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      Imagine ´Riverdance´ Via the Danube
    Posted on: 16th January, 2004, By: Webmaster

    The Budapest Ensemble calls its touring folk dance program "Csardas: The Tango of the East." A producer of the show readily volunteers comparisons with the popular Irish revue "Riverdance."
    Clearly, a few bets are being hedged here. But scratch the surface of the marketing campaign and genuine passion and pride are quickly evident. The csardas is not only the Hungarian national dance, but also an embodiment of Hungarian soul and the country's respect for dance in all forms.

    "Csardas" opens its monthlong tour of the United States and Canada on Jan. 14 at the State Theater in New Brunswick, N.J., followed by other New York-area performances at the Tilles Center in Brookville, on Long Island (Jan. 15), at Lehman Center in the Bronx (Jan. 16) and at Queensborough Community College in Queens (Jan. 22). The show loosely follows a romantic tale that Zoltan Zsurafsky, the director of the Budapest Ensemble, calls "East Side Story."
    "This brings together a chain of these beautiful dances," Zsurafsky said in a recent telephone interview from Hungary. "I was able to bring in the authentic dances of Hungary and neighboring countries that also adore the csardas." The show will also include dances like the verbunk, which was traditionally used by the military, along with a little free wine, to recruit villagers.
    Hungarians place folk dance, unusually, in the same category as high-art dance forms like ballet. Still, Hungarian folk dance has had its troubles enduring the past two centuries.
    "Every region has its own style and motifs, its own 'dance dialect,"' said Zsuzsa Kaan, the editor of Tancmuveszet magazine in Budapest, also speaking from Hungary by telephone. "Each of the villages very specifically maintained these treasures. Between and after the world wars this folklore was integrated into the general life of the people. But then it died slowly in the villages, with influences from cities and Western culture."
    What saved folk dance in Hungary was the tanchaz (dance house) movement in the 1970s, when young Transylvanian villagers began to hire musicians and gather each week simply to dance. The movement survives today not only in Hungary but throughout the United States, where there are regular tanchaz parties and workshops in New York and most of the nation's other large cities.
    Around the same time, folk dancers, musicians and ethnologists started to fan out across Hungary and neighboring countries to collect examples of authentic folk dance and music. Their models were the composers Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly and the research they conducted into Hungarian folk tunes. Zsurafsky, then a member of the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble and later its director, was one of the young collectors.
    Hungarian dance is now struggling to survive the decline in state support for the arts that followed the lifting of the Iron Curtain and the election of a democratic government in 1990.
    With those changes came a growing involvement in contemporary dance techniques. Hungarian dancers and audiences are now as familiar with the work of George Balanchine, Maurice Bejart and Frederick Ashton, which they began to see in the 1970s, as they are with Soviet classics and ballets by leading Hungarian choreographers like Gyula Harangozo and Laszlo Seregi.
    What is it about dances like the csardas that make them so enduringly popular? "The csardas is basically very simple," Zsurafski said. "Two steps to the left, two steps to the right. But it is also a very individual dance. It allows a great amount of improvisation, as well as the resolving of personal tensions. The csardas connects neighboring countries in Europe. And, like the tango, it is essentially very erotic. Like dervishes, the dancers spin together into another level."

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