A piano-ballet evening at the Spring Festival

One of the special experiences afforded by a performance at the Spring Festival was the Thália Theatre’s piano-ballet evening given by Tamás Vásáry, Henriett Tunyogi and Tamás Solymosi. We were presented with a harmonically constructed evening of solo piano music with some of the pieces enhanced by the expressive power of dance. This served as a natural accompaniment that needed no additional explanation.

The audience understood the joint production and received it with rapture. The artistic pillar of the evening was Tamás Vásáry’s piano playing, which reached the highest point of inspiration, a level of emotional engagement that could not have been more intense. With a virtuoso performance of musical incarnation, Tamás Vásáry overcame the Thália’s adverse acoustics and conquered the less than outstanding piano. He began with Mozart's Fantasia for Piano in C minor, then proceeded with a solo concert, which consisted of a garland of works by Bartók, Kodály and Debussy, while at the same time proving an attentive partner for the ballet dancers.

Our conversation with Tamás Vásáry, Henriett Tunyogi and Tamás Solymos took place after the performance.

The music of Bartók and Kodály formed the backbone of the performance. Ballerina Henriett Tunyogi’s choreography complemeted the Hungarian musical works, which were encompassed by pieces from Mozart and Debussy. Bartók’s Allegro Barbaro provided an unexpected experience to those who know Henriett Tunyogi’s lyrical, delicate, feminine figure: a hitherto unknown ballerina appeared on stage with fierce, grotesque movements; barefooted dancing with soft cat-like step; wild but yet lissom. She danced her own choreography and designed her own costumes. How did this new style come into being, what route led to this dance composition? 

T.H. ” I think one doesn’t really know one’s self. I didn’t know that I could really feel this music, and that I would at some point dare to move to this barbarous sound. But it interested and excited me, and it felt like a great challenge. As always, I started by sitting down and listening to the music, and that got me thinking about how I would move. When I understood what the music was saying, I new by that time how I would convey it with my movements, with my body, and with my emotions. I enjoy it being different from what I’m used to doing. It’s not what I learned, there’s no pointe shoes, the positioning of the hands is different, my palms are open, and my fingers are held apart …

The process that is set off by listening to the music encompasses the whole stage appearance, not just the style and the series of steps but also the costume and the lighting too. Actually – and this probably sounds strange – I come up with the costumes before the steps.”

But it’s not strange. Clothes define behaviour and dictate style. A Byzantine king cannot make impassioned movements with a heavy jewelled crown on his head and a heavy mantle on his shoulders. The mosaics of Ravenna show dignity. The Graces tiptoe an elegant dance in Renaissance paintings … A dangerous, wild form dressed in animal skins treads its dance to the sound of the Allegro Barbaro, and at the final note it breaks to the heights of the piano with the momentum and softness of a wild cat. 

The Seven Pieces for piano from among earlier works of Kodály between 1910 and 1918 were also played at the concert and inspired Henriett Tunyogi in the same way.

T.H. ”Kodály’s music is very close to me. Maybe that’s because I hear a lot about him. Kodály and my husband, Tamás Vásáry, were very close. They were almost like father and son. The Székely Lament affected me deeply: it's about loneliness, the painful longing for an absent companion. A sad, lonesome female figure appears in the music. It often wears me out emotionally, but I still really, really love dancing it. It’s so very Hungarian. It feels great appearing in front of the audience in a long skirt, a shawl on my shoulders, and long braids in my hair.”

Kodály’s own words demand a mention here. After reflecting on the strange question as to what it was he wanted with these old Szekler1 songs he formulated the following reply: “This is also what the language of Hungarian music was like once. Once upon time the Szekler song was the Hungarian song. Today, Szeklers are the most Hungarian Hungarians, and Hungarians can only be Hungarians once again to the extent that they are able to make themselves more like Szeklers.”

T.H. ”The Allegro Giocoso from the Nine Pieces for piano led me to an interesting experience. The music griped me, it wouldn’t let go, but still the choreography didn’t work. I talked to my husband, and a few words from Tamás answered the question: “… but you have to imaging this as a boys’ dance. Kodály talked about this once, he said that this is about two boys chatting and whistling, full of good humour.” The choreography was created in one go.

Yes, here the ballerina is replaced by an impudent youth with a soft cloth cap on her head, a white shirt, and rolled up trousers. Her dance is just a game, she steps about the stage with humorous arrogance like a pompous little cockerel, and when eventually she disappears from the stage, she flings back her cap to land just in front of the piano so the pianist has to pick it up off the floor. The music is full of humour, like the dance and the performers themselves. 

The lead dance composition, a pas de deux composed to the second movement of Mozart’s piano concerto in E major, is the work of a German choreographer. Henriett Tunyogi’s partner was Tamás Solymosi.

T.H. ”The choreographer of Mozart’s slow movement is a famous artist, the recently passed away Uwe Scholz. I believe I am especially fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with him. Uwe Scholz was the ballet director and head choreographer of the Leipzig Opera. He gave me a great deal, both professionally and personally.  It was the happiest and most useful time of my life in ballet. I am only able to outline what it meant to me. For me he stood for a persona that is of the highest order, both elevated and humble at the same time. There was the most beautiful and most complete something that radiated from him to me. I have danced in Scholz’s pieces, and have toured with the Leipzig ensemble too. His choreographies, composed to serious symphonies and oratorios, always produced tremendous success. After his performances the audience would stand clapping for minutes on end.   

Tamás Solymosi also thinks that the choreography composed to Mozart’s work is a real hit.

S.T. ”It’s a natural consequence of the fact that Uwe Scolz really feels the music, so that the movements are completely expressive. The dance composition is easily approachable. The music always dictates what follows. And because what we do is dictated by the music, that is why it has such an explosive affect on the audience. “

Paul Chalmer planed his choreography to Debussy’s L'Isle joyeuse, a piano piece composed at the beginning of last century and inspired by Watteau’s famous French rococo paintings. This dance composition was made directly for Henriette Tunyogi and Tamás Solymosi, and the present performance in Budapest was its world premiere.

T.H. “Chalmer is now the director of the ballet ensemble and head choreographer of the Leipzig Opera. That is, Uwe Scholz’s successor. We met one year ago, and it was a big meeting because shortly afterwards he choreographed Claire de lune for me, which is the second movement of Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque. He said himself that he dreamt this choreography for me.  “ 

The line-up in the Vásáry-Tunyogi husband and wife duo was special, as was the order of the pieces that accompanied the dance. However, the initial impression of unusualness was quickly replaced by the enjoyment of the spicy flavour of the novelty. The experience of ballet was added to a solo piano concert. Also, as we will see, Tamás Vásáry is not only glad to give his opinion on preparations for one or another ballet production, but does so objectively and even expertly.

V.T. ”It’s not such an extraordinary thing. I know what is in the music and I am able to imagine what kind of movement is right for it. So if I hear a piece of music and see a movement, I notice if the movement doesn’t correspond to the music. For example, if the music broadens and unfolds I feel an embrace in it, at that time an embrace is needed. “

S.T. ”It is undoubtedly fantastic how the music lives in Tamás. He is able to communicate perfectly those feelings, those pinnacles that the music dictates. He can communicate what he hears, what he feels, and which steps he thinks would make sense at a certain point.”

V.T. “Music, like poetry, painting or ballet, expresses something. A musical work is a story in just the same as a poem. Every art form must be poetry.  The story in a musical work can also be told by another art form; if words are used, then a poet did it, if it works in painting, than it was a painter, and if someone can dance it, then that is a real dancer, or a choreographer.”

The word a “branch” of the arts is a very good definition, because it means that the branches are from the same tree  -- different branches, branches with different names, but the ART is the same.  

Judit. P. Csák
Zene, zene, tánc / Music, music, dance
Budapest, 2006/1, vol. 13