Dancer, choreographer and artistic director of The Czech National Ballet in Prague
Petr Zuska is a European-format creator, an eminent choreographer within the context of Czech dance who has worked with world-renowned ballet companies. He has profiled himself as an audacious figure characterised by a wide choreographic outreach and mature artistic approach. As a dancer, he has always been a dynamic performer, a character interpreter possessing an extraordinary sensibility for the choreographer’s intention, capable of embracing contemporary movement phraseologies.
A representative of the contemporary middle generation of choreographers, in his works he brings to bear a broad scale of creative vocabulary, ranging from the high bel canto of the neo-classical style through an innovative approach to modern creation to an integrated rendition of epic ballet. He is among the precious few choreographers capable of imbuing his works with humour, wit and hyperbole. His productions are sophisticated, full-blooded, reflecting the world of symbols and archetypes, spiritual questions, as well as moral principles.
Petr Zuska studied choreography and non-verbal theatre direction at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, graduating in 1994. He launched his professional path at the Ladislav Fialka Pantomime at the Na Zábradlí Theatre in Prague (1987-89). A significant phase in his career was his engagement at the Prague Chamber Ballet (1989–1992 soloist; from 1994 guest artist).
Between 1992 and 1998 he was a soloist of the Czech National Ballet in Prague. In 1998 he was engaged by the Munich Ballet, and in 1999 he joined the ballet company of the Augsburg Theatre. In 2000 he was named a soloist of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens in Montréal.
Throughout his career as a dancer, Petr Zuska performed in classical ballets, yet he primarily appeared in works by renowned contemporary Czech creators, including Jiří Kylián, Pavel Šmok and Libor Vaculík, as well as foreign choreographers, such as Alvin Ailey, Gerhard Bohner, Robert North, Mats Ek, Hans van Manen, Christopher Bruce, Ohad Naharin, Nacho Duato and Itzik Galili.
Since 2002, Petr Zuska has been Artistic Director of the Czech National Ballet in Prague. Over the past 15 years, he has led the company, pursuing all the attendant activities required by the post, yet he has also continued to create his own choreographies. He has stubbornly followed his path, sometimes quietly, sometimes loudly, garnering praise and facing criticism, yet always with a firm conviction, engagement and clear vision. During his time as head of the company, he has produced for the National Theatre six feature-length ballets and numerous other, one-act pieces.
Since 1990, Petr Zuska has created choreographies for more than 50 productions for both foreign and Czech companies, including the Hamburg Ballett, Ballett Augsburg, the Semperoper in Dresden, the Latvian National Opera in Riga, the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, the Royal Danish Ballet, the Ballett Deutsche Oper am Rhein, the West Australian Ballet in Perth, the Finnish National Ballet, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, the Boston Ballet, the Czech National Ballet in Prague and the National Theatre Ballet in Brno, Laternamagika, the Prague Chamber Ballet and Bohemia Ballet – the ensemble of the Prague Dance Conservatory. In addition, he has collaborated on directing and choreographing several drama productions.
The choreographies Petr Zuska has created for the Czech National Ballet include Among the Mountains (2002); Ways 03 (2003); Maria’s Dream, within the mixed bill Ballet Mania (2005); the feature-length Ibbur, or A Prague Mystery (2005); Requiem, based on Mozart (2006); the feature-length BREL – VYSOTSKY – KRYL / Solo for Three (2007), which has become one of the most popular performances at the National Theatre in Prague and gained international acclaim (well-received performances in Saint Petersburg in 2010 and at the Opéra de Massy in Paris in April 2016).
Other remarkable choreographies of his include Extreme and A Little Touch of the Last Extreme (2009); Romeo and Juliet (2013) and Stabat Mater (2014); The Nutcracker and the Cuddly Mouse (2015); and the shorter choreographies Déja vu, The Lyrical, Empty Title, Way Out and Oh Love, which have been frequently performed within Czech and international gala evenings (including the Terpsichore at the Bayerisches Staatsballett, and the show Next Generations, which marked Reid Anderson’s two decades at the helm of the Stuttgarter Ballett, in 2016).
In 2013, the Czech National Ballet premiered Petr Zuska’s adaptation of Sergei Prokofiev’s feature-length ballet Romeo and Juliet, in which helinked up to the global tradition of staging this immortal work, imbuing it with his singular input.
Another notable creative accomplishment of Petr Zuska’s was his version of P. I. Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker, which he both choreographed and directed. The world premiere of The Nutcracker and the Cuddly Mouse, held at the National Theatre on 3 December 2015, was closely observed and eagerly awaited. Zuska staged the legendary Christmas tale, based on E. T. A. Hoffmann’s engrossing story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (to which the title of the production refers), in a novel, original spirit.
April 2016 saw the premiere in New York City of the Prague-New York Effects project, organised by the Czech Centre in New York. The getting together of the dancer and choreographer Petr Zuska and the American jazz vocalist, composer and multi-instrumentalist Jen Shyuresulted in a unique coupling of dance and jazz, a dialogue in which traditional techniques dashed over to experimental methods, and technical virtuosity transformed into a profound authentic expression.
Another singular piece is Zuska’s recent choreography Route 50, which he made for the Lappeenranta Ballet Gala in Finland, celebrating half a century of the artistic activity of the legendary ballet master Juhani Teräsvuori. Alongside Tereza Podařilová, a Czech National Ballet principal dancer, Petr Zuska himself performs in the piece. The score for Route 50 has been written by Iiro Rantala, one of the leading Finnish jazz musicians, a piano virtuoso and composer, who himself played it at the premiere in Finland.
Stages worldwide have also performed other works of his: Triple Self, Clear Invisible, The Last Photo…?, Les bras de mer, A Little Extreme, Le Sacre du printemps, and Bolero, to Maurice Ravel’s music, etc. In 2012, Petr Zuska’s choreography Death and the Maiden was given its world premiere by Les Balletsde Monte-Carlo; in 2014 the Boston Ballet performedhis work D.M.J. 1953–1977.
The numerous prestigious awards Petr Zuska has received for his performances and choreographies include the Thalia Prize (1993 and 1997), the Prix Dom Perignon (1999), the Original Choreography prize within the Modern Dance Competition (2006, 2008), the Choreography of the Year (2002), the Czech Literary Fund Prize (1993), the Opera Plus Prize (2014) for his achievements as the head of the Czech National Ballet and for 25 years of choreographic creation, and other accolades.
In the 2016/17 season, Petr Zuska will round off his 15-year tenure at the helm of the Czech National Ballet. He will round off a phase of his life, over the course of which he has dedicated to the company a great part of his professional career. Nevertheless, Petr Zuska will continue to be in close contact with the National Theatre in Prague, and his erudition and invaluable experience will be expressed in the future projects, which he will guarantee.