About the Group
The world’s face is changing very quickly now, but the poetry of folk song and dance gets over this time.
It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.
(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)
Gaudeamus is a remarkable folk group from the Czech Republic. Since its foundation in 1949 at the University of Economics, more than 1000 members have been involved in its activities. During the early days of the band it encompassed a wide spectrum of musical and artistic styles such as classical, mixed choirs, dance groups, cabaret and beat music. Nowadays, the group consists of about 40 amateur musicians, singers and dancers focusing on folk music. All of the members are students and graduates of different Prague universities.
Gaudeamus presents folk traditions from the Bohemian region in both traditional and stylised ways. It aims to entertain a wide audience in the ways of its art by combining the past and present with humour, warmth and friendliness. This is possible thanks to extensive co-operation with renowned choreographers, composers and other artists. The main choreographers working within the group in the early years were František Bonuš and Ján Novenko (1950s) and Lenka Homolová (1960s and 1970s). The current format of Gaudeamus presentations has been strongly influenced by the work of Alena Skálová in the 1990s. Her work and approach to folk matters is distinctive, original and highly praised. More recently, Martin Pacek – a professional choreographer, co-operating with several Czech theatres and teaching at the University of Performing Arts – moved the group’s style into a new exciting era. Further successful stylistic changes and progress has been brought about by the present leader of the dance group Věra Fenclová.
The group makes an organic whole where music does not serve just as an accompaniment but also as an integral part of the performance. Among the instruments played by the band you will hear violins, viola, clarinets, flutes, bass, traditional bagpipes and a percussion instrument called a ‘vozembouch’. Folk composers who have significantly influenced the present sound of the band’s music are Růžena and Jiří Sršňovi, Jiří Fišer, David Slouka and current members Marek Janata and Milan Buňata.
The group’s artistic presentation is further underpinned by a collection of traditional costumes, including original historical ones. The overall quality and professionalism of the group is enhanced by the stage directions of Mrs. Jaroslava Šiktancová and the set designs of Helena Pěkná.
Gaudeamus’ repertoire allows you to see, according to the occasion, either single dance and music pieces such as ‘Furiant’ or ‘Mateník’, unusual dance pieces where the rhythm changes several times inside one verse, or ‘Královničky’; a dance for young women from southern Bohemia. Other traditional Czech dances that appear in Gaudeamus performances are “polka”, roundabout dances “kolečka”, calm “sousedská” and the lively “skočná” dance. There are also established programmes that tackle the following themes:
The Shrovetide Wedding – A comic and horror theatrical dance piece with a happy ending. It draws on a tradition of foolish, crazy and sometimes even frantic dances of masked people that still takes place every year in many Czech villages and towns before the Lenten period starts.
Argument between The Shrovetide and The Lenten – A drama based on a tradition of the religious year and folk customs before Ash Wednesday.
Devil’s Suite – The tradition of ‘devils’ as fairy-tale characters is very common in Czech folklore. Homage to Mr. Erben – The work of this famous personality of 19th Century Czech literature, ethnography and nationalism has been a great source of inspiration for this composition of songs, dances and folk poetry.
Saint John’s Eve – Another strong theme drawing from various traditions of the Midsummer period.
Christmas time dances and songs. Journey – The stylised group’s 50 minutes programme tries to have a different look on the origin of dancing and music.
Pictures of Josef Lada – The newest dances inspired by the pictures and illustrations of Czech villages and people in the 19th century painted by the famous Czech artist Josef Lada.
What is glittering over there – A full-night programme of musicians and singers based on the group’s new CD.
Altogether, Gaudeamus’ repertoire contains a wide-range of performance styles, varying from pieces lasting just a few minutes to those last several hours; from simple dance pieces to thematic interpretations of emotive issues. Furthermore, the group also teaches willing students the intricacies of Bohemian dance.
The activities of Gaudeamus, however, are not only connected to live performance but also to recording, publishing and cultural research. In 2011 the group released a new CD: What is glittering over there, which is already a second CD of the musicians and singers. For the 60th anniversary of the group in 2009 a new publication outlining the group’s work within the last ten years was issued as a continuance of the previous publication (1999). In 2004 a film documenting the work of Mrs. Alena Skálová was edited and presented to a wide audience of professionals and amateurs.
Besides the above, various group members are currently carrying out studies and investigations in areas in and around Prague, to record and preserve specific regional customs, folk songs and costumes.
Furthermore, the group is proud of its successful participation in festivals both home and abroad. In 2013 the music band became the Laureate of the International Folk Festival Strážnice. In 2009 the group was awarded for the extraordinary authorial creation at the Academic Festival in Zvolen, Slovakia. Another proof of group’s qualities has been Laureate of Academic Festival in Nitra, Slovakia – 2006. In 2005 at the International Folk Festival Strážnice Věra Fenclová, the present leader of the dance group, was praised for an inventive interpretation of the given theme. In the XIII. International Student Festival in Katowice (Poland 2000) Gaudeamus was awarded the Cup of the Polish Academic Union. The cup is the award for novelty of artistic presentation on stage. At the same event, the group won an award for the artistic performance of its band.
During the past decade the group has also visited Poland, Lithuania, France, Croatia, Italy, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ireland, Germany, Portugal, Turkey, Ukraine and Estonia. This is in addition to performing in many cultural events within the Czech Republic. A few of these are the Prague Spring, the UNESCO project on traditional dances from Bohemia and the International Folk Festival in Strážnice. Gaudeamus is also a CIOFF Czech Section member.