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The Cross at the Brook

Recently I went with a good friend, a former member of the Pražák Quartet, to a performance of another fine Czech string quartet, the Zemlinsky Quartet. It was quite a surprise to learn that the final work of the three on the program, the beautiful Dvořák d minor quartet Op 34, would be accompanied by a new dance work commissioned by the Zemlinsky Quartet and this would be the premier. This was really good news as I enjoy both contemporary dance and chamber music and have seen a great deal. I was especially interested in what this new work would be like, as in recent years I have experienced this combination of artistic forms quite a few times, and they have been very successful.

So, I was very excited to about this unexpected item on the program.

The dance ensemble was the Prague Chamber Ballet – Pražský komorní balet. The dance work was a condensed version of what I was told was a well-known Czech romantic story (I am not Czech) called The Cross at the Brook, (Kříž u potoka ) written by Karolina Světlá in 1868. As I subsequently learnt it is a dramatic and sad story;  which turned out to be, I thought, well suited to dance interpretation.

I have heard the Zemlinsky Quartet before so, as I expected, the playing was excellent. Although they had to work hard in a venue that is not very sympathetic to string players. I would suggest a simple wooden sound shell which can be easily assembled and dismantled for future performances.  I have seen other quartets use this in halls that have not very good acoustics.

Therefore, I do not need to say anything more about their playing except that they provided an accompaniment to the dance creation The Cross at the Brook of high quality.

Can I now say, right at the outset of my comments about this new work, that it was all I had hoped for I had no idea what to expect but the performance gave more than I could have imagined.

Both the choreography and the dancing were outstanding.  It was a totally satisfying and absorbing experience. The choreographer was Alena Pešková who is obviously, on the evidence of this work, an extremely talented and fine artist.

The story has many elements – love, happiness, domesticity, passion, jealousy, anger, hope despair, lust, death and more.

All feelings and emotions suited to representation in dance, but only achieved successfully if the choreographer has imagination and a strong creative instinct.

Alena Pešková has these and gave the company much powerful material to work with. And what did the dancers do with it?

They danced as though their very lives depended on it and portrayed the characters very convincingly. Although on a few occasions I was not sure what was happening in the story line that didn’t matter, and was probably due to the story being unfamiliar to me.

I was totally absorbed in what was happening on stage.

This splendid company conveyed the story with passion and commitment, giving us movements that were arresting and even shocking at times. Yet joyous and with pathos when required.

There were some very innovative moves but none that seemed out of place. All were convincing. I want to see more of Alena Pešková’s work.

For me the dancing was, as you will have already gathered, sheer joy and a delight. The company is a fine, very cohesive ensemble working so well together as demonstrated by exemplary timing and coordination.

The soloists were all excellent. I was totally captivated by the dancing of Ondřej Vinklát in the lead role of Štěpán. He is such a beautiful dancer. Grace and beauty combined with strong and fluid movement as well. What a combination!

But I must also mention the principal dancers in the main characters –  Bára Müllerováin dancing the role of Eva showing the vulnerability of the character so well, Oldřiška Neumannová as Marička and Viktor Svidró as Ambrož.

However I must stress that it is all the company that must be praised;  and the prolonged applause at the end was well deserved.

It was a great privilege for me to attend this performance. What a wonderful way to begin what is my 23rd visit to this lovely city if Praha.

And who am I?  I come from New Zealand and for over 50 years have attended hundreds of performances of chamber music, ballet, theatre, opera, symphony concerts in many countries. So, I think I have a good ear, eye and artistic sense for what is excellent and worthy of praise in those fields.

I took the time afterwards to congratulate both Alena Pešková and Ondřej Vinklát after the premier of this exciting new work so powerfully and beautifully presented.

New Zealand even for its small size (5 million people) has a very active chamber music and modern dance scene. I hope this work might be performed there in the future and have made such suggestions to my contacts at home.

But for those in Praha who were not fortunate enough to be at this premier I am advised there will be repeat performances on 9th February, 30th March and 25th May 2022. All that the same venue – The Municipal Library of Prague, (Městská knihovna v Praze), Marianske Namesti, Stare Mesto

Don’t miss it. I will be going again.

PS As a fascinating aside for a lover of English literature I discovered, when doing some research about the novel, there is a view that The Cross at the Brook, could possibly been inspired Emily Brontë’s novel Wuthering Heights (1847)


Russell O Armitage


20th December 2022, Praha.

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