For Zora

Not many people in the dance world know this, but Zora Šemberová
was the very first dancer who danced the role of “Juliet” in the 
world premiere of the famous Prokofiev ballet "Romeo and Juliet" 
in the city of Brno - Czechoslovakia in 1938. Galina Ulanova 
danced this role only 13 months later..!
When I was a student at the Prague Conservatory (1962 - 1967) 
this was not important to me. Important was that Zora became our 
"class teacher", and this fact changed my life. 

My first encounter with Zora was when I was an apprentice 
(about 13 years old) at the National Theatre in Prague.
One day a lady entered our ballet class. She sat down and bore 
her grey-blue eyes deeply into our bodies and souls in a way a 
scientist examining some kind of a suspicious substance would...
When I asked my classmates who this lady was, they whispered 
with obvious reverence: Zora Šemberová... At that moment it 
became clear to me that there is at least one thing this lady 
and myself have in common:

...grey-blue eyes..! 

Zora had a reputation of someone who is absolutely direct in 
dealing with any situation. She was uncompromising towards us - 
students, but in equal measure to her colleagues, her superiors 
or to the communist authorities. With her unbending personality, 
she made many enemies but also many supporters who were very 
grateful to her for her "no nonsense" approach, whenever 
dealing with artistic matters or with everyday reality of 
life. I was her diligent pupil, her admirer and her most 
severe critic.

I am grateful to Zora for many things: she saved me from having 
to serve in the army, she encouraged me in my attempts to 
choreograph, and she stimulated my interest in other art forms. 
In spite of all the decorations, diplomas and medals she received, 
Zora will never look good with an aureole hovering over her head. 
Her horns would stand in the way..! She was certainly not an 
angel, she was much too human for this, but in spite of it, 
she was always able to hold her head high above the clouds, 
even when she had to drag her feet through mud. As a teacher, 
she was strict and uncompromising: "...Tell the truth, no matter 
how difficult it is, and accept it, no matter how painful it 
might be..." Maybe something like this could have been her 

And surely, we have experienced much "truth" and much "pain" 
over the years working with Zora! Her very feared verdict: 
" did well, but you didn't convince me...", was legendary. 
It meant a lot to us and it inspired us to come up with the most 
truthful artistic product we were capable of. You could never 
cheat her...

Zora was a unique international dance and theatre personality. 
She was influenced (and she influenced) many extraordinary 
creative personalities from the art world: 
Bohuslav Martinů - composer of great international importance.
Alfred Radok - founding father of "Laterna Magica" and "Polyecran".
Bohumil Hrdlička - a revolutionary opera producer.
Unfortunately at the time, when Zora danced her unforgettable 
roles, the earlier mentioned "Julia" (1938 -  in the choreography 
of Ivo Váňa Psota) and later her legendary "Viktorka" (1950 -  
in the choreography of Saša Machov), Czechoslovakia was 
a small player in the "Big game" of international politics. In 1938, 
it was given to Hitler in order to appease him, in 1948 it was 
given to Stalin as a result of  the catastrophic treaties after 
World War II. 
Because of these circumstances Zora stayed an obscure "entity" 
on the international dance stage, but in my opinion she was a
giant, in comparison with many of her more famous colleagues. 
Her artistic beliefs, her detailed psychoanalytic research of 
the roles she created, her skills as a teacher are unparalleled 
even (and particularly) in todays standards. 

I am convinced that her artistic belief and instinct is universal, 
and ahead of its time. I have mentioned her uncompromising stands 
already several times (I certainly don't want to insist, that she 
was always right), but it is important to understand that whatever 
she taught us was never tinted by any personal tendencies or 
ambitions. Her quest for truth was always at the service of an 
artistic achievement... 
She always managed to discover talent,no matter how hidden, 
promote it and protect it with her own life if necessary. 
She was not only ready to die for the truthfulness of art, 
but without any doubt, she was ready to kill for it..!

Should you ask her now about the value of her artistic life, she 
would probably tell you: "...I gave my life for it..!"

Jiří Kylián, 2008