Dusan Tynek talks about his BAM Fisher debut

Dusan Tynek talks about his new dances, which weave science and mythology at the BAM Fisher

Time Out New York: Was ballroom dancing a way out of the system, or a way to move up?
Dusan Tynek:
I was very passionate, but never saw it like that. We were on the road competing all the time. A couple of years ago my brother, who is a little bit younger, said, “You were actually never home. I felt like I was an only child.” I was so sad! I didn’t realize that at the time; it was just part of my life. In the Czech Republic, we had school for nine hours and right after, I would go for training. When I left, I left the ballroom there as well. Of course, I couldn’t resist dance so when I went to Bard, I saw that they were offering flamenco classes. I always wanted to do flamenco. In ballroom, it’s not the real dances. You don’t do a real tango. It’s adjusted and completely different from the Argentine tango. Or the rumba or paso doble.

Time Out New York: How so?
Dusan Tynek:
It’s a standardized, competitive thing: You’re only allowed certain steps. I enrolled with an incredible woman, Aileen Passloff—it’s her fault that I’m doing what I’m doing now. She saw that I had a sense of rhythm and from day one, she encouraged me: “Why don’t you take ballet class?” I was 20, a late bloomer, but obviously I had danced and had the ability to move—the rhythm, the coordination.
Time Out New York: Did you stay close to her during that time?
Dusan Tynek:
Absolutely. She was really my mentor. She encouraged me to try acting, to look at different sensibilities. You need to have a presence and know how to project and how to be onstage. Throughout the four years, I was doing science and dance and toward the end, the dance started to take over a little bit. I had a semester where I decided I was going to escape dance, so I went to Queensland, James Cook University, in Australia. The appeal was that they had no dance at the university; I wanted to just concentrate on science. I went to the zoology department, and we did a lot of field studies, so we would be catching possums or lizards in the wild and tagging them and testing them. I loved that part, but I had a realization in the end: I really missed dance, and I missed the social part of it. In science, you are in a lab or an office, and you do research. You are by yourself most of the time, and you write a paper that a few people will read about some frog on a mountaintop. I wasn’t ready to commit to this one little thing. I wanted to be more of a generalist. Art was just calling to me. I thought, I could do science any time but I can’t dance when I get too old. That was my line to myself a little bit. [Laughs] Another wonderful teacher at Bard encouraged me to take Cunningham classes while I was still there, and I found out there was an audition at the Cunningham studio for a scholarship. It was when I was graduating, and I really had no plans. I auditioned and they contacted me and said that I got the scholarship.
Time Out New York: How did that go?
Dusan Tynek:
It was fantastic and eye-opening. I had never really seen modern-contemporary dance before I came to the States. We had folk dance, ballet, ballroom, but the first big company I saw was Paul Taylor, and it was so revelatory: You don’t have to be on pointe and in tutus, you don’t have to be a sylph or a fairy. I was just blown away. At Bard, the dance department was very progressive and quite avant-garde. I was so sheltered and shocked by everything. I had taken Cunningham classes at Bard, but experiencing strict Cunningham and meeting Merce and those incredible dancers was phenomenal. I became an understudy.
Time Out New York: Right. You were a member of the Repertory Understudy Group.
Dusan Tynek:
Yes. It was a very formative time for me. Merce’s philosophy and understanding of time and space was so key, and the clarity of movement was very important for me—to understand that you can create new movement that is not necessarily natural to you. You can break it down and challenge yourself: If I do this with my hip, how is it going to affect my torso? Or what if I fight with the torso and do something completely opposite? It was a means of seeing movement from a different point of view and with different eyes.
Time Out New York: What did you work on as a RUG?
Dusan Tynek:
The last piece we were working on was Biped. Merce was using RUGs to make some of the movement. We were understudying along with the company, so we were learning all the phrases. It’s so abstract and extremely difficult in a way. Everyone is going across the floor, and Merce is watching and giving comments, very quietly and very calmly. Just seeing how we dealt with the impossibilities—he was using LifeForms to choreograph. Computers are amazing; technology can do anything, but then you translate it to a human body, and there are limitations. He was watching how far we could take it or how closely we could replicate the computer version of the dance.
Time Out New York: Did you want to be in the company?
Dusan Tynek:
I did. At the beginning, I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do. I really wanted the training and thought it was a wonderful way for me to explore new ways [of moving]. I was dancing with other companies at that time. But then you get pulled into it, because it becomes your world and then suddenly everyone is so passionate about it; I became very passionate about getting into the company, and then there was a point where there was a bit of turnover in the company and so there was this moment where they were considering me and the dancer they were trying to replace was taller than I was.
Time Out New York: Who was it?
Dusan Tynek:
I think it was Glen [Rumsey]. I had to measure myself next to the female dancer, and I was shorter even than she was. It was like, Okay, I would have to wait for someone else to leave. I didn’t know if I wanted to be around, and there were some people who had been around for three, four years. But then they may never have gotten into the company, so I didn’t know if I wanted to do it. I was really an understudy for a year. It was great, but…

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