The performer, actress, choreographer, director, author, dance pedagogue, festival director, and writer Petra Fornayová (1972, Bratislava) studied law at the Faculty of Law, Comenius University in Bratislava, and dance at the Academy of Performing Arts. She did an internship at the EDDC (European Dance Development Centre) in Düsseldorf and Arnhem in Germany, and completed an education programme in art management – Courants d’Est at the Maison de la Culture du Monde in Paris.
She began her dancing career in the Auriga modern dance company, which later became professional and was transformed into Zuzana Hájková’s Contemporary Dance Group. In this period (1992–1994) Fornayová was a performer known for her unbridled energy in her movement expression and a very personal engagement in performance. These qualities became typical for a change of performance style which had been known until then in programmes produced by youth modern dance ensembles. Such productions emphasized the importance of full synchronization of group scenes and choreographers worked with movement using a kind of matrices of modern dance variations. The group’s projects foreshadowed the later individualization of dance interpretation in contemporary dance and dance theatre. The dance qualities and enthusiasm of the company members supported Zuzana Hájková in her efforts to fulfil her vision of creating a professional contemporary dance company in an official theatre environment, that is, to institutionalise it.
Most members of the Contemporary Dance Group then moved to Banská Bystrica. In 1994–1995, Fornayová was a member of the ballet section of the State Opera in Banská Bystrica under the leadership of Zuzana Hájková. Since 1996, she has been part of the dance and theatre scene as an independent artist. In 1998 and 1999, Fornayová was a guest performer in the productions of the Théatre du Mouvement ensemble in Montreuil, France.
Petra Fornayová is the co-founder, and since 2011 the director, of the Contemporary Dance Association (CDA). CDA started its activity in 1997 and provided production supervision for nearly all Slovak independent dance artworks. Fornayová is also the founder and dramaturge of the Nu Dance Fest in Bratislava, a festival of contemporary dance which became the most important showcase of progressive contemporary dance productions and performances in Slovakia already at its first meeting in 2006. Fornayová has created a festival concept that includes educational activities, workshops, creative workshops, and professional discussion forums, and in the festival programme she regularly presents the latest trends in contemporary dance and movement theatre, cross-genre productions, and conceptual projects. Thanks to Fornayová’s openness to new forms of contemporary art, the festival has always had a clear programmatic vision and fulfilled its ambitions of intergenerational and interdisciplinary collaboration. Fornayová has long succeeded in opening up the themes of professional contemporary dance beyond the professional dance territory.
Between 2003 and 2007, Fornayová worked as a dance dramaturge at the A4 – Zero Space in Bratislava which she co-founded (the current name is A4 – Space for Contemporary Culture). In this period, most independent dance productions were presented here. In 2003, Fornayová started her collaboration with the SkRAT Theatre. She co-wrote and performed in SkRAT’s productions Guinea Pig (2003), Paranoia (2004), The Hungry Don’t Trust the System (2004), and The Sad Life of Ivan T. (2005).
Her cooperation with director Ján Šimko brought to stage such productions as A Lesson of Oriental Dance (2005), Bratislava Memory I – Petržalka Stories (2008), while her work with Marold Langer-Philippsen resulted in the production Novelty Poverty (2006). Their collaboration then continued in Fornayová’s dance projects in which Ján Šimko acted as the dramaturge.
Petra Fornayová’s devised productions were presented at such festivals as Prague Dance; Divadelná Nitra; MediaWave, Györ; JamaisVu!, Paris; Ars Cameralis, Katowice; Festival d’Otoňo Madrid; Festival Ogledalizacija, Novi Sad; International Festival of Contemporary Dance, Kishinev; ConfiDance Festival, Sienna; i-camp neues theatre; and Tanztendenz in Munich, among others. She participated in many projects in Slovakia and abroad (France, Germany, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Austria), including international projects and co-productions, worked with numerous directors and choreographers (for example, Mary Fulkerson, Claire Heggen, Mathew Hawkins, Alysson Green, Marold Langer-Philippsen, Fritz Vogel, Norbert Aboudarham, Rastislav Ballek, Alena Lelková, Svetozár Sprušanský, Martha Renzi, Bill Young, Tina Mantel, and many others).
In her devised work, she has collaborated with prominent Slovak musicians and composers of various generations: Peter Machajdík, Marek Piaček, Boris Lenko, Milan Adamčiak, Martin Burlas, Daniel Matej, Peter Groll, Lucia Chuťková, Fero Király, Ivan Šiller, among others.
In recent years, she has participated in projects of the interdisciplinary art group Cluster Ensemble, such as Dance with Changing Parts (2015), Bon Jour Monogramista T.D. (2016), Six Pianos (2016), and PATTERNS (2019). She has actively developed her cooperation with the Alta Studio in Prague, and occasionally helps make the programme selection of the HYBAJ HO! festival in Prague.
Fornayová is an editor of the Vlna / urban weaving mag journal and has published in other art periodicals, e.g., Salto, Dance, or kød. She is actively involved in the dramaturgy of the multi-genre project Vlna Live.
Fornayová was cast in the awarded film Nina directed by Juraj Lehotský, where she played one of the leading roles, as well as in Mira Fornay’s movie Cook, F**k, Kill. She worked as a pedagogue at the Faculty of Education, Comenius University in Bratislava, and at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava. She regularly teaches as part of the educational programme of the SE.S.TA Centre for Choreographic development in Žďár nad Sázavou.
In her work, Petra Fornayová continuously probes the social environment; she chooses her themes not according to their (yearly) trendiness and attractiveness, but draws them from her personal, engaged interest in the political and social context, as well as from their impact on personal lives and the quality of human existence. She critically analyses and, in turn, accurately names the symptoms of the present, confronting them with cultural values, without having to make compromises in the content. Fornayová treats the realities of the stage by minimizing the stylization of speech and demystifying the theatrical narrative, without showy shouting. She expresses her artistic and personal stance in a straightforward manner, with a boldness that simplifies the customary socially accepted half-truths, lies and conspiracies. She artistically integrates her views into a compact logical and causal axis of facts and arguments.
The production entitled Deep Damage to Epidermis was made for the 2006 Divadelná Nitra festival and premiered on 1 December 2006 as part of the first Nu Dance Fest. In a witty and provocative dance-theatre solo, Fornayová confronts the senseless external pressure, the generalized optimization of lifestyle and performance, and the imposed norms of an ideal template of how our bodies look and function. The author has based the text on popular motivational recommendations and advertising and marketing theses about trends in the perception of one’s own body, particularly related to the notion of female beauty. She hyperbolized them by incorporating them into a banal monologue of a woman who, in commenting on exemplary care of her appearance, reveals to the audience the absurdity of perceiving the body as an icon on the one hand, and as completely ignorant of the physical reality of the body on the other. Fornayová ironizes the way of thinking that is exclusively focused on other people’s bodies – for example, with models and newly invented measurements, as if the perception of one’s own body was completely absent.
The introductory dance image in Deep Damage to Epidermis showed a naked figure dimly lit in a counter spotlight that moved across the entire stage. It offered the spectators the non-stylized beauty of the human body, the elegance and dynamics of movement, the secret of intimacy. The naked figure disappears into the darkness in the end, only to return to the scene, this time as a woman spiritedly explaining and defending the banal notion of why she does not need compression panties. In this second – dramatic – part of the production, the character of the afflicted woman pulls one bottle of cream after another out of her cosmetic case in an attempt to preserve her youth, to beautify herself into an ideal form, swallowing vitamins and trace elements, following the advice to fine-tune her performance, stamina, weight, and psychological balance. Musical composer Peter Machajdík has chosen a sensitively set sound composition that pulsates with biological rhythm and finds a dynamic expression in minimalist melodic structures.
Lighting designers Slavomír Šmálik and Peter Groll created an atmosphere to underscore both the movement and text. The dancing naked body is submerged in warm depths of shadows and through-lights, while the text is inserted in the revealing cold light of the stage lighting. The theme- and content-related contrasts blended in the darkness, creating a link between what is seen and what is heard.
The text of Deep Damage to Epidermis was published in the kød and in translation in the Slovenian journal Apokalypsa. Under the direction of Ján Šimko, the Slovak Radio broadcast the premiere of the production’s radio adaptation in 2012. In this version, Fornayová’s partner in the dialogues was Ľubomír Bukový.
In her work, Fornayová often raises the question of the position of art and the artist in society. She deals with the equalisation of culture and its importance for the establishment of a positive quality of life from an anthropological perspective. In the performance Opernball, these themes became the basic starting point of the work’s concept (the premiere was on 12 February 2016). In Opernball, Fornayová has created a metaphor for the closed system of a seemingly functional society that professes a certain strange hierarchy and distorted values. In her production, she openly criticizes the general application of the neoliberal approach. Its devastating impact on culture and artistic creation, which forces artists to decide whether to create art outside the system or, on the contrary, work within the system offered by a given society. The fear of being excluded from a system of permanent and systematic support becomes an existential question. Creation thus comes into conflict with the provision of the basic necessities of life. Ultimately, the director searches for the meaning of creation in today’s socio-economic situation. In the production, Fornayová asks the question whether this society needs art or whether art only means entertainment. She questions the “cultural” elitism based on snobbish commercial constructs. On the stage, the dance performers (Péter Cseri, Soňa Ferienčíková, Petra Fornayová, Monika Haasová) are confronted with lifeless mannerisms and with beauty criteria applied at so-called grand events. Peter Šulej ingeniously set the dramaturgy of this production to rely on alternations of dance, acting, musical performances, and video projection (Adam Hanuljak and Jakub Pišek), and on the smooth escalation of the contrast between the absurdity of formal dilettantism and authentic creation. Fornayová used texts from the collections of contemporary Slovak authors Michal Habaj (Caput Mortuum), Peter Macsovszky (Santa Panica), and Peter Šulej (Nodes). Martin Burlas composed a parody composition Sweet Paradise for the production, in which he distorts the small-town, satisfyingly banal comfort of the text in sounds, playing with it to the maximum limits of nonsense. Richard Imrich rounded off the production with his expressive guitar solo. Image, word, sound, and movement loyally collaborate to tell the story of Opernball.
Petra Fornayová’s devised production The Manifesto of Possibilities premiered on the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, on 17 November 2019 in A4 – Space for Contemporary Culture as part of the 2019 Vlna Live festival. The production is a collection of strong, personal stories, as well as “little” tragic events whose absurdity is symptomatic for post-1989 Slovakia.
Petra Šulej’s dramaturgy contributed to the gradation building as well. The focused maintenance of the logical line of the associatively and contextually richly layered theme was also possible thanks to the coherent movement present in the individual elements of the production. Whether it was the cyclical musical structure, the endurance run, the fragmented dance movement, the authentically told story, the continuous flow of video projection of contemporary texts, photographs, recordings and summaries of events, or the sound of the falling and rolling balls.
The casting was generationally diverse as there were three women of a dignified age (Soňa Macejáková, Jana Machútová, Libuša Puškárová) and three representatives of the young generation (Silvia Sviteková, Anna Čonková, Soňa Kúdeľová). This combination helped created temporal interconnections between their testimonies. The production The Manifesto of Possibilities shifts the perception of the production text from philosophical, social, and economic meditations by means of real-life stories (which are unbelievable thanks to the absurdity of the context of the time period) and by exaggerating the used citations. The director astutely separated the parts in which the mechanical, fragmented movement of the dancers metamorphosed into compact solo performances from the context of the artistic documentary.
The precise naming and classification of facts, assumptions and wishes gave a theatrical charge to everyday reality, drawing attention to the subtlety of demagoguery and conspiracy. In an atmosphere of reminiscent optimism and idealism, Fornayová unmasked the subtle forms of the growing pressure of constraints, based on immoral power ambitions, and their devastating intrusion into the lives of ordinary people. Ordinary in the sense of inclusion in the social system and exceptional in their talents and human qualities.
The authenticity of artistic expression, the complexity of the treatment of themes, as well as their engaged placement in contemporary social reality, are typical of Petra Fornayová’s artistic work. Her kind-hearted detachment and fresh humour help create fascinating and surprising connotations in her intellectual analytical observations. In her progressive creative insight, Fornayová precisely tunes her intermedial perception of the theatrical space with respect to the themes she wants to address. Form is as important to her as content and action, and she juxtaposes them during the action. The tangents in her work carry meaning and aid in the creation of the dramatic plot.
- 1998 – continuous creation of concepts for various site-specific projects, works of physical theatre, improvised productions outside of repertory lists
- 1999 – Magnolias, Contemporary Dance Association, directed by: Petra Fornayová. Premiere: Aréna Theatre, Bratislava
- 2000 – Half-moon Bear, Contemporary Dance Association, conceived, choreographed, and directed by: Petra Fornayová. Premiere: Aréna Theatre, Bratislava
- 2000 – Memories of the Synagogue, Contemporary Dance Association, conceived, choreographed, and directed by: Petra Fornayová. Premiere: Synagogue, Liptovský Mikuláš
- 2000 – 120 M3, Contemporary Dance Association, conceived and choreographed by: Anna Caunerová, Petra Fornayová, Daniel Raček. Premiere: Aréna Theatre, Bratislava
- 2000 – Joseph Haydn, The Creation, Stift Melk, directed by: Marianna Čunderlíková, conceived by: Petra Fornayová. Premiere: Stift Melk Monastery, Austria
- 2001 – In a Minor Key, Contemporary Dance Association, choreography: Petra Fornayová, Peter Groll. Premiere: Aréna Theatre (as part of the Dance in Arena project), Bratislava
- 2002 – The Collector, Andrej Bagar Theatre, directed by: Svetozár Sprušanský, choreography: Petra Fornayová. Premiere: Andrej Bagar Theatre, Nitra
- 2002 – Wrong Side Up, Andrej Bagar Theatre, directed by: Svetozár Sprušanský, movement collaboration: Petra Fornayová. Premiere: Andrej Bagar Theatre, Nitra
- 2002 – Renaissance Celebration, MA Project, directed by: Marianna Čunderlíková, conceived by: Petra Fornayová. Premiere: Schallaburg, Austria
- 2003 – The Things We Know, Contemporary Dance Association, conceived and choreographed by: Petra Fornayová. Premiere: Theatrium, Heineken Tower Stage, Bratislava
- 2003 – Kirin, Contemporary Dance Association, choreographed and directed by: Petra Fornayová, conceived by: Peter Machajdík. Premiere: Heineken Tower Stage, Bratislava
- 2003 – Meeting After a Long Time at 13:55, directed by: Petra Fornayová, choreography: Petra Fornayová, Daniel Raček a Monika Čertezni. Premiere: Theatrium, Heineken Tower Stage, Bratislava
- 2003 – Line, Centreville Dance Academy (CDA), conceived by: Petra Fornayová. Premiere: Summer Dance School of CDA, Centreville, USA
- 2006 – Deep Damage to Epidermis, Contemporary Dance Association, Divadelná Nitra, libretto, choreography, and directed by: Petra Fornayová. Premiere: A4 – Space for Contemporary Culture, Bratislava
- 2007 – Healing Heating, Contemporary Dance Association, authors: Petra Fornayová, Boris Lenko, Peter Machajdík. Premiere: A4 – Space for Contemporary Culture, Bratislava
- 2008 – StageCross_Networking Local, Contemporary Dance Association, conceived by: Petra Fornayová, authors: Petra Fornayová, Lucia Kašiarová, Zdenka Brungot Sviteková, Ján Gonščák. Premiere: site-specific project, Bratislava
- 2008 – Angel 2, Contemporary Dance Association, conceived, choreographed, and directed by: Petra Fornayová. Premiere: A4 – Space for Contemporary Culture, Bratislava
- 2009 – Who’s Annik?, Contemporary Dance Association, nanohach.cz, choreographed and directed by: Petra Fornayová, Premiere: Ponec Theatre, Praha
- 2009 – Marta Fertacz: Trashstory, Contemporary Dance Association, directed by: Petra Fornayová. Premiere: A4 – Space for Contemporary Culture, Bratislava
- 2010 – Jana Bodnárová: The Girl from the Bottom of the Sea, Contemporary Dance Association, directed by: Petra Fornayová. Premiere: Studio 12, Bratislava
- 2010 – DiamonDance, Contemporary Dance Association, conceived and directed by: Petra Fornayová, (choreography based on the graphic score by Milan Adamčiak). Premiere: A4 – Space for Contemporary Culture, Bratislava
- 2012 – All That I Like, Contemporary Dance Association, conceived, choreographed, and directed by: Petra Fornayová. Premiere: Garden – Centre for Independent Culture, Banská Bystrica
- 2014 – Research Objects, Contemporary Dance Association, choreographed and directed by: Petra Fornayová. Premiere: A4 – Space for Contemporary Culture, Bratislava
- 2015 – Strategien gegen Choreographieren, Contemporary Dance Association, conceived and directed by: Petra Fornayová (site-specific production as part of Peter Šulej’s curatorial project Showcases). Premiere: Bratislava
- 2015 – Dance_Music with Changing Parts, Contemporary Dance Association, Cluster ensemble, choreography: Petra Fornayová. Premiere: A4 – Space for Contemporary Culture, Bratislava
- 2016 – Opernball, Contemporary Dance Association, conceived, choreographed, and directed by: Petra Fornayová. Premiere: A4 – Space for Contemporary Culture, Bratislava
- 2016 – Get off_Get On – site-specific, Platform 1-12, conceived, choreographed, and directed by: Petra Fornayová, Premiere: Platform 1-12, Topoľčany
- 2017 – The Future Game, Contemporary Dance Association, choreographed and directed by: Petra Fornayová. Premiere: A4 – Space for Contemporary Culture, Bratislava
- 2017 – Six Pianos – Cluster ensemble, choreographed and directed by: Petra Fornayová. Premiere: Big Concert Hall of the Slovak Radio, Bratislava
- 2017 – Rafael Spregelburd: Extravagance, Contemporary Dance Association, choreographed and directed by: Petra Fornayová. Premiere: A4 – Space for Contemporary Culture, Bratislava
- 2018 – End End, Contemporary Dance Association, choreographed and directed by: Petra Fornayová. Premiere: A4 – Space for Contemporary Culture, Bratislava
- 2019 – The Bacchae, Slovak National Theatre, directed by: Rastislav Ballek, movement collaboration: Petra Fornayová. Premiere: Slovak National Theatre, Bratislava
- 2019 – Keep This Letter, SE.S.TA Centre for Choreographic Development, site-specific project, conceived and directed by: Petra Fornayová. Premiere: Prague Quadriennale 2019
- 2019 – Patterns, Cluster Ensemble, conceived and directed by: Petra Fornayová, Fero Király, Ivan Šiller, choreography: Petra Fornayová. Premiere: Opera Nova festival, New Stage of the National Theatre in Prague
- 2019 – The Manifesto of Possibilities, Contemporary Dance Association, choreographed and directed by: Petra Fornayová. Premiere: A4 – Space for Contemporary Culture, Bratislava
- 2020 – Ivan Vyrypaev, Being No. 2, Príchod Godota o. z., directed by: Petra Fornayová. Premiere: Studio 12, Bratislava
- 2020 – E-CHO, online choreography project, Contemporary Dance Association, conceived by: Petra Fornayová. Premiere: A4 – Space for Contemporary Culture, Bratislava
- 2020 – The Grass is Green, Divadelná Nitra Association, CEP BeSpectACTive! Project, conceived and directed by: Petra Fornayová. Premiere: Párovské Háje House of Culture