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Slovak-Hungarian troupe takes on Avignon

The onetime folk ensemble Ifjú Szivék, comprised of ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia, has shifted its repertory towards more modern pieces and recently performed almost almost 30 times at a renowned festival in Avignon, France.

FineTuning, Ifjú Szivék performing in Avingon.(Source: Réka Bartusz)

For the duration of July they danced “Fine Tuning”, a performance that explores issues of domestic violence and gender stereotypes. Every day Ifjú Szivék dancers left for the city to mingle among people and to lure them, under huge competition, to their staging. The show will premiere in Slovakia in September.

The whole theatrical world seems to spend the month of July in Avignon, at the festival that has a tradition spanning decades. That is, the whole world except for Slovakia which did not have a participant until now. Ifjú Szivék’s new project was developed by the ensemble’s long-time choreographer, Dusan Hégli.

Close to the essence

If Ifjú Szivék entered only the accompanying programme of the Avignon festival, maybe it would be enough to present the classical production of Hungarian musical-dance folklore with which this troupe is connected.

However, Hégli perceives dance in a different way and he has grasped the new possibilities of using Hungarian, Slovak and Romanian folk dances in his previous performances. Before travelling to France, he rehearsed “Fine Tuning” with Ifjú Szivék. When elaborating its concept, he considered not only how to gently address the modern festival audience, but also focused on how to use the ensemble’s potential with a good-quality technical background, including live music.

He did it by shifting traditional methods towards contemporary dance, while also staying as close as possible to earthy essence.

Hégli was helped by the issue of domestic violence, which given gender stereotypes often comes with the problem of identity. He decided to look for these themes in movement positions and routines by breaking traditional, closed forms which remain under the spell of ethno-graphic limitations. The result is self-confident and strong.

The performances on Avignon’s Espace Alya stage, taking place every evening, attracted hundreds of visitors of all types who reacted well to the piece. Despite everyday checks, the performers came to realise the reality of the terror attack in Nice, which is only a few dozen kilometres away, only in hindsight – probably due to the relaxed festival atmosphere. The better that they were just acting in a theatre where people could focus on something other than the terror attacks in France.

Ifjú Szivék showed at a European festival that it does not really matter what your name is or where you come from. The intelligent energy they send out among people in a pulsing mass is more important.

The world went mad

The local festival involves people in so-called “thinking” society; it gives instruction on how to succeed in the Euro-pean market and the setting in this mediaeval city, picturesque like Monet’s painting, only adds to its charms. And people in old costumes, thousands of posters give the impression that the world has gone mad – about theatre.

Every minute of the day confirms how the city is flooded with theatre: actors, acrobats, musicians, merge with crowds of visitors in the narrow streets, distributing leaflets and tempting people to attend their performance. There are hundreds of them daily – from morning until late at night, in every possible niche of the city. In this way, this old city in Provence has been living its summers for 70 years. The 1,500 ensembles and theatre groups that perform here throughout July, reach a huge art market. Its comic and dramatic face, circus and serious, classical and experimental ones attract all age categories.

The hallmarked story

From the busy crowds of tourists, it may seem that the whole buzz revolves around the wandering verse-mongers and accordion players, the street circus, music-hall programmes or endless number of fluffed up parodies on commedie dell’arte. This is not bad in itself but what feels disturbing is the strange tension that can be felt also in this city when various classes meet. The more sense it makes, it seems, to come here also with a unique programme. Many excellent artists and performers meet in quality productions, not only on big stages and in trendy pieces, but also in small, intimate works with inventive and contemporary view of what is happening around us.

And while each and every visitor is fought for fervently, the city itself, with its unique hallmark story of once playing host to the papal seat, generates an absorbing atmosphere where you cannot resist theatre.

 

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