Gábor Arion Kudász | Workout - a fine sense of patriotism


In the stadium thousands of leotards move in unison to form a rose, a heart, a falcon, a flag. Boys lift girls in the air, they hold hands or embrace one another executing whatever the choreography demands. Their overheated cheeks are not visible from the bleachers. Signs and motifs alternate with slogans of dubious ideologies and commands yelled over the mobilizing beat. From the distance everything seems dynamic and eternal, young and conservative, global and patriotic, nonsensical and meaningful. This is the 100th anniversary of the forming of Czechoslovakia, on the hottest summer on record in Prague. The Sokol slet is the flocking of falcons.

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Every six years, Prague hosts a mass gymnastics meeting called Sokol Slet, which translates to Swarming of the Falcons. During the event, thousands of participants perform complex choreographed exercises. The tradition of these performances goes back to the tableaus that became popular in Sokol clubs in the 1800s. In addition to exercise, the club network played a role in shaping Czech and Slovak national consciousness within the monarchy as part of the pan-Slavic movement, which was repeatedly banned, and its leaders monitored for its nationalist political overtones. After the Second World War, it was in the now socialist Czechoslovakia that the ideological potential of the movement was most effectively exploited. In the service of internationalism and communist ideals, now under a new name, Spartakiada reached its peak in the late 1960s. 750.000 people practiced in front of nearly 2 million spectators in the Strahov Stadium, the largest sports facility of its time. This interpretation of mass sport - and with it Sokol - has now lost much of its popularity, and the massive ideological base of the dictatorship has vanished from its side.

In July 2018, the Sokol meeting will return to its former ideological starting point; a more human, nationalistic, community-building, and tradition-based celebration. In preparation for the 100th anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia with the Treaty of Trianon, the organizers aim to revive its former grandeur and to seek new motivation to continue. Patriotic symbols, slogans, and significant figures of Slavic history will appear in crowd scenes traditionally favored by extremist political systems and ideologies.

Over a few days in Prague, I photographed nearly a hundred groups and asked them to present an element of their most spectacular practice. They were the cells of the gigantic choreographies, inexpressibly proud of their barely noticeable role in the musical show. Even amid the rigidity of the dramaturgy, the avid visual elements, and the amusing chattering and stomping of the formations, the sports fans' pride was still evident. I was interested in the small communities of youngsters who come together to have fun: who do not yet conform to ideologies, and who define themselves in terms of sports sectors, musical trends, fashion labels, and global teenage subcultures. Their movements intersect with their surroundings, pointing towards geometric shapes and highlighting brightly colored fields. With their arms, they draw figures, which could either be projections of their identity or simply the product of a runaway visual designer's imagination.