Past and present

The Czech National Ballet in Prague occupies a firm position on the Czech Republic’s dance scene, as well as in the Central European context. Its founding in 1883 gave rise to the continuous evolutionary tradition of Czech professional dance. The Czech National Ballet is the largest ballet company in the Czech Republic.

The Czech National Ballet has launched the 2019/20 season under the motto Continuously moving, bearing in mind the very essence of dance theatre that we create through movement, as well as an outreach, contact with the world, which is not motionless either.

A truly cosmopolitan company, the Czech National Ballet is made up of dancers of 17 nationalities. This diversity affords it a colourful scale of means of expression, representing a variety of ethnicities and their differing natures and temperaments. The result is a blending together of numerous dance schools and styles, mutual enrichment and inspiration.

The Czech National Ballet’s dialogue with global dance theatre has been cultivated by its current Artistic Director, Filip Barankiewicz. The company’s openness to the world has also been demonstrated by its regularly collaborating with foreign coaches and choreographers.
The experience with diverse movement phraseologies serves to spice up the artistic work, helping the company to find its Central European identity.
The Czech National Ballet offers the traditional classical repertoire and modern contemporary theatre alike, yet with a special artistic spirit arising from the enchanting Prague multicultural milieu.

Under the guidance of its Artistic Director, Filip Barankiewicz, in the 2019/20 season the Czech National Ballet will present three new productions, two revivals and a ballet gala dedicated to the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, return to the reopened State Opera, and it will also create a new show in collaboration with Laterna magika. All the projects will be born in the spirit of the slogan Continuously moving.

The 2019/20 season will encompass a number of extraordinary cultural events and performances of remarkable dance theatre works. The first of them is Kylián – Bridges of Time, an evening of opuses of the phenomenal globally renowned Czech contemporary choreographer Jiří Kylián, including the title Gods and Dogs, which will be staged in Czech premiere, and featuring a precious guest, the Korean National Ballet.
The Velvet Ballet Gala, marking the 30th anniversary of the 1989 revolution in Czechoslovakia, will present world premieres of several choreographies created by current and former members of the Czech National Ballet.
Another work to receive its Prague premiere is Leonce & Lena by Germany’s Christian Spuck, a satirical comedy telling the love story of a young royal couple, whose production will be furnished with exquisite sets.
The Czech National Ballet will also revive John Cranko’s Onegin, a highly acclaimed feature-length ballet, based on A. S. Pushkin’s celebrated novel.
Bon Appétit! is the title of a new project, which is the fruit of collaboration between Laterna magika and the Czech National Ballet. Choreographed by Jan Kodet and directed by the SKUTR tandem, the performance will feature music composed by Ivan Acher.
In the 2019/20 season, our company will give the Czech premiere of the world-renowned Brazilian prima ballerina and choreographer Marcia Haydée’s iconic adaptation of The Sleeping Beauty, deemed to the finest of the ballets written by P. I. Tchaikovsky.
The National Theatre will welcome back The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, a production choreographed by Jan Kodet, set to music by Zbyněk Matějů and directed by the SKUTR tandem, treating a Sorbian legend and retelling the story of Krabat, a boy whose love prevails over Black Magic.

The Czech National Ballet continues to focus on high-quality performance as its priority. While embracing a variety of dance styles and staging productions of different characters, it remains a company of bold and unique artistic integrity. Attesting to its extraordinary nature is a diverse repertoire: Kafka: The Trial, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker – A Christmas Carol, La Fille mal gardée, Slavic Temper, Solo for the Two of Us, La Bayadère, Timeless and Valmont.

We firmly believe that the 2019/20 season will abound in unforgettable artistic experiences for the Czech National Ballet and its audience alike.

History of the Czech National Ballet

The first ballet master of the Czech National Ballet was Václav Reisinger (1882–1884). He closely worked with the National Theatre Opera and staged the brand-new choreography Hashish (1884). 

At the beginning, the company had more than 20 members (of whom 3 solo ballerinas and one dancer, Augustin Berger). Following his departure, Resinger was succeeded by Augustin Berger, who held the post of ballet master from 1884 to 1900, as well as from 1912 to 1923. He expanded the company, led a ballet school within the National Theatre, a group of supplemental dancers, and he lay the ensemble’s solid professional foundations. During Berger’s tenure, the repertoire encompassed such spectacular titles as Excelsior (music: R. Marenco, choreography after L. Manzotti by E. Borri, a guest, in 1885 by A. Berger, new productions in 1903 and 1913; a total of 210 performances) and Flik and Flok (music: L. P. Hertel, 1886), classical works, including Giselle (1886), Act II from Swan Lake (1888), Sylvia (1888), Coppélia (1893), and new domestic pieces, most of them intended for children, for instance, A Christmas Eve Dream (1886), The Tale of Happiness Found, to music by Karel Kovařovic (1889), Rákos Rákoczy (1891) and Bajaja (1897). 

Berger was succeeded by Achille Viscusi, a representative of the Italian dance school, who served as the head of the Czech National Ballet from 1900 to 1912. During his tenure, the repertoire was extended to include, for example, Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances (1901), the complete Swan Lake (1907), as well as Oskar Nedbal’s ballets The Tale of Honza (1902), From Fairy-tale to Fairy-tale (1908) and Princess Hyacinta (1911).

Following Berger’s second, and less significant, tenure as ballet master (1912–1923), the dancer and choreographer of Polish origin Remislav Remislavsky was appointed to the post (1923–1927). Upon his accession, the Russian school prevailed over the previously dominant Italian. The repertoire was updated and alongside Diaghilev titles (Shéhérazade – 1924, Petrushka – 1925, Le Train Bleu – 1926), and also owing to the efforts of the chief of Opera, O. Ostrčil, and the stage director F. Pujman, it included new Czech productions: Istar (1924), Doctor Faust (1926) and Who Is the Most Powerful in the World? (1927).

The next artistic director of the Czech National Ballet was Jaroslav Hladík (1927–1933), who, among other titles, included in the repertoire Signorina Gioventù and Nikotina (1930). At the time, the progressive choreographer Joe Jenčík worked there as a guest (The Chap-book, 1933), and later, together with Elizaveta Nikolska, a ballet master and choreographer (1936–1940).

The Czech National Ballet experienced a great artistic blossom during the post-war era of Saša Machov (1946–1951). A conceptual dramaturge, sensitive choreographer and adroit stage director, he implemented his ideas in a highly specific manner. Within a short time, he managed to transform the Czech National Ballet into a bold and ambitious company with a number of outstanding soloists (Z. Šemberová, M. Kůra, V. Jílek, A. Landa, O. Stodola, J. Blažek). Its convincing and attractive results earned it general recognition, high artistic prestige, and led to its unbinding from the National Theatre Opera. Machov’s finest productions included: Weddings (1947), Cinderella (1948), Romeo and Juliet (1950) and, when it comes to new Czech works, Vostřák’s ballets The Philosophers’ History (1949) and Viktorka (1950).

In 1957, Jiří Němeček from Plzeň was called up to assume the post of the company’s artistic director. Under his management (1957–1970 and 1979–1989) the Czech National Ballet became a large and independent ensemble, an equal partner to the Opera and Drama companies. Němeček was a directional type of choreographer and his productions were noted for a solid dramaturgic and directional structure, cogency and comprehensibility, cases in point being The Servant of Two Masters (1958), Othello (1959) and Romeo and Juliet (1962). The repertoire and the staging form were initially influenced by the Soviet model of drama-ballets (Youth – 1959). From the 1960s, he also promoted more modern, shorter works, for example, The Prodigal Son (1963), Conscience (1964). Prominent foreign guests collaborated with the Czech National Ballet too: Y. Grigorovich staged The Legend of Love (1963), N. Dudinska and K. Sergeyev created Swan Lake, after M. Petipa and L. Ivanov’s traditional version (1971).

Emerich Gabzdyl was the head of the Czech National Ballet from 1970 to 1974. He presented, among other titles, Le sacre du printemps (1972), Lowicz Dances and Ondráš (1974). M. Kůra, together with the director P. Weigl, brought to the stage an original version of Romeo and Juliet (1971), which had some 255 reruns and was also cinematised.

Between 1974 and 1978, the Czech National Ballet was led by Miroslav Kůra. His choreographies included The Sleeping Beauty (1974), The Creation of the World (1975) and the ballet version of the suite Radúz and Mahulena (1976).

In January 1990, Vlastimil Harapes assumed the post of the company’s chief. The choreographer Lukáš Vaculík, together with the guest director Jozef Bednárik, introduced a modern type of full-length epic ballet, also inspired by film and underpinned by musical collage: Little Mr. Friedemann and Psycho (1993, revived in 2000), Tchaikovsky (1994), a singular version of Coppelia (1995), Isadora Duncan (1998), the comic ballet Some Like It … (1994, revived in 2001) and Mowgli, for children (1996).

The change of political system in 1989 allowed for extending the repertoire to include titles from the West. Such productions included Choreographies from the Netherlands (1992, with granted copyrights – G. Bacewicz’s Three Pieces, choreographed by Hans van Manen; Bohuslav Martinů’s Field Mass and Leoš Janáček’s Return to a Strange Land, choreographed by Jiří Kylián), the mixed bill Americana I and Carmen ou La tragédie de Don José. Following Onegin (1999), The Sleeping Beauty returned to the National Theatre stage (2000), and other major titles of the world repertoire were presented too, including Sinfonietta and The Child and Magic (2000, choreographed by Jiří Kylián), Sphinx (2002, choreographed by Glen Tetley) and the final premiere of the season, The Taming of the Shrew (2003, choreographed by John Cranko).

At the beginning of the 2002/03 season, the post of Artistic Director of the Czech National Ballet was assumed by the dancer and choreographer Petr Zuska. Over his 15-year tenure, he succeeded in transforming the Czech National Ballet into a modern dynamic body. He broadened the dramaturgical scope to encompass a repertoire spanning works of classical ballet to neoclassical and contemporary dance projects. The Czech National Ballet started to make more frequent appearances both at European festivals and galas, and also events held in other parts of the world. Petr Zuska is an outstanding artist within the context of Czech dance, a creator with contacts to renowned ballet companies worldwide. He is praised as a distinctive singular personality for his broad choreographic outreach and mature artistic approach. For the Czech National Ballet, he created the pieces Among the Mountains (2002), Ways 03 (2003), the feature-length Ibbur, or A Prague Mystery (2005), Requiem, to Mozart’s music (2006), Symphony No. 1 in D major (2010), Stabat Mater (2014), Romeo and Juliet (2013)The Nutcracker and the Cuddly Mouse (2015), and Tremble (2016). 

A major artistic achievement of his was the feature-length title Brel – Vysotsky – Kryl / Solo for Three (2007), which would become one of the most popular National Theatre productions and gain international renown. Ten years later (in 2017), he linked up to the work with a new dance-theatre production, titled Solo for the Two of Us, thus rounding off his tenure as Artistic Director of the Czech National Ballet.

The Czech National Ballet is directed by Filip Barankiewicz since the 2017/18 season. He gained rich experience during his highly successful ballet career as first soloist (eighteen seasons in the Stuttgart Ballet) and later as ballet master and coach. He has been in touch with the world, understands wide international context and supports colorful diversity. Moreover – he came to Prague wearing his heart on his sleeve and feels deeply attached to the National theatre as he spent lots of time on stage here as a guest star in the past.
Filip Barankiewicz thinks it is important for the dancers to reach their highest potential and perform at the highest level possible and so the repertoire of the company is very demanding and the level of interpretation excellent. He can afford to include the most important pieces (and authors) of the world ballet heritage (Swan Lake by John Cranko, La Fille mal gardée by Frederick Ashton, Serenade by George Balanchine, The Rite of Spring by Glen Tetley, The Trial by Mauro Bigonzetti or various choreographies by Jiří Kylián such as Symphony of PsalmsPetite MortBella Figura or Sechs Tänze). He supports contemporary artists to allow the art to grow and evolve (Kozielska, Vinklát, Kajdanovskij, Gat).
Filip Barankiewicz was born in Warsaw where he studied the National Ballet School in 1986. In 1991 he received the Vaslav Nijinsky Medal an in 1995 he won the National Ballet Competition in Poland. At the Académie de Danse Classique in Monte Carlo he received scholarship from the Rudolf Nureyev Foundation and continued his studies until 1996. His professional career has been varied and impressive – apart from being an illustrious soloist he also reaped fame as guest star on prestigious world stages and today he is a distinguished ballet master. He stages John Cranko’s choreographies around the world (The Taming of the Shrew in Opéra National de Bordeaux, Estonian National Ballet, Korean National Ballet, Polish National Theatre in Warsaw or Chilean National Ballet…).