On our third day in Prague, we walked out of the apartment and saw an ordinary wooden chair had been bolted securely to the side of a building, one story up. Now, the chair itself would already be an interesting choice, but there was also a very ordinary, older man sitting in the chair. He was playing some sort of game, rolling dice in a cup and writing with a pencil. He paid no attention to passers by staring up at him. The man in the chair remained a mystery until the following evening, when we navigated Prague’s surprisingly straightforward public transportation system to attend a modern dance performance, part of the June festival Tanec Praha (Dance Prague) which coincides nicely with our stay here.
The show was fantastic, a Romanian choreographer’s work that used powerful gestures and real-life movements in a very surreal way to reveal disturbing human conflicts. Among many beautiful moments was a man perched on a woman’s back with his legs dangling down on either side. She walked slowly across the stage dipping down every few steps to touch one of his toes to the ground. At another moment, two dancers carried a third around the stage as though he were flying. His arms were outstretched and one of them grasped the hand of a fourth dancer who ran with him on his brief assisted flight.
But getting back to the man in the chair. On the way out of the theatre we picked up a brochure of the Prazske Quadriennale (www.pq.cz), a 10-day festival of experimental theatre, scenography, and costumes from around the world. The man in the chair, we discovered, was one of twelve senior citizens placed around the city in similar fashion. Suspended above the city in their chairs, the participants of this theatrical exhibition carried on their daily activities for all to witness. In only four days we are deeply impressed with the vibrant artistic life of this city.
Saturday we ventured out to the kampa, a long park along the river, where we passed many beautiful decorative statues, gardens, and buildings. Prague as a city is richly decorated at every turn, but because so much of the decorative details contain spiritual symbols from pagan, christian, and mystical traditions, the overall feeling in the city is magical rather than historical.
After a late lunch, we made our way to one of Prague’s sports arenas where the Karmapa of Diamond Path Buddhism was invited to speak. A rare opportunity anywhere, it seemed even more apropo to join this spiritual event in mystical Prague. Pavel believes that after centuries of religious and dogmatic conflict, the Czechs are more drawn to a pragmatic sort of spirituality like Buddhism. I asked whether the Czechs felt patriotic and the answer was mixed. It seems they identify more with a particular city than with the Czech Republic itself, or perhaps that they don’t care very much, but prefer to envision themselves more personally than politically, more internally than externally.
That same night was Museum Night, when all museums in the city are open and free between 7pm and 1am. It was impossible to see everything, so we first chose to see an exhibit of ancient stone sculptures which had been removed from their original places around the city in an effort to preserve them from age and vandalism. Then we crossed the river to Prague Castle, worth the trip on its own, and explored the many small museums inside the buildings. Finally, we peeked into a large art gallery (also a classical concert hall, we were told) to see a special exhibition of the German artist Neo Rauch, said to be one of the most significant living artists today. His massive paintings appeared to have been created using several very different techniques, and I found them very compelling, both comically surreal and deeply disturbing. That night I had very strange dreams which I attribute to cultural over-stimulous!
But there was more to come, because on Sunday we rushed out after breakfast to see another Quadriennale event, “Dance with Bulldozer,” a clever and romantic choreography between a man and, yes, a small yellow bulldozer, set to opera music and including elements of aerial dance, contact improv, and modern movement. It was surprisingly captivating. We walked home in unsual weather, bright sunshine and tiny rain droplets.