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Pavel Šmok

Pavel Šmok
* 22th October 1927 in Levoča

Pavel Šmok was born in Slovakia, when his father – Czech construction engineer – and the whole family was living there. He studied at the elementary school in Levoč. After Slovak Republic was established his family moved to Prague, where Šmok studied at Grammar school and after 4 years he continued his studies at High Technical School in Betlémská Street. After the graduation he went to the Czech Technical University in Prague. He successfully passed four semesters at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, but at that time he was already focused on artistic activities and he didn’t finish the University. No wonder, he was interested in theatres from early childhood in Nekoř. During his studies he was playing in amateur theatres (for example The Theatre of Young Pioneers, or in Theatre Na Slupi) and except that he was also dancing with Vycpálek’s Folk Ensemble. At that time he was adviced by Alexej Gsollhofer (actor of Vesnické Theatre) to try an entrance examination at the Conservatoire and he was accepted.

During 1948 – 1949 he was attending classes at the drama department of the Prague Conservatoire. He had great teachers – Krejča, Lukavský, Plachý. But he had deeper interest in dance and so after one year he changed for the dance department, which he finished in 1953, when he was 26 years old. He couldn’t complain about his teachers. Classes of classical dance were taught by Marie Anna Tymichová, folk dance was taught by The National Theater soloist Zora Šemberová and modern dance was taught by Laurette Hrdinová. During his studies Pavel Šmok was strongly influenced by E. F. Burian. Šmok had been playing in theater D until his first movie role came. The role in Tomorrow We Will Be Dancing Everywhere (1951) needed Šmok to participate in shooting outside of Prague for two months. That’s why he couldn’t play in theatre and since than he has never got back on stage as an actor.

As many other artists Pavel Šmok started with sport. He felt in love with figure skating (during figure skating he first learned the classical dance techniques in lessons by Helena Štěpánková and Marta Aubrechtová), he was a junior champion of Czechoslovakia, he performed as a member of a grotesque trio Syblík-Šmok-Krapeš and he performed in ice shows (for example in High-minded Princess with Dáša Lechová – well known artist and European champion). Later on he kept recurring to sport as a choreographer of figure skating shows and ice shows, he worked with modern gymnasts and he was also interested in diving. More accurately he was introduced to water sports by his second wife Marie (Hatina) through double canoe. He became a coach of Marie, who is eight times champion in diving from 3 meters high plunge.

During the last year of his conservatoire studies he joined The Army Opera of Luboš Ogoun. This step had many advantages for him, he could be there during compulsory military training, keep practising and regularly perform on the stage. Unfortunately the ensemble was cancelled in 1956. After a very short engagement in The National Theater in Prague (more precisely 6 days) he became a member of ballet ensemble of J. K. Tyl Theatre in Pilsen, which was run by Jiří Němeček at that time. As a new soloist Šmok could dance there many roles in all kinds of gender – character, comical, classical prince or even modern pieces. For all we could name legendary „Peťka“ in Jiří Neměček’s inscenation Youth, which was awarded for the Best performance in 1956. In Pilsen his interpretative career reached the top and also ended. At that time he was over thirty years old and his problems with spine started to appear more often.

After that a position of an artistic director and a choreographer in The State Theater in Ústí nad Labem was advertises and Pavel Šmok as an ambitious artist got it for next three years. Despite all the problems he succeeded to rise the quality of the ensemble, but especially he shape as a choreographer here. He has tried operas and operettas in Pilsen before, but his first premiere, which he introduced with the ensemble from Ústí was in 1958 The Waltzes (A. Dvořák), The Wedding Shirt (J. Novák) and Carneval (R. Schumann).

The greatest success and artistic quality reached the choreography The Waltzes, which showed the future choreographic direction. Four premieres followed – Seven Beauties (K. Karajan 1959), The Servant of Two Masters (J. Burghauser 1959), The Nutcracker (P. I. Čajkovskij 1960) and The New Odyssey (V. Burns 1960).

In next few years he was a second choreographer in Ostrava next to Emerich Gabzdyla. He lost all the difficulties of being a director and in three and a half years he staged nine short ballets – Viktorka (Z. Vostřák 1961), Lašsko Dances (L. Janáček 1962), An American in Paris (G. Gershwin 1962), Magical Love ( Falla 1963), Pygmalion (J. Duchoň 1963), Collage of Rossini (G. Rossini 1963), Dizziness (Č. Gregor 1964), The Love Song (P. Eben 1964), Conscience (W. Bukový 1964) and few operas and dramas. Thanks to benevolent Gabzdyla he could spend his free time as a guest on TV shows and other theatres, mostly in Brno – Seven Deadly Sins of Petty Bourgeoisie (B. Brecht / K. Weill 1962), Rhapsody In Blue (G. Gershwin 1962) and Capriccio (J. Novák 1964), or in Polish Bytom – Florella (Dance Teacher, K.Kupka 1963).

Pavel Šmok has been working for TV up to the present day. Except the Czech Television he has worked with many foreign companies in Austria, Germany, Great Britain, Yugoslavia and Switzerland – Dodger, Les Notes, History Of A Soldier, The Night-bird’s Singing (I. Stravinskij 1980-82). He was also awarded for TV choreographies, for example at The Golden Prague Competition, in Montreux, in Helsinki and so on.

In 1964 he established Balet Prague together with Luboš Ogoun (originally Ballet Prague Studio). Balet Prague cooperated with The State Theater Studio (director – Miloš Hercík.) Both artists had similar artistic feeling, they wanted to experiment with motion and they became perfect creative pair. The core dancers they brought from Brno ensemble (Synáčková, Koželuh, Janeček), from Ostrava (Martiníková, Brom) and another five conservatoire graduates were picked in an audition. Their production was enormous. Thanks to their activities in Czech, but especially abroad, they had a chance to attend at the dance events around Europe and at the same time create an image of the Czech dance in international context.

The most important pieces created by Pavel Šmok for Ballet Prague were: Collage of Rossini (G. Rossini 1964), The Reflections (Z. Zouhar 1964), The Jazz Suit (K. Krautgartner 1965), Fresco Paintings (B. Martinů 1965), Negligee (O. Nedbal 1966), Largo and Fuga a-moll (J. S. Bach / K. Velebný) and mainly Intimate Letters (L. Janáček 1968). In 1968 L. Ogoun decided to go back to the National Theatre in Brno and Pavel Šmok took the post of artistic director. However difficult existential conditions led to the termination of the ensemble’s activities.

During 1970 – 1973 Pavel Šmok was a director of ballet in Basel (Switzerland). He presented there some of his old choreographies – Fresco Paintings, The Confidential Sheets. He also created new choreographies – Don Juan (Ch. W. Gluck 1971), Sinfonietta (L. Janáček 1971) a Scheherazade (N. Rimskij-Korsakov 1972). During this time he was also going to Brno in his free time – Glagolitic Mass (L. Janáček 1969), to Nuremberg – Scarecrows (A. Reimann 1971), to Bern – Poeme Élektronique (E. Varese 1972), to Darmstadt – Collage of Rossini (1973), The Intimate letters (1975) and Tessin – Les petits riens (W. A. Mozart 1972).

Although they offered him a new contract in Basel, the Czechoslovakian Pragokoncert decided not to authorize any other long-term engagements abroad for Czech artists. Those, who stayed „outside“ became an emigrants. Pavel Šmok didn’t want that and so he came back in 1973. Socialistic regime took care of warm welcome and so no-one would hire this choreographer. Until Boris Slovák, who was a head of ballet in Slovak National Theater in Bratislava, helped Šmok and let him prepare Firebird (I.  Stravikskij) and The Intimate letters in 1973. The premiere was scandal – comrades didn’t like the scene, when Prince Ivan drops a golden cage on Firebird. They thought it is an allegory to recent „liberation from counter-revolution.“ In next three years he was working for TV, opera, operetta or drama, but no ballet, but Pavel Šmok didn’t give up. And finally an offer came, Miloš Hercík (at that time a director of Rokoko Theater) offered a theatre spaces and a support, so a small group of dancers could be formed. The group was called The Prague Chamber Ballet. The ensemble was initially supported by the Municipal Theatres of Prague and since 1980 it has been and independent company, which reassumed its activities in Ballet Prague. The ensemble had chartered position in Czech, but existential struggles had persecuted it the whole time. On the other hand the ensemble always had many great dance personalities – K. Franková, L. Rajn, V. Kloubek, J. Klár, J. Kavková, P. Zuska, L. Ovsová, M. Plzáková, M. Blahutová, P. Kolář, K. Rejmanová. Out of the large repertoire let us name at least – American Quarttete (A. Dvořák 1977), Stand-in (F. von Suppé 1977), Pia Fraus (K. Odstrčil 1974), Out Of My Life (B. Smetana 1983), Musica Slovaca (I. Zelenka 1983), Brighten Up Night (A. Schönberg 1986), Trio G-moll (B. Smetana 1991), Pigeon (A. Dvořák 1992), Stabat Mater (A. Dvořák 1995).

At that time his work had an extraordinary range, except the pieces for the „Šmok-people“ he also worked with many foreign theatres and ensembles – Polski Teatr tańca v Poznani (1976,1982), Komisches Oper v Berlíně (1979,1982), Nederlands Dans Theater 2 (1981), or with Choreografičeskije miniatury in Leningrad (1983, 1986, 1987).

Pavel Šmok’s choreographies were presented on most of the Czechoslovakian stages. He also cooperated with Laterna Magika, he was a director – for example The Bartered Bride in The National Theater in Prague (1992). He has been supporting all chorographical ambitions of his dancers (K. Franková, P. Tyc, P. Zuska) and since 1990 he was a teacher of choreography at the Dance department of The Academy of Musical Arts in Prague (his students were for example M. Blahutová, M. Eliášová, L. Holánková).