Last Thursday, September 18, at 6:30 pm, Laura Downes not only performed beautifully on the piano, but gave precious insight into the music and composers that inspired her to create the program Amerika: Expression and Exile at the Embassy of the Czech Republic. In her opening remarks, she spoke about the use of music to free us. She said, “As jazz captured the imaginations of Europe and the world, it offered an escape from the confines of totalitarianism.” Her concert paid tribute to some of the finest composers of Czech origin, including Bohuslav Martinů, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, and Jaroslav Ježek. Opening with Erwin Schulhof´s incredibly difficult masterpiece, Suite Dansante en Jazz, she mesmerized the audience in an exceptional show of talent. She also invited to the stage Cultural Attaché Robert Řehák and Public Relations Specialist Mary E. Fetzko, who gave voice to composer Andre Singer’s Nine Parables to Franz Kafka´s "Amerika," while Downes performed on piano. For the close of the first half, she performed the popular Czech favorite Shining by Jaroslav Ježek and invited the audience to sing-a-long. Her performance continued with the classic Etudes and Polkas by Bohuslav Martinů and closed with Wolfgang Korngold´s Sonata no. 2 in E major, Op. 2, which Korngold incredibly composed at the age of only 13. Downes said, “Kafka never set foot in America, but maybe he used the exercise of writing his novel Amerika to imagine opening a door to a way out for himself.” One’s art is the song of his soul, a form of expression and a way out of the darkness. Bravo Ms. Downes for such a brilliant and memorable performance.
On the evening of September 17, 2014, the Embassy of the Czech Republic had the pleasure of hosting documentary director and current Senior International Program Consultant at the USC Shoah Foundation, Martin Šmok, who arrived to give a truly educating and interesting lecture Czech Jews under Communists, 1945-1989. One of the many perks of his lecture, besides his vast and deep knowledge of the topic, was his visual presentation. He used old photographs, letters, documents and also testimonies which helped him illustrate and better describe what really happened to the Jewish population in Czech lands after World War II. The lecture was followed by an intense Q&A session, giving the attendees a chance to ask any burning questions regarding the subject or simply add their personal experience or knowledge. At the end of the session, guests had the opportunity to strike up a conversation with Šmok while savoring delicious apple strudel. The night was filled with food for thought - provoking, engaging, unforgettable. Through his research, Šmok draws up the past and makes us confront time.
On September 11, not a seat was empty for an adaptation of Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis directed by Susan Galbraith of the Alliance for New Music-Theatre at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre. Ari Jacobson seemed perfectly cast to play Gregor Samsa in the tale of a man turned into vermin overnight, and a family haunted by what they should do with "Gregor." Jacobson even embodied the look of Kafka at times. The director also chose to use some of Kafka's drawings interspersed throughout the piece. Additional animations created by Janet Antich were used to set scenes, bring characters to life, and present the absurd where dreams became reality. The cast was rounded out by Pamela Bierly Jusino (Mrs. Samsa), David Millston (Mr. Samsa), and Lily Kerrigan (Greta). The repetition of some of the actions in the stage version drew out the tension in the family, routines to get one through the day. The nightmarish situation was heightened by the music of the cello, performed by Yvonne Caruthers, which served to slow down the action and set the tone. The stark set included a ladder where "Gregor" would crawl up and down, and the use of shadow and light further transported the audience into the feeling of being an outsider. The director was further inspired by Yiddish folk tales, and through her direction she asks, "What does it mean to transform from man to animal, and is Gregor the only one who experience the feeling of being something other than human?"
Photo credit: Hilsdon Photography LLC
Actor Drew Valins presented a memorable performance as RotPeter in an adaptation of Kafka's A Report to an Academy, leaving the audience filled with laughter and thought at the Czech Embassy on Sept. 9. As guests entered the main hall, the music of Bach greeted them as well as a projection of images featuring apes in the wild above the main set of the performance. The "Impressario" opened the action inviting guest to flap their arms together and make a loud noise to welcome the star of the evening. After much pause, an ape in a tuxedo named Rotpeter emerged from a side door and made his way to the stage. Through Rotpeter, Drew cleverly presented his "report" to guests at the Czech Embassy of his journey from the wilds of the jungle to seemingly civilized humanity. His humor was full of wit, and he even took a slight "intermission" on stage to eat a banana with a fork and knife to show his cultured growth and share a bit of wine with a guest in the audience. After his "report," he agreed to take questions from the audience and the improvisation was hilarious. Rotpeter answered a variety of questions including, "What does he, as an ape, believe is the greatest gift that he can provide to humanity?" Kafka, through this story, took an outsider's perspective of the world to really examine the world around us and ask: "What is freedom?"
The press are on to Kafka. Journalist Celia Wren for The Washington Post wrote the article "An Homage to Kafka" The artical debates not only whether or not Kafka was funny, but it also explores the term "Kafkaesque." Meanwhile, freelance writer Marsha Dubrow from the examiner.com presents an overview of festival events and covers the recent opening of the exhibition KAFKA & CO. by Jiří Slíva. Be sure to check out the articles and enjoy the many upcoming events!
A full house at the Embassy of the Czech Republic enjoyed renowned Czech cartoonist Jiří Slíva's humorous illustrations in the exhibition KAFKA & CO. on September 3, launching the Mutual Inspirations Festival in celebration of the prolific writer Franz Kafka. Czech Ambassador Petr Gandalovič kicked off the program acknowledging the roots the festival has taken in DC and celebrating the ties between Czech and American cultures. Guests grooved to smooth jazz tunes performed on electric guitar by American University student Evan Maltz as they perused the many sides of Kafka, viewed through the wit of Slíva's drawings. Featured in over 150 publications including the The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, Slíva is renowned for his creativity. He believes that “Kafka had fun for us” and portrays this belief through his cartoons and illustrations. The exhibition will remain on view until October 31.
The Embassy of the Czech Republic announces the launch of the Mutual Inspirations Festival 2014 – Franz Kafka website www.mutualinspirations.org. This site features upcoming events, stories about Kafka’s life, US-Czech inspirational personalities, and more. Be sure to check the website periodically for updates of new events and information leading up to the festival this fall.