Black and white & color all over

The Image Theatre of Prague has much more to its production than meets the eye.

July 3, 2013 14:23
The Image Theatre of Prague

The Image Theatre of Prague. (photo credit: Courtesy)

For a so-called monochromatic outfit, the output of the Image Theatre of Prague is a very colorful affair.

Image belongs to the Black Light Theatre, or Black Theatre, genre of entertainment, which basically uses black backdrops and UV light on fluorescent objects to hide props and auxiliary personnel from the naked eye of the audience, thereby creating all manner of optical illusion.

In fact, however, as will be apparent when the troupe hits Israel for a 14-date nationwide tour between July 19 and July 31, the Czech-based ensemble incorporates all the colors of the rainbow in its eye-catching show.

The production Image is bringing here is called The Best of Image and incorporates dance and pantomime items from the company’s 24-year history, including some new creations.

Alexander Čihař, co-founder and producer of Image, says the cross-chromatic dichotomy can cause confusion.

“Some people think, when they hear we perform black theater, that we have black actors,” he says, “which is not the case. But we use the principle of black there,” he offers by way of explanation, adding that there are other extraneous elements in the company’s work. ”We also use dance, which is not traditionally part of Black Theatre. You could also call us a dance theater that uses the principles of Black Theatre.”

Čihař says there is more leftfield stuff in the Image mix.

“The pantomime things we do are also not typical pantomime like, say, Marcel Marceau. We call it acting without words.”

The latter, notes the producer, helps Image to access audiences across cultural and linguistic barriers.

“If you don’t use words, it helps to make your art more universal. That is a big advantage for us – it gives us a potential audience of seven billion people. If we used the Czech language in our shows, our potential audience would be only 10 million.”

Image started life at a time when Eastern Europe was in the throes of some tumultuous political events. It was 1989. The Iron Curtain was crumbling, and the Soviet Bloc countries were starting to push hard for independence. This not only meant increasing political leeway, but it also led to more artistic freedom when the shackles of communist censorship were finally removed.

Čihař says it is no coincidence that the company he created together with Eva Asterová came into being at that time. “Things were changing 180 degrees,” he says. “When communism ended, it gave us many opportunities to create something new without being under the supervision of communist rule. We finally had the chance to do what we really wanted.”

There was also a downside to the end of the stifling totalitarian regime, as generous state funding of cultural institutions across the Soviet Bloc came to an abrupt end, and companies such as the Moscow-based Bolshoi Theater had to hurriedly generate other sources of income. That, fortunately, was not a problem for Image.

“The Soviet authorities only provided money for their own projects, so we at Image did not get government funding before the end of communism, nor after it,” Čihař notes with a chuckle.

The producer and Asterová brought a comprehensive range of skills and experience to the Image fray. Čihař trained as a classical double bass player and accrued substantial musical mileage before he turned to Black Theater, while his partner was an accomplished dancer, choreographer, screenwriter and art director. The team was complemented by screenwriters Josef Tichy and Petr Liska, with musician Zdeněk Zdeněk playing a pivotal role as the person responsible for writing, arranging and recording the music that goes with the theater’s captivating visuals.

The latter, says Čihař, is a lynchpin of the whole theatrical production and has, it seems, developed an almost telepathic working relationship with the choreographer.

“Zdeněk is an amazing artist, and his music is so important for what we do. He also has a fantastic understanding with Eva,” he says. “A while ago she was working on a production and she asked Zdeneˇk to write her some ‘cube music’ because she was doing something with cubes, with things with sharp edges, on stage. And he came up with exactly what she wanted. They have worked together for so many years and have their own special language. That is a wonderful thing to have.”

Naturally, Image strives for artistic heights and to maintain a constant creative continuum, but ultimately, Čihař says, it’s about giving the audience a good time, regardless of cultural background or language.

“Basically, people are the same all over the world. Yes, there are some differences. For example, the first time we performed in Korea, we were doubtful about them understanding our style of humor. Fortunately, it was fine. Of course, people can react differently in different countries, but the difference is not that big.”

It is not hard to get Čihař’s drift or to appreciate the onstage action proffered by the Image troupe. It is also a basic, down-to-earth and definitively non-hi-tech form of entertainment. There are no holograms or pyrotechnically generated special effects. It is all down to the effective use of light and dark and fleetness of body.

Čihař says that he and his colleagues at Image just want the members of their audiences to go home with a smile on their faces.

“People can come to a show feeling that life is maybe too complicated for them and they are not optimistic. We want to give people an hour and a half when they forget their troubles and take a break from what they are exposed to on TV and at work and in their lives. That is something I appreciate with my experience of living under a communist regime, but I think people in Israel can appreciate that just as well.”

The Image Theatre of Prague will perform at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv; Haifa Auditorium; Jerusalem Theater; Beit Hahayal in Tel Aviv; Heichal Hatarbut in Karmiel; Heichal Hatarbut in Kiryat Motzkin; Performing Arts Center in Herzliya; Heichal Hatarbut in Petah Tikva; Performing Arts Center in Beersheba; Heichal Hatarbut in Rishon Lezion; Heichal Hatarbut in Modi’in; and Heichal Hatarbut in Or Akiva.

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