Les SlovaKs

The Brussels collaborative hits BAC

  • Photographs: Noro Knap


    FLOOR ACTION Les SlovaKs get into a tussle

  • lesslovaksopeningnight2

Photographs: Noro Knap


FLOOR ACTION Les SlovaKs get into a tussle

Here are the intriguing nuggets: The five members of Les SlovaKs Dance Collective hail from three cities in Slovakia, where they spent their childhood dancing in folk troupes. They migrated to Brussels to study at P.A.R.T.S.—the Performing Arts Research and Training Studios, directed by choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker—and also passed through the hands of revered improviser and teacher David Zambrano. As member Martin Kilvdy recalls, "It was 2002, and we knew that one day we wanted to make work together." He pauses, laughing. "I would say it was almost an inevitable decision."

After performing with others—De Keersmaeker's Rosas, Akram Khan, Wim Vandekeybus and Thomas Hauert—they regrouped four years later to form the collective, which in addition to Kilvdy, includes Milan Herich, Peter Jasko, Anton Lachky and Milan Tomsik. So far, their efforts have produced two evening-length works, of which their first, Opening Night, will be at the Baryshnikov Arts Center Tuesday 19 and Wednesday 20.

The playful piece, which explores ideas related to memory and pleasure, is an improvisational feat that loosely hints at their folk-dancing past. It opens with the cast singing a traditional song, chosen not for its words but for its melody, as well as for the way it links the past to the present. "When the audience is coming in, we are waiting onstage," Kilvdy says. "The song is like this welcoming tune. Immediately it connects us as a group, not only from the inside but also for others."

For Kilvdy, Opening Night reflects what the collective has experienced on more than an artistic basis; its members are good friends who have known one another for a long time. "The idea was very clear: We loved physical dancing, so that's one aspect, and then I think we wanted to put onstage the friendship and the connection that we have in life," he explains. "The group is kind of a little family where each person has his place."

The structure is free and open: Five men shift their focus from pure, abstract movement to reveal snippets of their relationships, also demonstrating what Kilvdy describes as a "faux folk type of performing." Elements appear and disappear; it's a constant mix. While there is a simple structure to the piece, the performers invent on the spot, composing as they dance. At this point, Kilvdy estimates that they have performed the work about 70 times.

"It's been three years that we are touring the piece, and I think it's getting more and more interesting or somehow more and more rich," he says. "There is, of course, a difficulty; we fight not wanting to repeat ourselves and trying to stay fresh, because that is the biggest advantage of the piece. It's always a mix between keeping the good and trying to still be fresh."

One way they achieve newness is knitted into the fabric of the piece itself. Each performance of Opening Night showcases a solo, performed by one of the dancers. "While we are performing, we decide among us who will dance the solo that night," Kilvdy says. "We wanted to do it like this to keep the freshness. It depends how the first part of the piece goes and who wants to present more of himself—then we decide what solo would fit better with the dramaturgy of the evening."

During the dance, the performers follow certain governing principles that link performing and composing at once. "So as much as we are onstage and inside of the piece, we are also directing it from the outside," Kilvdy says. "There is a kind of double attention, and we modify the situation as it's happening. Another strong idea was about the individual and a collective. You will see the five of us; we work as a collective, but we are very different, both in our ways of moving and also as people. We always combine and play with these two elements—the individual and the collective."

And how does culture play into the mix? Kilvdy laughs. "It is so specific and so shared that I think you can feel it strongly. It's obvious that we grew up and lived for more than 20 years in the same country and in the same culture, and the folk dance and the folk background is very much imprinted in what we do," he says. "But in Opening Night, we don't use any existing steps; it's more the essence or the way rhythm is very present in Slovak dancing."

A friend of the collective, the American choreographer Eleanor Bauer, coined a phrase that has stuck to describe the group's style: new traditional dance. "I think it fits very well," Kilvdy says. "It's about dancing: You can feel the folkness and the tradition in it, but we don't want to preserve what we know from before. We transform the experience we have."

Les SlovaKs Dance Collective is at the Baryshnikov Arts Center Tue 19 and Wed 20.