An Interview With Czech Dancer Tereza Podarilova

‘Humanity and respect for oneself is the foundation’ of a dancer’s success
July 16, 2018 Updated: July 24, 2018    

PRAGUE—According to critics, Czech ballerina Tereza Podarilova shone as Tatiana in “Onegin,” and as Katherine in “The Taming of the Shrew,” created by the world-famous choreographer John Cranko. She won Thalia Awards for both roles.

Tereza Podarilova with a Thalia Award for her role as the Marquise de Merteuil in “Valmont.” (J. Podaril)

Born in Prague, Podarilova studied at the Dance Conservatory of the City of Prague, and after internships in Germany, she joined the Ballet of the Czech National Theater.

Perhaps the most important roles in her traditional repertoire include Odette and Odile in “Swan Lake,” Maria in “The Nutcracker,” and Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet.” As far as new works, perhaps her most important role came from her long-term cooperation with the painter Jan Kunovsky. She was inspired to create the dance-art project “Sirael,” which was presented at Prague’s Kolowrat Theater from 2000 to 2002.

In addition to her solo work, Podarilova is dedicated to leading the dancers of the National Theater and the State Opera House.

She met with The Epoch Times in a cafe near the dance studios of the National Theater, in the historic part of Prague. And, as if to prove how indispensable she is, theater staff interrupted the interview to ask the ballet master to approve of dancers’ roles for certain performances.

The Epoch Times: How do you see dancers working together as a whole?
Tereza Podarilova: When I joined the ensemble, I saw exactly how it worked. Not only were the dancers listening to the ballet master, but they also had a hierarchy among themselves. Those who came last had to listen to the older dancers. They wanted to be professionals, so they corrected each other.

Today, it is more like everyone is there for themselves, and they just want to prove themselves. It takes knowing the psychology of how to work with people to make them feel like they’re part of the whole. It seems to me that people in the past were able to stick together more. Today, it’s different.

The Epoch Times: Why is it different?
Ms. Podarilova: I think it is the age we’re in. Everyone wants to be someone else, someone different, or exceptional. I think this is a world trend.

I would like to go back to the first question. I think it’s also about being able to appreciate each other, being able to appreciate the art of ballet, and recognizing another person’s art as well. Today, everyone is focused on themselves and they don’t even perceive the whole.

The Epoch Times: What role does moral character play in a dancer’s life? Can it decide whether or not the dancer succeeds?
Ms. Podarilova: Especially in dance, humanity and respect for oneself is the foundation, the absolute foundation. Only then can you get rid of everything and start working on your body.

A dancer is also influenced by their surroundings as well as the home environment. It is all decisive.

Dancer Tereza Podarilova in the ballet hall of the National Theater in Prague. (Daria Klimentova)

The Epoch Times: What value does developing inner qualities, art, and doing things for others have these days?
Ms. Podarilova: When I meet someone in my life, even on stage, it’s always about how satisfied the person is with themselves. Most people are unhappy with what they do. They have a job they don’t like, and they often complain.

Tereza Podarilova with her sons. (Daria Klimentova)

Everything bothers them.

Those who do something they like are interested in it or have fun doing what they do. These people are happy and satisfied. I don’t think these people would be evil or deceitful or have the need to hurt others. Most people who end up in trouble haven’t found themselves or their own path.

I’m very happy that I am able to do what I most enjoy in my life. I would like my children to find jobs or professions that will make them feel this way as well.

The Epoch Times: How do you deal with life’s difficulties?
Ms. Podarilova: When something unpleasant comes into my life, I try to deal with it to some extent. But when it returns, I say to myself, “You should have understood something from that situation. Something that you are doing is wrong. Learn from it.” I think there is definitely something about it.

Then after you realize this, it’s still necessary to work it out and get rid of it. And that’s the difficult part (laughs).

The Epoch Times: What role does a teacher play in a dancer’s life?
Ms. Podarilova: You can clearly see those who are able to think about dancing, to recognize those that don’t make a movement for the sake of movement but know why the movement is made and where the movement actually leads. … A person acquires this wisdom because they have a good teacher.

But it’s important that dancers take action and work on it more themselves. The teacher can show you the right direction. He can teach you the basics and give you advice. Every dancer has a different body structure, different physical abilities, and possibilities of expression. So not only must the dancer accept the teacher’s advice, but they also have to work on it and develop it.

The Epoch Times: What things decide whether dancers will be successful?
Ms. Podarilova: First of all, there are dispositions and prerequisites for ballet. Of course, a good teacher. They must be lucky enough to meet people who are able to help them move further. And it is absolutely necessary to be diligent.

Then, their openness and the ability to learn to accept and build upon what they’ve been taught while working on the body. Learning new things also moves the dancer forward.

And, learning about the world is also important. When someone is just standing at the ballet barre and “swinging the battement tendu,” they will not achieve anything.

Filip Veverka and Tereza Podarilova in the ballet “The Taming of the Shrew.” (Roman Sejkot)

The Epoch Times: So, whether their father has a few million dollars doesn’t play a decisive role?
Ms. Podarilova: Of course not. It is always about the hard work of every individual. But, of course, if they didn’t have the money to commute or go to a good school, then that would probably cause a problem.

When I compare children with the same prerequisites, who are together in the same class, it depends on how the child is able to work and accept the advice and experience from the teacher.

It seldom happens that when dancers, who have completed their studies, enter the theater, they are already professional soloists. Most of the time, dancers become professionals gradually. It has always been the rule that even those extra-talented dancers who join the ensemble have to first gain some experience and practice.

Another important thing is that they get the chance to show themselves and perform for others. There are a lot of good dancers out there who weren’t lucky and didn’t get an opportunity. But when they get it, then they have to prove themselves. They must show that it was no coincidence that they got the opportunity. And after that, they have to confirm it.

In our profession, it is about a constant confirmation, which later becomes a responsibility when the dancer reaches some post. From that point forward, something is expected from you, and then it becomes a responsibility and a commitment.

The Epoch Times: What effect does ballet have on human development?
Ms. Podarilova: It’s an endless job, and it’s always moving you forward. One can always find something new. It’s not only about meeting new people, but also many different ballet plays. Every time you start dancing a new ballet, you learn the new music in detail, every tone, and that gives you the chance to learn a new story as well.

Tereza Podarilova and Jiri Kodym in “Onegin.” (Roman Sejkot)

When I think of my favorite role in “Onegin,” I had to get to know my character and everything else in that story. Whether it’s “Onegin” or “Romeo and Juliet,” you find out how these stories are timeless, as they go through the time periods up to the present: the essence of the stories.

Then there is the choreography. And all the people you meet will inspire you and move you forward.

For some people, the ballet opens the door to the world of music. But for me, ballet is also connected to fine arts. It brought me to work with the academic painter Kunovsky. He was inspired by my roles to create his paintings. And I, in turn, got inspired by his paintings in my dance. Thanks to that collaboration, I realized that when I look at some performance, I suddenly see it as a picture.

I would like to mention the director Petr Vajgl, who has made many ballets and directed a lot of films. His films are a complete “delight for the eyes.” I have the feeling that the camera is moving from one beautiful image to another. The artistic side of our profession plays a big role and is a big part of it.

Dancers Tereza Podarilova and Alexander Katsapov in “Valmont.“ (Pavel Hejny)

The Epoch Times: Have you ever found something thanks to a certain role that has not been revealed to you before?
Ms. Podarilova: With my last role, Marquise  de Merteuil in “Valmont,”… I was completely shocked and desperate. I hadn’t played such a character yet. The dancer, as well as the actor, draw on what they have met in their life, what has happened to them. I was totally helpless with this role. Although I know that people are manipulative and can be evil and plot against each other, … it is also said that even in ballet, there is a lot of scheming going on; but for me, the work has always been in the first place.

I have very interesting work … No matter what injustice or anything else appears, I always keep in mind that I am doing what I love, and this attitude has kept me moving forward. But the role Marquise de Merteuil, … it was all that negativity piled up on me. At that time, I didn’t think I could bear this role.

It was quite hard to look inside myself for plotting, scheming, and manipulation—things I absolutely despise. I usually look inside myself for a starting point for a role, but this was different. Playing such a shocking character who must have been really sick to live that kind of life, treating people like puppets and manipulating them, had never happened to me before.

It is impossible to achieve any happiness like that. She was actually quite desperate and always unhappy.

It was a psychological experience for me to a certain extent, because I take everything very seriously. In comparison with the role of Tatiana in “Onegin,” who has gone through life with an inner purity, Merteuil is absolutely horrid.

The Epoch Times: How do you like the role of sharing your experience as a soloist with young dancers?
Ms. Podarilova: This kind of work is very inspirational.

I love working with soloist students. I see that each dancer is different, and everyone can be exceptional and beautiful in something. They have their shortcomings that they need to work on and, at the same time, the strengths that they should develop. Watching the process is amazing.

There is a great connection between the teacher and the dancer. It has always been like that. I have always had a certain tight connection with a certain teacher and dancing partner. It was also important to me which ballet it was. Sometimes a soloist doesn’t have the same teacher for each ballet. So this close connection to the teacher has always been very important for me.

Of course, when it comes to the performance, a ballet master cannot do anything anymore. He can only prepare the dancer and then sit in the auditorium, and when it goes well, he is very pleased and shares the joy with the dancer.

Translated by Vadislava Maskova and Daniel Monagan and edited for clarity and brevity.