Next week, the world-class Gyor National Ballet from Hungary will return to The Joyce (they performed Purim in 2002 to great critical acclaim) with an exciting, all-Stravinsky program featuring Petrushka and The Rite of Spring. Both pieces are re-envisioned (by choreographers Dmitrij Simkin and James Sutherland, and Attila Kun respectively) on the occasion of the 20 year anniversary of the fall of communism (the performance is part of the Performing Revolution Festival, organized by the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts).
The company’s programming choices and collaboration with international choreographers (such as the Russian/German Simkin) is part of Gyor’s mandate under the artistic directorship of Janos Kiss. Company Director since 1991, Kiss focuses on “keep[ing] traditional dance theater elements and the high artistic and professional standard,” while adopting “a wider scope of themes and styles, using a more varied range of artists, composers and authors as well as world-famous choreographers and stage designers.” Such vision, essential for the dancers’ growth as they get exposed to a variety of styles from an international culture, has been embraced by audiences in Hungary and worldwide. Janos Kiss attests:
“The Gyor National Ballet […] always reaches out to new ideas and more often than not offer[s] a chance to young choreographers to test their talent on the very talented and technically capable dancers of the Ballet. The choreographic choices are well received as the frequent tours and invitation in Western Europe demonstrate. The Ballet reaches to younger audiences, and this is assured by the excellent school that the Gyor National Ballet subsidizes and supports. It may be said that there is a constantly growing young audience for the Gyor National Ballet in Hungary”.
The choice to perform Petrushka and Rite of Spring for the 20 year anniversary draws on the works’ themes, which explore the relationship between the individual and the collective. While Janos Kiss believes that “it is impossible to express in dance historical occurrence and happenings on a chronological level meaningfully,” he sees the works as intellectually challenging insofar as they “explore those inner feelings, which may be part of the complex themes of oppression, personal sacrifice and the relation of society to the individual.” In this context, the classic works are reinterpreted from new perspectives. The character of Petrushka, for example, is conceived anew, not as a puppet but as “an individual who refuses to give up his individual freedom” while it is the rest of the characters, led by The Sorcerer (or, in this case, Commissar) who act as puppets, manipulated by a totalitarian regime. Simkin describes his intentions:
“in my choreography I would like to show the antagonism between the Sorcerer and Petrushka, in the milieu of the 1930 time period in the Soviet Union, which made possible tragic, and almost theatrical exaggerations in every day life. In these times “Happy Totalitarianism” prevailed, the “Big Chief” and the “tiny wheels of the system,” the small individuals, were well differentiated from each other. I present here not dolls with human feelings [and the drama which is based on this phenomena], like in Fokine’s work, but humans who act like puppets in a society where misleading the masses and brainwashing controls [people]. […] It interested me how I can approach this topic, which is usually coupled with tragic circumstances and physical sufferings, in a satirical manner”.
It is on this level, of a shared, common humanity despite different experiences and backgrounds, despite cultural or linguistic barriers, that Janos Kiss believes that the audiences will identify with the performances: “the basic human emotions are the same everywhere in the world. Love, fear, terror, sympathy, hatred, etc, are basic feelings, which know no language barriers and dance is an excellent medium to represent and communicate these emotions”.
The Gyor National Ballet from Hungary performs at The Joyce Theater Jan 26-31.