Dance, Therapy and Fight Club

Veronika Páníková
Translation: Karolína Průšová

The eagerly awaited novelty of two students from the Dance Department and the Nonverbal Theatre Department in the form of a non-traditional therapeutic session. A fusion of dance, physical theatre and fight club takes you through argument, anger and release. How is it going to turn out?

Johana Panenková and Eliška Švecová’s first play invites to an auditorium arranged in a circle around a minimalist set, which is a green barrel. There aren’t too many seats and together with the soft dim light they give the space a more intimate atmosphere.

We are greeted by a voice from the recording that will accompany the entire performance. It invites us to close our eyes and reminisce about situations when we got angry or had a fight with someone. The roles are clearly defined –⁠ they interact non-invasively with the viewer, the performers are both therapists and clients, they ask questions and seek answers as we do, the participants of the non-traditional group session. At first, we have plenty of time to tune in and introspect, but as the action on the stage condenses and becomes more dynamic, there is not so much room to think about ourselves. But because we are in the theatre and not in therapy, we can let ourselves be carried away by the images that arise before us and not by our own thoughts. 

The movement material is diverse, you can feel the influence of contemporary dance, parkour, physical theatre, acrobatics and sometimes even clownery. The physicality of the work is definitely one of its strengths.

The beginning, when Eliška Švecová changes the character between an orderly and a relaxed girl and when Johana Panenková slowly moves towards taking off her typically feminine clothes and heels, sometimes slips into excessive descriptiveness with its movement motifs, but it does not affect the overall tone of the work. On the contrary, I would like to highlight the middle part of the performance in which the performers wrestle with each other. The choreography is imaginative and sophisticated, balancing well the more naturalistic moments of fierce combat with the gentler, more stylized elements of wrestling. The performers put everything into the fight having a concentrated energy between them that leaps like sparks even to the audience. The intensity of the experience is emphasized by the arrangement of the audience, where we literally have breathless performers within reach. It is this moment that evokes the association of a fight club and the idea of the ’90s street fight in a dark alley in New York. You’re glad you’re there because it’s exciting, but you’re even more glad you can just watch.

The barrel, the main prop, also works well in the match and can be read differently at different points in the show. It can be interpreted as a vessel in which we enclose our negative feelings, anger and resentment, or as an unpleasant situation in itself, which we don’t want to face but have to deal with somehow. Apart from my favourite green barrel, the stage design included lights, which were a bit chaotic in places but mostly made sense. In the last, quieter section, the lights created a safe, peaceful atmosphere that corresponded with the more subtle and graceful movement. Even the work with space, when the performers kept to a lower spatial level, evoked a grounding, a calming down after an outburst of emotions.

Perhaps only the ending seemed too pathetic, cinematic, when the two performers followed the light with slow music. But perhaps that’s just my cynicism. 

Anyway, I hope that this was not the last collaboration between Johana Panenková and Eliska Švecová, because they brought a dynamic show with an overlap and conceived the movement medium in an original way, just abstract enough and just concrete enough so that we don’t get lost in abstraction but have space for our own interpretation. And even though there were minor imperfections, I can say with a clear conscience that it turned out exceedingly well.

Music Faculty, Academy of Performing Arts in Prague –⁠ WHY AREN’T YOU MAD?! Authors, directors, choreography, performers Johana Panenková, Eliška Švecová. Written from the premiere on 8 June 2022 at DAMU as part of the Zlomvaz festival.

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