channel Art
Premiere 8.9. 2016

ANITA BERBER – GÖTTIN DER NACHT – full length story ballet inspired by tumultuous life of German dancer, actress, and writer Anita Berber who was the subject of an Otto Dix painting.
For the Thüringer State Ballet in Gera, Germany
Premiere 17.6. 2016

DOCTOR ZHIVAGO – full length story ballet after the Boris Pasternak’s novel
For the Slovenia National Theatre Opera and Ballet, Ljubljana, Slovenia
Two duets filmed by National TV Ljubljana
Premiere 14.4. 2016

L’HEURE BLEUE – one act ballet miniature story ballet, recreated to extended version
For Tokyo City Ballet, New National Theatre, Tokyo, Japan
Premiere 30.1. 2016

LES JEUX JALOUX – miniature story ballet
For State Ballet in Hannover, Hannover, Germany
Premiere 20.2. 2016

THE VIENNA PHILHARMONIC NEW YEAR'S CONCERT 2016
conducted by Maestro Mariss Jansons
For Principal dancers from Staatsballet Wien – Artistic director Manuel Legris
ORF Vienna TV Channel – worldwide broadcast and DVD
TV Premiere 1.1. 2016

DUO HAND TO VIOLIN – a choreography for acrobats
For Duo Hand to Violin at Krystallpalast Leipzig, Germany
Premiere 4.11. 2015

PROVEN LANDS – contemporary duet
For Raphaël Coumes-Marquet and Jan Casier, National Theatre in Taipei
Premiere 18.4. 2015

THE PIANO– one act story ballet inspired by the film by Jane Campion (short version)
For Dortmund Ballet, Germany
Premiere 14.2. 2015

CLAIR DE LUNE – solo
For Hervé Moreau (Opéra national de Paris), Bunkamura Theater, Tokyo, Japan
Premiere 30.07. 2014

THE SOLDIER'S TALE – full length story ballet
after the theatrical work written by Igor Stravinsky and Swiss writer C. F. Ramuz
For Musiktheater im Revier Gelsenkirchen Ballet Company, Germany
Premiere 23.6. 2013
 
L’HEURE BLEUE – miniature story ballet, short version
For North Carolina Dance Theatre in Charlotte, USA
Premiere 25. of 4. 2013

BURNING BRIDGES– contemporary piece
For dance company Gauthier Dance
Premiere 11.1. 2013

PRELUDE & FUGUE – duet
For Dorotheé Gilbert and Hervé Moreau (Opéra national de Paris)
Bunkamura Theater, Tokyo, Japan,
Premiere 5.1. 2013

GENTLE MEMORIES – neoclassical miniature story ballet – extended version
For Ekaterina Kondaurova and Principals of the Mariinsky Ballet Theater, Petersburg, Russia
Premiere 27.9. 2012
San Francisco Ballet at the War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, USA
Premiere 21.1. 2016

FAUN– story ballet, own concept
Portraying the problem of a young boy abused by the catholic church priest
For Semperoper Ballet, Dresden, Germany
Filmed by Czech National TV Channel Art
Premiere 23.6. 2012

GENTLE MEMORIES– neoclassical miniature story ballet – short version
At David Koch Theatre, Lincoln Center, USA
Premiere 27.4. 2012

THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY – one act story ballet after Oscar Wilde’s novel
At the renaissance castle Velké Losiny, Czech Republic
Premiere 16.7. 2011

DIE INNERE STIMME / THE INNER VOICE– full evening abstract piece
For Semperoper Ballet, Albertinum Museum, Dresden, Germany
Premiere: 30.10. 2010

LETTER TO FELICE – solo inspired by Franz Kafka’s correspondence with Felice
For Bunkamura Orchard Hall, Tokyo, Japan
Premiere 28.7. 2010

IL MANOL – contemporary solo
Premiere July 2010, Istanbul

OUTRENOIR – contemporary duet
For The National Ballet of China
Premiere 24.4. 2010, in Beijing, China

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES – contemporary duet
At the National Theatre, Prague, Czech Republic
Premiere 15.5. 2009

DOUBLE VIOLIN CONCERTO – neoclassical duet
At the National Theatre, Prague, Czech Republic
Premiere 15.5. 2009

TOCCATA – neoclassical piece
For New York City Ballet, David Koch Theatre, Lincoln Centre, New York, USA
Premiere 13.5. 2009

TE DEUM – duet
At the National Theatre, Prague, Czech Republic
Premiere 7.1. 2009

CANTATA IN C – neoclassical piece
For New York Choreographic Institute, New York City, USA
Premiere 17.10. 2008

RENCONTRE – contemporary duet
At the Megaron The Athens Concert Hall, Greece
Premiere 12.4. 2008

MAIFEST DER BRUNNEN – one act story ballet inspired by the film “Otvírání Studánek”, film by Alfréd Radok and Miloš Forman
For the International Bohuslav Martinů Music Festival, at the Elisabethenkirche, Basel, Switzerland
Premiere 4.11. 2007

7TH SYMPHONY – neoclassical piece
For New York Choreographic Institute, New York City, USA
Premiere: 12.10. 2007

LE SOUFFLE DE L’ESPRIT– contemporary piece
For Zurich Ballet, Switzerland
Premiere 1.9. 2007
For State Vienna Ballet under the artistic direction of Manuel Legris
Premiere 9.1. 2011
For North Carolina Dance Theater, Charlotte, USA
Premiere 10.3. 2011  

LAMENTATE – contemporary ballet
For Palucca Dance High School, Dresden, Germany
Premiere 17.6. 2007

SHATTERING DEPTH – contemporary duet
For the YUH 07 performance, New National Theatre, Tokyo
Premiere 11.3. 2007

CANON IN D MAJOR – men contemporary trio
For the YUH 07 performance, New National Theatre, Tokyo
Premiere 13.3. 2007
And set for Teatro alla Scala in Milan (2021), Royal Ballet School in London, for National Ballet of China, Roberto Bolle and Friends and others

YUH 07– full evening show
New National Theatre, Tokyo and Spica Theatre, Sapporo, Japan
Premiere of Program A, 11.3. 2007, Sapporo
Premiere of Program B, 13. & 14.3. 2017, Tokyo

AI NO YUKUE – contemporary dance piece
For the YUH 05 performance, Spica Theatre, Sapporo, Japan
Premiere 28.08. 2005

YUH 05– full evening show
For Hamburg Ballet dancers, Spica Theatre, Sapporo, Japan
Premiere 28 & 29.8. 2005

SIMPLE PLEASURE – contemporary solo
Premiere 9.6. 2005

UNERREICHBARE ORTE– one act contemporary piece
For Hamburg Ballet, State Opera Hamburg, Germany
Premiere 19.6. 2005

INTIMATE DISTANCE – contemporary piece
For Copenhagen International Ballet Alexander Kølpin, Denmark
Premiere 4.8. 2004

PRISONERS OF FEELINGS – contemporary duet
For Copenhagen International Ballet Alexander Kølpin, Denmark
Premiere 1.8. 2003

TRIP – contemporary piece
For Hamburg Ballet dancers, State Opera Hamburg, Germany
Premiere 1.7. 2003

BEYOND WORDS – contemporary piece
For Copenhagen International Ballet Alexander Kølpin, Denmark
Premiere 3.8. 2002

MADE ON EARTH – contemporary solo
For Arsen Mehrabyan at the at the 20th International Ballet Competition Varna, Bulgaria
Premiere Summer 2002

ABSINTH – miniature story ballet
For Laterna Magika, Prague Czech Republic
Premiere 27.2. 2002

GRAFFITI – contemporary piece
For Laterna Magika, Prague Czech Republic
Premiere 27.2. 2002

BOLERO II – contemporary piece
For Hamburg Ballet dancers, at the Iwamizawa Park outdoor concert hall
For Iwamizawa Arts & Music Festival, Sapporo, Japan
Premiere 1.9. 2001

FRAGILE VESSELS – neoclassical trio
(2nd movement of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s 2nd piano concerto)
For Hamburg Ballet, State Opera Hamburg, Germany
Premiere 12.7. 2001

A DIFFERENT DRUM – contemporary piece
For Hamburg Ballet School, State Opera Hamburg, Germany
Premiere 3.5. 2000

THE FEELING BEGINS ... SAMSARA – contemporary piece
For Hamburg Ballet, State Opera Hamburg, Germany
Premiere 6.7. 1999

LA FOULE – solo, inspire by Edith Piaf’s song
For Hamburg Ballet, Opera Stabile – Staate Opera Hamburg, Germany
Premiere 22.1. 1999