A life of art, the art of life

One cannot fail to make note of ballerina Henriett Tunyogi's striking beauty, but the lighting is but the crown of her appearance on stage. She possesses a fare rare quality. The harmony radiating from within her has such force, even in the course of a short conversation, that her graceful figure and warm countenance come to seem a mere added treat.

A beautiful and successful woman. What do these concepts mean to you?

I hope it does not sound immodest on my part if I say that I have always been held to be pretty. In 2006 I even won a beauty contest in England and became Miss Herbal Princess of the U.K. They prized both inner and outer beauty, and femininity. But to me this is more interesting than important. In truth I feel beautiful when I am in harmony with myself.

So there are moments when your beauty is not obvious or self-evident to you?

Certainly, sometimes I am not eager to face my reflection in the mirror. Beauty after all is surely a sort of radiance and state of mind that even a less strikingly beautiful person can nevertheless conjure forth. I would be lying, of course, if I were to say that outward appearances are completely meaningless, I do what I can to keep myself in shape. Physically it is important that I am able to get enough sleep and that I eat healthily. By that I mean that I eat foods that even in small quantities give plenty of valuable energy. Grains, fruits, and vegetables are such foods, though sometimes I crave poultry and fish. I am conscientious and deliberate in this regard, I know where to find the organic food stores in almost all the places where I perform. It's interesting, for me success, like beauty, is a term that bears two meanings. There are inner successes that I achieve as a person and highpoints that are visible to the outer world. I consider it an inner success when I am able to appear before others as I would expect from myself. If I respond to others sensitively and openly or if I remain master of myself in difficult circumstances I think of this as a significant achievement. Outer successes are visible and self-evident, one needn't explain prizes, good reviews, and other signs of recognition. As the latter are far more spectacular, it is important that we not forget to keep both in balance.

One must work a great deal to achieve success, whether inner or outer.

Yes, and people often forget that. It's easy for her... - they say, but they don't see the everyday work, the perseverance, and the forbearance. Of course I am glad to work hard to achieve success, but it is not always pleasant to give up summer holidays or to spend ten hours in the ballet room on December 24th. I wouldn't call it sacrifice, but it's certain that I do not have what is called a normal pace of life like those in other fields of endeavor. It is precisely for this reason that it is indispensable that I have an unwavering inner compass needle that ensures that I continue in the right direction. One mustn't simply surrender oneself to spectacular outcomes, indeed I don't consider success understood in the worldly sense to be the most valuable. We all know people who seem to be at the top, yet who live unhappy, miserable lives. It is not first and foremost the summit that interests me, but rather the path.

Do you have any sort of faith that helps you along this path?

I am not religious in connection with the Church. It's simply that people interest me, myself among them. I seek the answers to my questions: who am I, why am I here, why is this my career? The inner journey excites me, where I am coming from and where I may yet arrive. I like challenges and unusual situations because these always reveal where I am in my journey. I am particularly curious to see what profound dimensions I can experience. This is a great adventure for which one needs courage and wisdom in order to be able to react to the situations life offers us. The inner journey adds a great deal to my profession as well. Many people ask how long I will be able to pursue the art of dance with this intensity, with little sleep and a great deal of travel and stress. I always reply that as I do this with pleasure I derive great energy from it. If I enjoy and appreciate the moment, I do not grow weary.

One can see in your art that you do not wish simply to show something on the surface, but that the performance has profound meaning.

In truth I think that one cannot lie about this. A lie does not survive on stage, one can see immediately what sort of person the performer who steps out is. Fortunately these days I am primarily working on performances that are composed for me or for which I myself do the choreography. It sometimes takes me a bit by surprise to see what sorts of characters other people see in me, but I am always pleased if I can discover a new me. For quite some time I was a lyrical ballerina, and though this clearly constituted an advantage in my career it was by no means enough. It is dull to stare at an empty beauty. But if this is filled with content and meaning it definitely affects the viewer, even if he or she cannot say why. Indeed it is not only beauty that has an effect. A choreographer once told me, Henriett, you are too beautiful. It took me some time to work through that statement, but it helped me a great deal. I realized that I had to show my other shades more boldly. At first of course it was difficult to show my grotesque side, for instance. When one has always striven to perform beautiful movements as perfectly as possible one then struggles to achieve awkwardness. For a time I thought that it was crucial that I not be ugly, but I am happy to have broken this barrier.

Had you not found dance, would you have sought some other form of self-expression?

Definitely. I always wanted to be an actress, and I love to sing, but when my mother took me at ten years of age to the Ballet Institute I stepped into the room with its many mirrors, the music started, and I knew that this was to be my life, though I had never seen a ballet performance before. So in the end dance took the place of acting, though even now I would call myself an actress who communicates with her body and face. It is a tremendous gift to be able to work with people who share these views, but that required that I accepted working freelance. I definitely wanted to go farther, but I didn't know exactly what to undertake. This is a characteristic pattern in my life: dive into something about which I know only little. I had to give life a vote of confidence, because good things always happened to me when I listened to my intuition and conquered my fears.

Has it ever come to pass that you did not achieve what you had hoped to achieve, that you suffered a failure?

Not really. If something didn't go right I didn't think of it as a failure, at most I realized that this was not my path. I searched for another possibility. It was a huge step for me to be able to see things in this manner, to see the reason behind everything. Sometimes it takes five minutes, sometimes a year. This is why I did not have to scramble up from the floor too many times. More precisely, if I was on the floor, I knew that it was necessary in order to experience the heights. In addition, if I was down, there was always someone beside me who encouraged me and helped me back on my feet. Over the last eight years this person has been my husband, Tamás Vásáry. We give each other strength that helps us each through everything. We influence one another both as people and as artists. We are in such a close relationship that even when we are not in the same city we know everything about each other. We speak with each other several times a day. It is a great blessing that, after I had traveled for so long down my path on my own, he came, someone with whom I am able join hands. And though at the beginning we endured many malicious remarks because of the age difference of 41 years, the time that has past in the meanwhile has proven that ours is no fleeting romance.

Did you not have doubts that you would be able tie yourself to someone when you were still so young?

Not at all, this is a value about which I have never had any doubts. We are able to be so free in our marriage that it gives us wings, not fetters. When we work together in our performances it is the most harmonious form of being together that one could experience. It is only the everyday, practical things that can become points of friction. But we quickly get past those things too, we deliberately strive for harmony. In contrast I am nowhere near as deliberate in the molding of my career, though I have scheduled performances for the next two years. I like to inundate myself with events. I have neither pipe-dreams nor inflexible goals, so far life has opened opportunities to me. My principle goal as a person is to achieve complete spiritual freedom. This means being non-attached neither to people nor to places, though I may love them, and not being attached to my own individual traits and qualities either. For me this is the only thing of true value.

Rita Makarész