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Zora Šemberová, Prokofiev’s first Juliet dies at the age of 99

5/11/2012

On October 9, 2012, at the age of 99, died Zora Šemberová, dancer, choreographer and dance pedagogue. She passed away in Adelaide, Australia.

Zora Šemberová, Prokofiev’s first Juliet dies at the age of 99

She acquired basic education in dance from Mme Gugenmoz and later from Jaroslav Hladík. She attended Olga Preobraženská’s school in Paris and Tatiana Gzovska’s school in Berlin. She was not only interested in classical but also in expressive dance, studying at the modernist Rosalie Chladek’s in Laxenburg, a town in the vicinity of Vienna. Jarmila Kröschlová, a representative of modern dance had a major influence on her.

Her first important work saw the light of the day at the ballet ensemble in Brno where she enacted such roles as Mariken in The Plays of Mary, Tao-Choa in The Red Poppy and, first and foremost, Juliet in the world premiere of Prokofiev’s ballet. From Brno she moved to the National Theatre in Prague, becoming a soloist in 1945. It is there that she performed more unforgettable roles, such as her solo in Lachian Dances and the leading role in the world premiere of Vostřák’s ballet Viktorka in 1950.     

In the 1950s she went into choreography, cooperating with leading opera directors Bohumil Hrdlička and Alfréd Radok with whom she co-created The Opening of the Wells for Laterna magika in 1958. 

Since mid-1940s she was teaching at the Prague Conservatory and shortly also at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. Her pedagogical approach was that of leading students to creativity and searching for a characteristic personality in each individual. Many of them were later to become true personalities: Pavel Šmok, Vlastimil Harapes, Ladislav Fialka… and the most illustrious student of all – Jiří Kylián.

In 1968, following an invitation from Reiner Radok (a cousin of Alfréd Radok’s) she left for Australia to give courses of drama at the Flinders University. After the Warsaw Pact Invasion of Czechoslovakia she decided to settle in Australia. She became a pedagogue at the University of Adelaide, later becoming the first Czech ever to receive the honorary doctorate in dance. She was also active in the community life of Czech expats, helping to establish the Czech Business Chamber in Adelaide and working for the local Czechoslovak club. Furthermore, she founded a pantomime company Australian Mime Theatre and published a number of works.

After 1989 she returned to the Czech Republic a few times. In 1993, she became an honorary member of the National Theatre in Prague. In 1999, she was awarded the Thálie Prize for lifelong mastery and in 2005 she received the Gratis Agis Award for her exemplary promotion of the Czech country abroad.

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