PRIDE OF PLACE HUNGARY'S NATIONAL DANCE INSPIRES LATEST REVUE
By Judy Hevrdejs
Chicagoans have found a place on their dance floors for the swing, the
polka, Irish step dancing and the tango
Now Kalman Magyar hopes we fall in love with the
Pronounced CHAR-dasch, this vibrant dance traces its roots
to the villages of the Carpathian Mountain region of central Europe. It is
considered the national dance of Hungary, much the way the tango inhabits
the soul of Argentina.
In fact, "Csardas! The Tango of the East" is
the moniker that has been attached to a production by Zoltan Zsurafszki
and the Budapest Ensemble that arrives here Friday for a one-night
performance at the Chicago Theatre.
Talk to Magyar, one of the
show's producers, however, and by way of explaining the production he
excitedly cites a recent New York Times headline: "Riverdance via the
And, minutes later, he enthuses: "The csardas is exactly
Ask director/choreographer Zsurafszki about it, and
he'll confuse the matter even more by dubbing his show "East Side
Minus all the buzzwords, "Csardas!" the production stands
on its own as a celebration of a 200-year-old folk dance dance that is
enjoying a revival in Hungary as well as with fans worldwide.
its most basic, csardas is two steps right and two steps left, sometimes
quick, sometimes slow. It includes turning, clapping, finger snapping,
stomping and boot slapping. It involves lots of improvisation (hence the
jazz reference), can be performed solo or as a passionate couple dance
(hence the tango reference) and weaves in
dance elements from
neighboring countries like Slovakia, Poland and Romania.
typical gestures," says Chicagoan John Parrish, a longtime folk dancer who
began learning the csardas here in the '80s. "But there is room for
personal expression. Csardas dancers don't learn routines; they learn an
"There are different csardas for different occasions," adds
Frank Mozsi, owner of Hungarian Books and Records on North Clark Street,
who suggests checking out recordings by the Lakatos family for a taste of
Says Magyar, a Budapest native who is director of the
American Hungarian Folklore Centrum in his hometown of Teaneck, N.J.: "You
have a certain number of steps and formations and certain moves which you
can do in the dance, and then you improvise. It is like the polka
you go 1-2-3, but you also may want to change to other
Like any culture's signature dish -- goulash, let's say --
there are as many variations as there are cooks. Inevitably, a
professional chef will dish up a version with extra
That is where the "Riverdance" comparison comes in.
Like the flashy Irish show originally conceived by stepdancer Michael
Flatley, "Csardas!" features an ensemble of highly trained folk dancers
and a band of live musicians. It also has a similar story-within-the-story
concept -- in the case of "Csardas!" a romantic triangle with two men
vying for the love of one woman that hints, indirectly, at the
Side Story" quip.
Musical director Laszlo Keleman oversees
the musicians, particularly the violinists, who are the backbone of the
music. And the dancers wear richly embellished folk costumes, including
special boots for the men.
"The boots, they are made by artisans in
a village in Transylvania," explains Magyar. "They have very thick soles
and thick heels to click. The top of the boot is very hard -- almost like
cast iron -- so when they slap the boot it gives a good
With so many ethnically focused dance productions taking to
stages around town, it's not surprising "Csardas!" has joined them. And
with many Chicagoans taking lessons in tango and other traditional dances,
it's also not surprising that "Csardas!" can be linked like a distant
relation to a small collection of local dancers who meet regularly
St. Stephen King of Hungary Church on West Augusta
"Zoltan has brought village dancing to the stage," says
Laszlo Aranyos of Zsurafszki and his production. Aranyos, a Chicagoan,
regularly joins fellow csardas fans at the church for an evening of
The "tanchaz," or dance house, revival of folk dancing
that began in Hungary in the '60s and '70s has fueled interest in such
gatherings. That movement, says Arroyos, "was a way to preserve the folk
dances. So people would gather at a cultural house or someone's house, and
every week they would learn these dances."
"People went and found
what rural people were doing," adds Parrish. "What they learned to do was
to dance in an improvised fashion. There is incredible virtuosity in
Zsurafszki was involved in the tanchaz
movement as a graduate of the Hungarian State Ballet School's folk dance
department. He participated in the extensive research into regional
dances, traveling to villages to collect material and learn from
villagers. Before creating "Csardas!" he traveled North America with the
now-defunct Kodaly Ensemble.
"Csardas! The Tango of the East" will
visit 28 cities on this North American tour. When the Tribune caught up
with Zsurafszki, he was traveling with his troupe on a bus from Florida to
Canada, 20 performances already under their belt.
He is not averse
to being linked with "Riverdance," and in fact considers that production's
success a challenge to all choreographers. Yet he is quick to point out,
through translator Magyar, that there are differences in style:
want to bring much more emotion and less concentration on the technical
aspects of the dance to the stage."
And Zsurafszki is careful to
distance himself from Flatley, who after "Riverdance" developed the even
showier "Lord of the Dance" revue.
"I don't look at traditional
dance merely as raw material for personal stage success," he says. "I
respect it totally."