Context Notes for CUSTODIANS OF BEAUTY by Melanie George

Written by Melanie George, Resident Scholar, American Dance Institute as a pre-show speech at the American Dance Institute in November 2015. Used with permission.

The work of Pavel Zuštiak and Palissimo contains multitudes. Perhaps because he entered artistic practice through film and television, his work is multisensory poetry. Our senses are sparked by movement, imagery, light, sound, and texture maintaining equal footing in process and presentation. The work is poetic in the way he conceives of his artistic concerns, and in the way others write about his work.

Critic Brian Siebert observes that a “vivid, often anguished imagination shines through.[1]

Claudia La Rocco states, “There is scant middle ground in Pavel Zuštiak’s work. Violence and desire, fear and rapture, pain and giddiness — he traffics in extremes, often slammed against one another in uncomfortably close quarters.”[2]

Never movement for movement’s sake, there is always purpose. More than dancing with intent, it is theme and intention by way of dancing. In watching the work, I am left with an impression of living, breathing bodies immersed in each moment. The performers are not portraying, they are being. In the world of Palissimo, both dancer and choreographer commit to plumbing the depths and the extremes of existence. I should note, the world of Palissimo is our world. Sometimes in dance, we endeavor to present beauty as that which is separate from daily life – flawless, pristine, super human. Palissimo’s work, however, is the most humane dancing. So while it may be theatrical, it does not engage in manufactured etherealism. It is passionate and sensitive to being alive in a world, which can be, at times, terribly beautiful, beautifully terrifying; constantly shifting; equal parts dark and light.

The title of tonight’s world premiere, Custodians of Beauty, is taken from a 2009 speech by Pope Benedict given at the Sistine Chapel to a group of artists from multiple disciplines. In that speech he says

This world in which we live needs beauty in order not to sink into despair. Beauty, like truth, brings joy to the human heart, and is that precious fruit which resists the erosion of time, which unites generations and enables them to be one in admiration. And all this through the work of your hands… Remember that you are the custodians of beauty in the world.[3]

For Zuštiak, this was a bold, yet vulnerable statement. Beauty is not untouched by danger, strife, and the mundane. This is not beauty as object or product, but, as Zuštiak says, “beauty that is all around us, that we may not notice.[4]

Custodians of Beauty is a non-narrative work. Centered on perception and change, you will notice the establishment of form and shape, only to have it morph or repositioned. The recurring, sinuous shifting of these moving paintings over time begins to feel seductive and, at times, profound. Lighting design by Joe Levasseur, and a musical score by Christian Frederickson contribute to an overall impression of the performers living the piece, rather than manufacturing action for the stage. In featuring transitions and change, the incidental becomes the event. Each moment, before and after an event, is an event unto itself. Each moment is a moment worth experiencing.

Palissimo does not seek or cultivate a passive audience. Audience perspective is paramount in the presentation of the work. Our responses are improvisational moments generated from prompts within the piece. We are all players on the Palissimo stage. So much so that I find myself wondering if, in fact, there is a true audience. The work does not seek to entertain in a traditional sense. It challenges us to be fully present and committed to our experience. In discussing his aesthetics, Zuštiak employed the term “bespoke dancing” – that is to say, dances which are open to an audience’s experience changing the pace of the dance.[5] In turn, he asks that we trust our reactions and the vulnerability inherent to bearing witness to the piece. That we stay connected to our feelings, however uncomfortable or unfamiliar they may become. That we allow ourselves to move and be moved by beauty.


[1] N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2015. <>.

[2] Ibid

[3] “ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI.” Meeting with Artists. Italy, Vatican City. 21 Nov. 2009. The Holy See. Web. 20 Nov. 2015. <>.

[4] “Interview with Pavel Zuštiak.” Personal interview. 17 Nov. 2015.

[5] Ibid.

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