Pavel Zuštiak Discusses “The Painted Bird” Trilogy

This Thursday is the opening of Bastard, the first part of The Painted Bird, a new dance work in three parts from choreographer Pavel Zuštiak/Palissimo , at La Mama (tickets $20/$25). Loosely inspired by a scene from Jerzy Kosinski’s controversial 1956 novel The Painted Bird, Zuštiak’s piece exlores “migration, displacement, and identity formation.”

As Zuštiak explained in a brief telephone interview earlier this week, the piece was inspired by one particular scene in the novel, in which a bird keeper paints a bird a different color and then releases it so that it will be attacked by its own flock, now unable to recognize it.

“The bird of the same kind is rejected by its own kind,” he told me, and that sense of having your own turn on you, of being made an outsider, resonated with Zuštiak, an immigrant who left his native country in 1993.

The Painted Bird also gave Zuštiak the opportunity to collaborate with noted Slovakian dancer Jaroslav Viňarský. “We know each other for about seventeen years,” Zuštiak said of Viňarský, who he met first as a teacher before emigrating from Slovakia. In the intervening decades, Viňarský has built a career for himself as a dancer, and for some time Zuštiak had been looking for the opoortunity to work with him.

“For him as well, the things we’re looking at hit close to home,” Zuštiak said of Viňarský.

The show also allowed Zuštiak to collaborate extensively with composer Christian Frederickson, a violinist and one of the core members of the classical-influenced indie rock outfit Rachel’s. Frederickson had become acquainted with Zuštiak when he was taken to some of Palissimo’s performances, and for The Painted Bird (at which he will be performing live, along with Ryan Rumery), he’s been involved in the process from the beginning, working along with Zuštiak and Viňarský in the studio and traveling with them to Europe, where he also had the opportunity to do some recordings for part of the score.

Bastard, as noted, is just the first of three parts for the work, the second of which will be presented at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in January and third of which goes up at PS 122 later in 2011. While all three are designed to stand on their own, taken together, Zuštiak will be shifting the audience’s perspective at each stage to follow the same sort of trajectory of confusion and identity crisis the work explores. While Part 1 takes place in a traditional theatre, part 2 will be presented in a black box, with no seating, and the dissolution of the artist-audience boundary will be completed in Part 3, which will exist as an installation work.

“I find our work successful when we get into a conversation with people through the work,” Zuštiak said.

A special event will also be taking place as part of the run: on November 18, Palissimo will be commemorating the 21st anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, the peaceful movement that overthrew communism in the former Czechoslovakia. The Velvet Night festivities, sponsored by Consulate General of Slovakia in New York and Plus421 Foundation, will take place after the performance; special tickets available here.

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