The young women in Rita Góbi’s Snapdragons. Photo: Gábor Dusa

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Pal Frenák: W_all / Rita Góbi: Snapdragons

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The young women in Rita Góbi’s Snapdragons. Photo © Gábor Dusa
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Within a couple of days, Budapest’s dance enthusiasts were treated with new productions of two choreographers with very distinct styles. To those who know their creators, both performances delivered exactly what they would have expected. Whether that’s a good thing is probably up to each audience member to decide.

‘When I get involved in something, it shows,’ says Pál Frenák in a report about the rehearsals of his company’s new show, W_all. Indeed: although it was long advertised that Frenák will give full scope to his dancers and only serve as their mentor during the creation process, the show is not much different from his classic pieces. By now, 61-year old Frenák has his own fanbase – no small achievement in the world of contemporary dance. Fans expect some artists (writers, musicians, choreographers) to always reinvent themselves, while others they ‘only’ expect to deliver the well-known and well-loved. Of course it depends more on the artist than on the fans: some of them are keen to explore new ways of expression from time to time, while others cling to their signature style. Whether the reason for the latter is lack of inspiration or whether these creators just do what they can do best, I guess is up for discussion in each case.


Pal Frenák’s W_all,
Difference has always been normal in Frenák’s world (Pal Frenák’s W_all). Photo © Gergely Dobos

Once-radical Frenák has spared his audience big surprises for a while now, and W_all is no exception. Although the 11 performers come with very different backgrounds and abilities, and the list of inspirations on the show’s bill is long and diverse, it looks much like anything Frenák has done in the past few years. As in many of his shows, the scenery is defined by gigantic objects: this time it’s gym-class mattresses that can serve as walls as well. The dancers’ outfits are typical for the company too: underwear, black suit-jackets, kneepads and stilettos. Some scenes – dancers jumping on the mattresses, almost flying above each other; acrobatic duets and trios with vehement physicality that verge on violence – could have been borrowed from any of his recent works.

As for the context behind the form, the company wanted to talk about ‘diversity seen as difference, individuality seen as degeneration’ and question the limits of art and everyday life. But Frenák has built his whole career on being different and unique, and has often worked with dancers with extreme or at least unusual physicalities. If we were shocked (and were we at all?) by a man in a red leotard and pointe shoes dancing to Saint-Saëns’ The Dying Swan, by a deaf girl singing or a performer in a wheelchair, that wouldn’t be at one of this company’s shows. Difference has always been normal in Frenák’s world, and this time he doesn’t even do much more than show up these unusual characters, without giving them context or thought, which makes it hard to reflect on them.

Still – most walls have breaches that let some rays of light through; and just like that, W_all has its own rays of light. It’s easy to be amazed by Milán Maurer’s incredibly loose joints or his artistic swimming on the floor and through the air (a reference to Philippe Lioret’s movie, Welcome); to become uncomfortable during a duet, in which Emma Lőrincz, throwing her stilettoed feet easily to her head, is clearly an abused woman, yet never seems weak or lost; and be puzzled by Fanni Esterházy’s maniac and robotic solo. The scene where amputee Tamás Kónya floats in, strapped up in the height of his missing legs, and slow-dances with Emília Polgár, has provoked mixed audience reactions – to me it was just touching. These bits and pieces let the performers’ individuality shine through – but paradoxically they are mostly shadowed by the company leader’s unmistakable touch.


Tátikák/Snapdragons by Rita Góbi

Rita Góbi’s Volitant, premiered in 2017 and selected as part of that year’s AerowavesTwenty, was the masterpiece of a long-experimented and crystallised movement language. Of course, Góbi is at a much earlier stage in her career than Frenák, but Volitant is still a very important station on her artistic road; it’s exciting to see where she goes next. Her newest piece, Snapdragons, shows that for now, she still lingers at this station. It has a lot in common with Volitant, involuntarily making the latter into a reference point as well. But there are differences too, of which the biggest is that this time Góbi choreographed for other people rather than for herself. The six female dancers are all very young, emerging performers, and the show feels a bit like a demonstration of Góbi’s teaching method and artistic style, or a first step towards building a company.

After the bird-like creature of Volitant, Góbi once again let herself be inspired by nature, this time choosing flowers as her ‘protagonists’. She works with the same collaborators as well: lighting designer Pavla Beranová conjures coloured shadows for the snapdragon-girls on the back wall, recalling both a beautiful summer field and an art installation. Dávid Szegő once again creates more a vibrant soundscape than music, consisting of curious, unidentified noises. Similarly, dance is not really dance either, but then why would it be: what we see is not humans expressing emotions through dancing, but the instinctive movements of natural beings. Góbi’s language is quite made for that: repetitive, almost involuntary gestures (like repeatedly sticking out tongues), angular forms, micro-movements and the isolation of even the smallest body parts have become her trademarks now. In some of the postures that the performers take up, we don’t even recognise the human body any more. Every body part is equally important and even the smallest gesture (like the rolling of eyes) is planned, which evokes ancient Oriental dance styles as well.

Although there are six people on stage, they don’t really dance with each other – yet there is a kind of natural force that keeps the whole composition together. Just as in nature, the snapdragon-girls go through a slow unfolding that progressively turns into wild and boisterous blooming. This, according to the choreographer’s concept, is what connects them with human nature as well: just like snapdragons, people tend to sometimes open then close up, shine then wilt. Wouldn’t it be great to preserve some of that playfulness that these flower-girls bring to the stage as well? Apart from a few uncertainties, the young dancers deliver Góbi’s rigorous choreography precisely, practised to perfection. Although Góbi is a unique and charismatic performer, this piece shows that her movement language works without her on stage as well. And still I find myself wondering about that next station of her career. 


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W_all: Trafó House of Contemporary Arts, Budapest, Hungary. Snapdragons: Bethlen Theatre, Budapest, Hungary.
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W_all
Dancers: Anibal dos Santos, Fanni Esterházy, Jarrett Benjamin, Zoltán Deák (Studio M), Tamás Kónya, Emma Lőrincz, Eoin MacDonncha, Milán Maurer, Tímea Mázló, Emilia Polgár (M Studio, Latasha Pugh (DJ Mahogany), László Szekrényes) Studio)
Choreographers: Péter Agárdi, Anibal dos Santos, Benjamin Jarrett, Eoin MacDonncha, Mi_MA
Director: Pál Frenák
Director: Fanni Esterházy
Music: Gryllus Ábris – Miklós Farkas
Alpine Technology, Stage: György Zoltai
Light: János Marton
Voice: Attila Hajas

Snapdragons
Choreography: Rita Góbi
Dancers: Rebeka Anna Frank (OKJ student at Nemes Nagy Ágnes Művészeti Szakgimnázium), Viktória Jambrovics, Flóra Lévay, Zsófia Sinthavong, Ildikó Szeles, Viktória Takács Sz.
Music: Dávid Szegő
Lighting design: Pavla Beranová (CZ), József Pető
Costume design: Marie Gourdain (FR)
Choreographic assistant: Zsófia Sinthavong
Production assistant: Liliána Maros
Creative producer: Ágnes Bakk
Supported by: Ministry of Human Resources, National Cultural Fund, Workshop Foundation, SÍN Cultural Centre, MOHA – Mozdulatművészetek Háza /Orkesztika Alapítvány, gaborgobi.com.
Coproduction partner: National Dance Theatre Budapest, Hungary

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