Ostrov! – Environmental crisis through a Czech lens

Ostrov! (Island!), the new creation by Jana Burkiewiczová, provoked an unexpected reaction in me: I had to return to La Fabrika the very next day since I felt like having missed something very important. I probably did not get to decode the core message. When my co-editor and I were leaving the theatre after the second show, she started talking to me about how artists had been addressing environmental issues lately. When she further explained her viewpoint to me, I could not but agree. But honestly, the environmental alert did not quite reach me even after having seen the show twice.

Ostrov! Photo: Václav Jirásek.

Ostrov! Photo: Václav Jirásek.

Josef Bartoš Author Josef Bartoš

The latest work of the young choreographer, who had previously impressed audiences with her compelling pieces such as Divočina, and O medvědovi, který plul na kře (The Bear who Floated on Ice), kept tickling my mind even as I was writing this review. Island! reminds me of a strange mystery, in which voluminous meaning layers form a dense net, and finding a key to its complexity is an art unto itself. Unlike the above-mentioned titles, Island! sees the author shift her attention from heavy serious topics to those that affect our society to a much lesser degree, since, as the old Czech proverb says, they are hidden in the plain sight.

Burkiewiczová needn't have looked far for inspiration, as she was struck by the beauty of the unspoilt Roždálovice Ponds - Protected Landscape Area, more precisely by a nameless island surrounded by the waters of the Jakubský Pond. And that is most likely the reason why some people (me, to be precise) do not grasp the message right away – Burkiewiczová talks about intact landscapes in the time B.C. (an abbreviation that normally stands for Before Christ, but here it could be interpreted as Before Crisis), untouched by human interference. In this sense, the piece acts as a breath of fresh air in the relatively weighted choreographic habitat.

Ostrov! Photo: Václav Jirásek.

Jana Burkiewiczová and Jaroslav Wertig from A69 studio let the audience experience the atmosphere of the Czech landscape by breaking the rules of a classical frontal seating plan. Together, they created an imaginary bay made of risers and benches, on which spectators sit like on a perch. The risers are placed at different levels and thus reflect the diversity of the Czech countryside where a flat meadow without a single lea is more of a myth.

The distinctive Czech spirit, felt throughout the performance, is endorsed by projections showing Tomáš Luňák and Tomáš Hájek’s picturesque animations  that resemble illustrations of old Czech fairy tales. They appear on all sides of the theatre, even behind the audience’s back, and far in the distance. They are projected on the floor as well, regardless of whether the space is occupied or not. On the one hand, it feels a bit uncomfortable to turn around all the time when searching for new visual impulses, on the other hand we are prompted to be more alert, much like the wild “animals we see on stage. In addition, the animations are closely connected with Pavla Beranová’s lighting design - it sometimes helps create a specific atmosphere (and makes us forget we are in a theatre), at other times red and blue lights rampage through the space. Another original visual feature is a firefly, embodied by the famous SuperStar singer Adam Pavlovčin who manipulates two spot lights in such an inventive manner that the viewer’s attention gets an instant refresh. His appearances are only sporadic, but always framed by an unusual space arrangement that makes us believe we are in the midst of the woods at dawn.

Burkiewiczová chose her team wisely, including the dancers. Besides well-known Czech-based artists such as Helena Arenbergerová, Michal Heriban, Veronika Tökoli and Eduard Orszulik, the cast also includes international names: the Greek twins Ifigenia and Ariadne Toumbeki and the Swiss performer Maxime Guenin. The diversity of the group (regarding their age, type and experience) mirrors the variedness of the Czech fauna. The performers embody imaginary animals, but their mutual relations and the group dynamics matter the most. The defining principle seems clear:  Who finds themselves at the bottom of the food chain?

Ostrov! Photo: Václav Jirásek.

The most memorable scene is probably the one in which a frisky dog (Michal Heriban) is hunted down by the rest of the group who handle him over like a piece of worthless property. They extend their hands and the dog eagerly buries his head in their palms, awaiting kindness and love. However, after the same situation keeps repeating for several minutes, we see Heriban drag his exhausted body towards the next exploiter with the last of his strength. The abuse of an obedient and innocent animal, the poor victim of human vanity, brought many to tears as it was one of the most powerful and authentic experiences in the whole piece. Burkiewiczová thus touched upon the subject of cruelty to animals (especially pets), which is still rarely discussed. 

There certainly are many outstanding moments in Island!. But the links between them get lost in the abundance of ideas, instead of fusing organically into one strong message. The individual features of the performance (namely music, lights, movement, animation and costumes) are fighting for the audience’s attention. Their deafening power does not allow us to savour all the meaning nuances that would possibly add a new dimension to the piece. Scratching the likeable surface leads to losing the sense of perspective and the ability to view the work from a distance, and it becomes hard to get any deeper ….Less is sometimes more.


Written from the premiere and first re-run held on 8 and 9 November 2021, at La Fabrika.

Direction, choreography: Jana Burkiewiczová
Script: Jana Burkiewiczová, Tomáš Luňák, Jiří Macek
Illustrations: Jindřich Janíček (TakeTakeTake)
Animation: Tomáš Luňák, Tomáš Hájek
Music: Jiří Konvalinka (Mutanti hledaj východisko)
Sets: Jaroslav Wertig
Lighting design: Pavla Beranová
Costumes: Barbora Procházková (Project Sapience)
Make-up: Štěpán Růžička
Lights, projections: Petr Taclík
Sound: Filip Jiskra
Premiere: 8 Nov 2021

Translation: Tereza Cigánková

Témata článku

Jana BurkiewiczováOstrov!