By Pawit Mahasarinand
A Hungarian performing arts showcase underscores the health of its independent dance and theatre scene
Organised by Trafo House of Contemporary Arts, the Independent Performing Arts Association and the Hungarian Theatre Critics’ Association, the recent “dunaPart 3: Hungarian Showcase of Contemporary Performing Arts” saw dance and theatre producers, festival directors and curators, critics as well as university students from many countries descending on the Hungarian capital last month.
With afternoons and evenings given over to text-based, movement-based and music theatre performances selected by the curators, the mornings were left free for talks that provided background information as well as for discussions by artists on current issues in contemporary Hungarian dance and theatre. Thanks to the fluency in English and the live translations via personal headsets, language was never a barrier. Works not selected also attracted international guests to the “OFF” programme at nearby venues.
My tight schedule during a short visit allowed for six works. At Juranyi Incubator House, home to many independent groups, I experienced three very different performances. Choreographer Laszlo Fulop worked with dancers Emese Cuhorka and Emil Bordas who interacted through physical movements and spoken words in “Emese and Emil”. In bodylotion co-dance’s “StepInTime”, Virag Arany and Julia Hadi, the two dancers and choreographers who make up the troupe, kept their hands intertwined throughout their 45-minute performance. And in GroundFloor Group’s “Parallel”, the stage was divided in half as two female performers Lucia Marneanu and Kata Bodoki-Halmen put on men’s clothes and discussed gender stereotypes.
At Artus Studio, Kompania Theatre Studio, which recently worked with Silpathorn artist Janaprakal Chandruang and his Moradok Mai troupe, staged Forgotten Song”, a music theatre performance created with a variety of objects including flour and origami boats. The result was a feast for the ears, the eyes and the brain.
Highly regarded playwright and director Bela Pinter staged “Our Secrets” an engaging discussion on political oppression and sexual preferences that took the audience back to the 1980s yet was totally applicable to what’s happening now socially and politically in Hungary and elsewhere. With the deft staging and powerful performance by actors and musicians, who also played small dramatic parts, the time flew by and I didn’t feel I was watching a two-hour, no-intermission performance.
Boldly straightforward political theatre was exemplified in Kretakor’s “Loser”, seen at Trafo on the last evening. Internationally acclaimed director and actor Arpad Schilling, who constantly experiments with his theatrical techniques, used different means, among them asking members of the audience to write messages to the government on his naked body, to discuss current political issues with his audience. An interpreter was on hand to ensure that these were comprehensible to international guests.
Many countries are now holding similar contemporary dance and theatre showcases. Most are independently organised but benefit from substantial government support. Some are even called “markets” and as one production is often now is supported by more than one producer in one country, this is more like a meeting where theatres and festivals with similar interests can meet and discuss possible co-operation.
Even though “creative industry” entered the dictionary of our government many years ago, contemporary performing arts are still overlooked in favour of more profitable genres like films and even television.
Bangkok Theatre Festival is the closest to this concept of a showcase and while it is open for any groups and works, the quality of works is not guaranteed. Were we to apply the concept of showcase to the festival, as the British Council has been doing successfully with the Edinburgh Showcase, then we might be able to select the more promising works for international producers and artists to watch in a shorter period than the festival’s two-week span. This is particularly relevant now that their interest in contemporary Thai dance and theatre is increasing, as evidenced by our strong presence in the recent Tokyo Performing Arts Market in Japan and Offene Welt in Germany. None of the productions though benefitted from government support.
But knowing how cultural management is carried out in this country, I know that this is just a dream.
On the web:
Visit www.dunaPart.net for more details.