For Filip Barankiewicz, artistic director of the Czech National Ballet, international touring is at the heart of the job. Spreading the works of choreographies and the love of ballet around the globe is an inseparable part of the company’s mission. When corona put not just touring but performances on indefinite hold, Barankiewicz had to take a deep breath and prepare his team for the unknown. Now, two years later, the company is gearing up to open the 2021-2022 season at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center, and as Barankiewicz described, the excitement is palpable.
“I don’t think we all understand what is happening right now with cultural dance and performances,” said Barankiewicz over the phone. It is early afternoon, and the former ballet dancer is away from his base in Prague, visiting friends in his longtime home of Dusseldorf.
Barankiewicz, 45, spent the lion’s share of his career in Germany as a soloist in the Stuttgart Ballet, and returning to visit is a great pleasure. “I can’t express how wonderful it is that you guys in Israel are fighting for us to come, and how important it is that the world will be opened on stage and that companies abroad will be on stage again. It’s an enormous privilege to be invited and to see theaters open again.”
For its visit to Israel, the Czech National Ballet will present a four-part program featuring highlights from legendary Czech choreographer Jiri Kylian’s rich body of work.
“We will perform 6 Tanze, Gods and Dogs, Bella Figura and Petit Mort,” said Barankiewicz. “I feel very much connected to Kylian’s work because I was a dancer in Stuttgart for my entire career. I was there from 1996 to 2014, and we had Kylian pieces in the repertoire. Some people would say Kylian’s work is abstract and doesn’t have a story, but I find that it expresses life and death. That’s what all Kylian pieces are about. Also, he has the most beautiful duets of earth. Of all the choreographers you could find, he has the best.”
In 2014, when Barankiewicz stopped dancing, he turned his attentions to the needs of the broader dance community. Since taking up the reins of the Czech National Ballet in 2017, he has made it his mission to ensure that the repertoire of the company is relevant, enriching, engaging and challenging for both dancers and audience members.
“I’m not a choreographer myself so I can select repertoire that isn’t mine,” he says. “The company is now in its 139th season and we play on three stages in Prague alone. I consider my artistic vision and aim is to progress the company with the heritage. Our base is classical repertoire and were expanding our repertoire in all direction.”
Along with time-tested works by world-renowned choreographers like Kylian, Barankiewicz incorporates newer, more contemporary voices into the repertoire, even when this means slightly fewer full houses. A recent program featuring works by William Forsythe and Wayne McGregor garnered less enthusiasm than a rendition of The Nutcracker, however, Barankiewicz understands that these ups and downs are part of the package of keeping the company’s audience interested.
In the coming season, he will host a new work by Sharon Eyal and Guy Behar. “I’m very happy about this program,” says Barankiewicz. “They are two voices that haven’t been heard in Prague, and it will be a wonderful opportunity for us.”
The Czech National Ballet will perform at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center on November 25, 26 and 27. Visit www.israel-opera.co.il.