Letní Letná--An International Festival of New Circus & Theatre--Czech It Out! - CircusTalk

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Letní Letná–An International Festival of New Circus & Theatre–Czech It Out!

It would be impossible to ignore the setting of the Letní Letná festival and how it contributes to its charm. Prague, capital of the Czech republic, a city steeped in a rich culture of medieval architecture, sculpture, puppetry and the subject of many tourist books, and even more historic volumes. A place where following the myriad of cobblestone roads, atop a hill in the Park of Letna, overlooking the city’s 1000 chapels and spires, leads to a temporary village of circus tents. The Letní Letná contemporary circus festival is a gem amidst the treasures of Prague.
The festival, now in its 15th season, features four headliner companies, each with their own circus tent. There is also the gala tent, the children’s tent, the food, concert and beer tents, as well as the day camp for the kid’s tent and the open air stage for the various street theatre acts. Much like a circus troupe, the whole festival was in close proximity, but still maintaining the unique personality of each chapiteau as it contributed to the greater whole.
The tent for Betes de foire, a two person show. Photo courtesy of David Konecny

My goal was simple, to see as many shows as possible and get acquainted with the Czech contemporary circus culture. In my research to do so, I discovered that contemporary circus is relatively fresh to the Czech Republic. The artists and companies that pioneer this “new” approach to circus have worked hard to distinguish themselves from the yoke of traditional circus and merit their role in Czech culture. In its short history it has been acknowledged by the state with funding and support, but moreover, embraced by the public, which is obvious by the festival’s enthusiastic crowd

The Czech circus community is small and I noticed recurring faces in the numerous productions. By sheer coincidence, I ran into Václav Jelínek, who, along with Adam Jarchovský, form the “The Trick Brothers”. The duo could be seen throughout the festival program. Not only did they have their open air shows, their kid’s show (The Piggy Show), but they also hosted the juggling gala and were featured in the opening ceremonies and the Circus Sessions, along with several other productions & collaborations including  Funus (Funeral) and  Lov ( Hunting). Václav, 33, admitted to being in six different shows, including his own solo show, during the month long run of the festival. “Celebrating after each show at the beer tent is the hardest part,” he joked, referring to his country that has made beer a national treasure. The Trick Brothers are regarded as leaders in the Czech contemporary circus. Having established themselves as international street performers since 2009, they push the conventions of juggling.“The Czech circus technique is not so high,” he comments, “so we compensate with theatrics, theme and innovation.” As can be seen in the clever ski pole manipulation in their open air ski themed show.

Akoreacro performs Danse ton Couer. Photo courtesy of David Konecny

Another open air show,  Dukto(Pipeline), from the young company Cink Cink Cirk, is a quintet of students playfully exploring alternative approaches to a day at the beach.Two of the members of the company, Ales Hrdlicka (22) and Filip Zahradnicky(22) sat with me to discuss their hopes and vision for Czech circus and their blossoming troupe. Although a street show, it had a high production value, complete with modular astro turf panels and the musician’s keyboard/DJ station disguised as a BBQ, complete with patio umbrella. This was a recurring attention to detail that was present in all the Czech productions.

It was easy to see the influence of puppetry and theatre supporting the circus. There was a quality of movement and a sense of presentation that is aware of its audience. There was an innate thoughtfulness in production values and distribution of budget. This was even evident in the most minimalist of shows, as in Losers Cirque Company’s Kolaps, where on a blank stage the lighting and projections are the support characters. I had the opportunity to sit down with artistic director, Matyas Ramba.“We find emotion through movement,” he says. “Starting with a concept, the whole process is collaboration as a company.”  Ramba, like most of the troupe, has his background in gymnastics. The troupe premiered at the Letní Letná in 2002, and had two shows featured at this season. Kolaps (Collapse), from 2017, and their newest show Vzduchem (By Air) which was based on Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and Rambas’ directorial debut. The show was sold out before my arrival.

Although I only managed to see a handful of the 26 Shows offered by Letní Letná, I did manage to see the juggling gala and Circus Sessions, and most of the headliners. These included:

Betes de foire, from France, is a two person show in a self-contained whimsical world in a charmingly intimate chapiteau, where the audience is arms length from the couple’s handmade, rustic, inventive puppetry and idiosyncratic juggling–and one of the funniest dog acts I have ever had the privilege to see.

Akoreacro’s, Dans ton coeur–this French/Spanish collaboration stands out with its representational narrative about a young woman and her thoughts/fears, personified by the all-male troupe of porters. There is an inventive flow of time as we watch her life, along with her husband, the only other character, acrobatically unfold. We go through courtship, marriage, children, her husband’s affair, (portrayed by a humorous cradle act, with the base in drag) all while persistently haunted by her fears. Ending in the inevitable clash where she physically and psychologically beats them and emerges victorious.

Cirque Inextremiste performs Extension. Photo courtesy of David Konecny

Cirque Inextremiste’s-Extension,also from France, is returning to festival by popular demand, and brings its signature bravado, anarchistic and daredevil tension, all whilst creating an engaging and intimately interactive relationship with the audience.

The children’s chapiteau hosted another 63 separate children’s shows. Most them included puppetry with physical theatre and I consistently heard the raucous laughter of children coming from the tent throughout the days. The children’s area, complete with its own play tent with plate spinning, bubbles and rolling globe; also had a circus day camp. There was hand carved carousel as the centrepiece, surrounded by food kiosks, face painting, a mobile children’s library van (complete with outdoor pavilion for sharing a book) and an entire area dedicated to amazing interactive puzzles/games made of refurbished bicycle parts, cables and including the kitchen sink welded together.

The Letní Letná offers a wide variety food, fun and entertainment for visitors, including a diversity of contemporary circus tones. Although there were cultural undertones of aesthetic, timing and humour, there were no two shows alike. Each unique show delivered in the effort to find its voice. If you need to witness the “success” of a show, look to the Czech audiences. In the case of Letní Letná, the audience was enthusiastic, delighted, and I was among them.



Feature photo courtesy of David Konecny
Jesse Dryden
Director, Instructor, Clown -Canada
Jesse Dryden has the distinction of being the first Canadian graduate of Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, spent a decade as the Creative Director for Circus Smirkus, and is currently the clown instructor at the Ecole Nationale. He lives in Montreal with his wife, Alisan, and their tortoise, who chooses to remain anonymous.
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Jesse Dryden

Jesse Dryden has the distinction of being the first Canadian graduate of Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, spent a decade as the Creative Director for Circus Smirkus, and is currently the clown instructor at the Ecole Nationale. He lives in Montreal with his wife, Alisan, and their tortoise, who chooses to remain anonymous.