Entertainment

Uncovering Brno: Czech's Second City

"If I don't practice one day, I know it; two days, the critics know it; three days, the public knows it."

This quote, whose source is uncertain, is popular among artists the world over. From musicians to singers to dancers, that endless murmur from our inner voice is perpetually haranguing us on practice. “Should I be practicing now? Did I practice ENOUGH today?” Or even “I sound/look AWFUL! Why can’t I do this right?! That’s it. I can’t take it anymore. I’m quitting! Really, this time I am!”

As an artist, our sanity takes its toll when we aren’t provided with an opportunity to do our craft. This is made so much more difficult when travelling.

Luckily, on a trip two years ago, a pilgrimage from Prague to my great-grandfather’s village in neighboring Slovakia, I had the chance to stay in shape (and keep my own artistic sanity) by attending company class with the National Ballet of Brno - a city that was just named one of 52 Places to go in 2016 by the New York Times, making this the perfect opportunity to uncover this Czech ‘second-city.' Czechs can proudly read the headlines here: Brno podle New York Times mezi 52 nejlepšími místy světa pro rok 2016

With the help of Central Europe’s version of budget buses, Student Agency, I arrived one calm, cool night in Brno, near the Main Station (Hlavní Nádraží).

Side note: Many people who have yet to visit this area of the world may refer to it as “Eastern Europe”. But the natives in this part of the country, especially in Prague,  will quickly jump at the opportunity to point out that this is CENTRAL Europe and even Vienna, Austria  lies farther east than the Czech Republic. A very valid point considering that at first thought I would have grouped Austria with Western Europe...

This time around on my second visit, I was staying at the Ballet Master and current principal  dancer’s quaint apartment, which I’ll note is most every traveler's’ favorite way of diving into a culture. Nothing beats staying with a native in their own home (granted, in this case, one of them was Brazilian). Beside getting the inside scoop on the area, you’ll most likely get homemade, authentic meals.

One dinner, sleep, and breakfast later and we made our way to the National Theatre of Brno, which encompasses all the theatrical arts - opera, ballet, drama, and music - on a campus with three different theatres. Class this morning took place in the ballet studios in the oldest of the venues, the Mahen Theatre. Built in 1882 after the former theater burnt down, (a fairly common occurrence in the day), it was the first theatre in the world to be entirely lit by electricity, and was visited by Edison himself. Being the first of its kind in this city, no power plants existed, so a steam plant was erected specifically to run the theatre. While up to date with electricity, the innards of the theater still retain much of the original architecture.

Dancers in ballet companies traditionally start the day with a ballet class to keep their technique solid and warm-up for the rest of the day's rehearsals and potential performances following at night. I happily danced a good class led by the company's Slovak  artistic director. Due to the size of the studios, the men here take class in a separate studio to avoid cramming everyone in one tight space, which makes it difficult to move across the floor once you get to centre work...sometimes it's so crowded that even barre work is impossible and you end kicking dancers in front and behind you.

After class, I thanked the director, as is customary, and quietly bowed out to allow the company to move on with their day. I then began sightseeing. Luckily today required no awkward exit unlike the year prior in Budapest, where a soloist had twisted her knee during the last combination across the floor, the grande allegro.  As the entire company gathered around to assess the severity of the situation, I had to skimp on the goodbye and just ghost. Probably for the best since I felt completely inadequate afterwards. My lack of knowledge with the Hungarian language had me in for a surprise when I struggled to keep up with the other dancers, trailing behind a few counts in each combination. It was comforting knowing I had a better working knowledge of Czech.

Brno is the Czech Republic’s  second-largest city and the capital of Moravia, which is the region covering the southeast portion of the country and also part of northwest Slovakia. Having been situated at the confluence of two rivers and amongst the rolling hills typical of the Czech Republic since before history, you can really get some stellar views of the cities architecture, spanning from Gothic to Baroque to a modern style known as Brno Functionalist.

Since I’m not particularly fond of modern architecture, my goal was to make it to the Cathedral of St. Paul and Peter perched on a hill on the opposite side of town.

Heading out of the theater, I first pass St. James Church. An ossuary on the building’s side piqued my interest. Weeks prior I had just visited the Sedlec Ossuary just outside Prague, which was a mind-boggling experience. Never before had I seen human bones taken to such decorating heights!

I approached the door of Europe’s second largest ossuary to find out it’s closed for ‘technical difficulties’... Unsure about what kind of troubles they were having with the bones of 50,000 humans, I slowly backed away figuring it was best not to ask questions in this situation, which was a potential cover-up for the undead and continue on my journey.

Impossible to miss as you pass through the town’s Zelný trh (Cabbage Market) is a monolithic, baroque statue of Hercules and Cerberus, finished in 1695.  Three figures on the fountains ‘cave’ are representative of the old empires of Persia, Greece, and Babylon.

Just past the Zelný trh you’ll find another square near the Reduta Theatre with a small statue of an angelic looking W. A. Mozart. An homage to the famous composer who performed here with his sister as a youngster.

Now on the other side of the city I slowly scale the hill leading up to the cathedral.

Atop another hill lies Špilberk Castle, of which the only picture I took is of it’s three guardians.

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With the moon rising, I began my journey to Bratislava to once again take company class with the Slovak National Ballet which proved to be excruciatingly painful after a full day of walking miles around the city. Little did I know, I would wake up with swollen, tender feet and would later regret forcing  myself through an entire ballet class. 

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