Interview with Pavel Knolle, director of the artistic ensemble of Laterna Magika

“Let us listen to each other”

Pavel Knolle’s professional career has been linked to Laterna Magika on a long term basis; he joined its dance ensemble as a soloist in 1985, and has been director of the artistic ensemble since 2010. We met at Café Nona at the New Stage of the National Theater to discuss the links between the activities of the current Laterna Magika and the research project as well as Pavel’s view of the past of this multimedia theater. We naturally touched upon its current plans as well.

How do you currently collaborate on the Laterna Magika research project?

So far, we have focused on the motion capture recording of the dancers. We capture a person, get them dressed in a computer and put them in a fictitious scenography where a scanned film is played. As a result, you can see figures dancing in the original scene. We have done four acts so far: Breakneck Ride, the oldest piece in our repertoire Pas de six from the Puzzles performance, Odysseus and Minotaur. Currently we are checking the shots and selecting the best ones. We’re cleaning the acts we did in the fall. Since we’re not shooting in the original space but in a much smaller one we need to move the figures a few inches so that they do not overlap or clash with each other. In Pas des six, we had three dancers do one side and then the other side and we weren’t able to entirely control that. When they’re crossing and running to and fro, they’re running through each other at the moment.

How do you select the dance scenes for motion capture?

Roman Berka and his colleagues pick scenes from a performance they are interested in. They send them to me and we discuss what can be done and what not. If we do acts that are in our repertoire then it’s not that complicated. We rehearse them and bring them here, we adapt the space. However, if we do acts that have not been in our repertoire for fifteen or twenty years, we have to look up old videos and rehearse them with the dancers; who are different people than those who danced in them years ago. The dancers need an image because the choreography is not based on music; however, we are shooting in a studio with just a small screen and a TV set. So we were looking for scenes where movement is linked to music to make it comfortable for the new dancers and to get the most accurate results.

You came to Laterna Magika when the men’s ensemble was hiring for Odysseus. Can you still remember some of it?

I thought so but it’s not true really. Odysseus and Minotaur happen to be the kind of performances that were always remade. First you would do version A, then several years later you’d find that version A was not popular, so we’d say “let’s go change it” and we did version B. I personally tend to prefer the original version. However, the recording of the original version of Odysseus from 1987, which was performed at the Culture Palace, is only available in rather poor quality, and we are lucky to have found it at all. As for Minotaur, we could not find the recording of the original version at all, so we’re unable to reconstruct the first version. So I picked a scene which I knew had not been changed.

What is your perspective on the past of Laterna Magika, I mean the time before you became a member of the ensemble?

Well, it must have been great for the ensemble to spend six months abroad and I would love to know more about that. However, what is interesting to me from the perspective of management and programming is how Laterna Magika’s productions were made at a time when they had no computers for simulation; they only had paper, notes and the film material. Today, we can play a video right away and still make changes thirty minutes before the premiere. I would love to know how they met, how they put everything together, what the collaboration between Evald Schorm, Josef Svoboda, dramatic adviser Milena Honzíková and others was like. When I came here in 1985, performances with such enormous interaction between film and the stage were no longer done. Casanova had separate film and stage parts, while The Trap only contained images. It was not as souped-up as Wonderful Circus, or even as productions that are not considered exceptionally well done: One Day in Prague, the Snow Queens… Those did follow this communication principle. I regret that no one will ever resolve this for most of the creators are no longer alive.

How did Laterna Magika work at the time when you were a dancer there?

As a dancer, I didn’t have access to the primary creative process. I was too young for that and I didn’t care much then either. I was interested in the creative process based on completed things prepared by somebody else. It was great that the preparation took that long and people had time for it. Odysseus was done from 1985 to 1987; it took two years to make the film and rehearse in former Metro Cinema. We played the finished film and only because Professor Svoboda disliked the lighting perspective, we threw the whole film away and spent another six months making a second version. That is unthinkable today.

With the arrival of Jean-Pierre Aviotte [dancer and choreographer, artistic director of Laterna Magika since 1996], things got rolling and many people from the “old“ Laterna would not put up with the change. Aviotte was much into dance technique, which we liked because that’s how we got to work. Since there were many dancers in Laterna Magika who were over 40 years old, there were big changes in both the ensemble and the repertoire. Suddenly it was about dance and everybody worked really hard. It was a great lesson for all who experienced this era. Without judging the results, I have to say that this period was not bad for me at all and I have learned a lot.

How do you see Laterna Magika as its artistic director?

That is a completely different perspective.  Looking back, I have to apologize to all those who created things while we could not understand why we had to repeat things for the tenth and twentieth time when it was useless and it was only about details. Now, on the other hand, I would love to play with details and spend a whole year working on a performance. Scouting for artists and new creators is nice, yet at the same time, it’s nerve-wrecking and a great responsibility because we’re constantly under public scrutiny.

What are you currently up to and where is Laterna Magika going in your opinion?

This year we are celebrating our 60th anniversary. In the spring, we presented our first performance at Expo, and in the fall, there was an opening of the Prague stage so the celebrations are distributed throughout the season. We have organized a mini festival to be held on April 28 to 30, 2018. We also want to stage a reconstruction of The Opening of the Springs in confrontation with our latest premiere CUBE and Wonderful Circus which celebrates its 40th anniversary. We will hold a number of side events: we are publishing a book on the golden era of Laterna Magika, a book of photographs taken by Martin Bek. Visual artist František Pecháček and director Viktorie Čermáková are creating a video installation especially for this space and Jakub Nepraš will present his visual installation at the piazetta. All these will take place throughout the year and we will top it off with a new premiere before Christmas. The performance is inspired by Jiří Trnka’s The Garden and its characters of the Cat and the Dwarf but has a different visual style. We would like to conceive it from the perspective of adults who enter their gardens or others through Trnka’s book.

We would also like the mini festival to include a presentation of what we have done up to now within our research project, whether in the form of photographs or videos. At the same time, on April 29, we will hold a debate within the ND+ platform and anyone can join us at the café and talk to us. We have invited several guests, including directors who have cooperated with us, and the head of the Laterna Magika research project Andrea Průchová to discuss the meaning of the theater together.

What does the research project mean to you?

In 2012, when we restarted our Cocktail 012 – The Best Of performance, I went to the archive for the first time. That was a few years after all the film strips were taken from its original storage at Liliová 9 to the new one at Hradištko. We were looking for a piece of the Play About a Magic Flute performance in huge boxes. It was completely rust-eaten with the magnetic strip sticking to the rust. We found everything, identified everything, yet we learned that there is no device to play those strips, for any devices that might be able to do that have already been destroyed. It was not at all simple to sync the sound and image.

I find it absolutely great that we will be able to save films made by star directors, that we will save motion data and will not cry over mere photos a hundred years from now. I find it important that we will complete the materials for they include many a gem. Moreover, the project may spark a debate, for instance about the form of support for Laterna Magika. It may open the eyes of people who give up on Laterna Magika. They say that it started out as a commercial project and that it should be able to support itself as such. Let us talk about it and listen to each other. Those who say that it should no longer exist have the upper hand now. I agree with the opinion of the former director of the New Stage Štěpán Kubišta who said that if they close Laterna Magika here, it will pop up somewhere else. For the idea of the theater, its medium, is so great that it cannot disappear from the world just like that.

The interview was conducted by Veronika Zýková in January 2018.