Dusan Tynek talks about his BAM Fisher debut
Dusan Tynek talks about his new dances, which weave science and mythology at the BAM Fisher
Thu Aug 29 2013
Photograph: Whitney Browne
Dusan Tynek talks about his journey from the Czech Republic to the BAM Fisher stage, including his "revelatory" first experience of watching modern dance (Paul Taylor Dance Company), becoming a member of the Merce Cunningham Repertory Understudy Group, dancing for Lucinda Childs, working in Europe and, finally, his return to New York where he formed his own company.
As contemporary choreographers go, Dusan Tynek is a rare breed: He likes music. He has a dance company. For his season at the BAM Fisher, he celebrates his troupe’s tenth anniversary. But this year, he is scrapping music to explore the potential of rhythms found in the body. He spoke about his new works—Stereopsis, which is related to the ability to perceive depth, and Romanesco Suite, a work inspired by fractals. For Tynek, it doesn’t hurt to pepper his dances with a little science. As you’ll see, he loves both.
Time Out New York: Your program is described as a confluence of science and mythology. What does that mean?
Dusan Tynek: [Laughs] It comes from my background, because originally I studied to be a scientist. I was a biology major in college. I was born in the Czech Republic—well, originally Czechoslovakia—and I came here when I was 19. It was already after the Velvet Revolution. One of my teachers was from California, and she invited me to stay with her and take English lessons. Her name is Cynthia Costell. Both of her sons were already in college, and she had spent some time in the Czech Republic in ’68, which was also an important time historically. She fell in love with the region and its people and when she read what happened after the Velvet Revolution—everything got much freer and everyone was pro-Democracy and the Communist government was banished. She decided she wanted to do something for the new democracy and thought that the best way would be to go and teach English. I became one of her students. We became very good friends, and in the end she offered me and another student to come to California. We went to an intensive, intense English school. Originally, my English was almost nonexistent.
Time Out New York: Where were you?
Dusan Tynek: Palo Alto. You can imagine it was a complete culture shock. I had never really traveled outside the country before. I’d gone to Denmark the year before that, but that was about it. That was the first time I was on a plane. I really grew up under Communism. We did not have a lot of things.
Time Out New York: How old were you when the political situation started changing?
Dusan Tynek: I was 15 or 16. But my parents were progressive and very much against the system. Everyone I knew was against it; in a way, it felt a little bit like theater, because everyone was pretending like everything was okay, and we were all rooting for this horrible power—we had to do parades and to cheer for the Communist Party, while we were chuckling under our breath. It was a very interesting time. I tried to go to university in the Czech Republic; I wanted to go into biology, but it was so limited how many students they would take and I didn’t have any connections; at that time, you still had to be connected to people in power, so I skipped a year and went to work at an IT company and that’s when I met Cindy. I remember the headaches of trying to speak English. The guy I was there with—we decided from the beginning that we would not speak Czech at all, because it would be so easy to slip. I think that’s why we progressed so fast. Within three months, we actually enrolled in a community college. [Laughs] I went there for a semester and during that time I was thinking I would love to go to a university, and so Cindy encouraged me to apply to universities and colleges in the States. The best offer was from Bard College.
Time Out New York: What did you study?
Dusan Tynek: Science. Hard-core. At the same time, I did dance as well because already when I was 14…it’s kind of my own little secret: I did competitive ballroom dancing for about five years.
Time Out New York: You can’t gloss over something like that!
Dusan Tynek: [Laughs] I was 14 when I started. I had a steady dance partner, and we went to all these championships, but before we made it to the international level, I left. We were very good. We were winning all the time; there is a structure you go through—you start at D and graduate to A, and you get to the international level and all that. We were stepping up the ladder, but before we made it to the international level, I left.
Time Out New York: What was your specialty?
Dusan Tynek: Latin.
Time Out New York: How did you even get involved in ballroom dance?
Dusan Tynek: Well, my father is a jazz musician, so there is that kind of head. I definitely had a musical upbringing, and I went to music school for a long time and played the flute for about 12 years. I played drums. I always wanted to play piano, but my parents couldn’t afford to buy a piano, nor did we have a place for one in our apartment. [Laughs] They said, “Here’s a flute.” I was always artistically inclined, but just never thought it could be a real profession. Especially growing up in a system and the mentality there—it was a hobby.