Budapest Journal Continued

Pál Frenák, one of the week's main attractions, also tackled gender. Frenák, who works most of the time in France, has, I was told, slightly disappointed his home-country fans with his last few works, but they welcomed this new one with cheers. Part of a projected triptych, Fiuk (The Hidden Men) features the males in his company (the second part will be for the women, and the sexes will meet in the third). The most theatrically vivid and resonant part of the dance involved Miguel Ortega, Attila Gergely, Rolando Rocha, André Mandarino, and three fat ropes that hung from the ceiling of Trafó (in Pest). The ropes generated glimpses of idiosyncratic behavior or demonstrations of personality. It mattered that one man tended to clamber up and down, another to twist himself in his rope as if it were the coils of a snake, another to run and swing. Once three of them collaborated to twine the ropes in a deranged maypole, and the fourth writhed above its twisted center. Sexuality could be as simple as humping ropes in unison and lying on the floor in the dark, grunting in orgasm; or as stridently ambiguous as crawling naked on hands and knees, while electronic baa-ing popped into Fabrice Planquette and Attila Gergely’s score, and then invitingly turning their butts, the cracks x-ed out with tape, toward us.

The muscle man poses; the locker-room yells and waving of arms by men framed in a lit doorway as a straggler headed toward them; the stream of brutal language spat out at the end by a guy who'd been curled in a big white saucer—all these expressed male aggressiveness in clichés that seemed more agreeably self-mocking than the scenes in which Frenák gingerly investigated men’s more feminine side. Here was the messy application of lipstick that recalled Pina Bausch; the man who temporarily donned a tutu with only one shoulder strap in place and looked at a loss; the man in a long, tight, white dress and boots who sidestepped, staring fixedly at us. As is sometimes true in a collage structure, the pieces—some of them fascinating—stuck together but didn’t always strike sparks off one another.

I have a feeling that some of the young spectators who adored Frenák's work wouldn't have been so enthusiastic about Gerzson Péter Kovács's Pictographs, although the audience in Buda's intimate Mu Theatre was vociferous in its applause. What Kovács created was a dance about—guess what?—dancing. It was also about a human soul. On a dimly lit stage, almost in silhouette, a middle-aged man in black with an impressive mustache watched, while four musicians (two violinists—one the composer, Ferenc Kovács—a violist, and a bass player) began to spool out slow, slightly eerie, gypsyish music (unnecessarily miked, alas). As if trying to recall a vanishing tradition, G. Kovács began to move—more or less in place—drawing himself up, taking a step (were his eyes shut?). As the music grew in volume and intensity, he began to swivel his feet, to whip one leg around the other, to summon up small heel clicks. The tension was palpable—as if some imprisoned memory of Magyar folk dance were trying to break out through his body. Authentic steps emerged only fitfully, sometimes wild or distorted: a sudden squat, a slap of the leg, a hitch kick, the proud lift of a torso. This dance was also about the musicians. They marched around him, closed in on him, jammed with him quite jazzily, egged him on. Pictographs had the aura of an ordeal, a mission to dredge ancient dance steps out of the shadows and onto a modern body. It was the only time all week that I walked out into the night with a spring in my step.

I should mention that the second edition of the Criticism Initiative: Improving the Quality of Dance Criticism in East/Central Europe was held at Trafó in Budapest (the first edition took place in New York City in 2001). The program—with sessions led by Kate Mattingly from New York, Nina Vangeli from Prague, Tamás Halász from Budapest, and me—was organized by the Workshop Foundation in Hungary (Gergely Talló, director, and Gabor Pinter, his assistant) and supported by both the Foundation and Dance Theater Workshop's Suitcase Fund).

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