Encore in Budapest
Plain Dealer Dance Critic
For an ethnic dance company in Middle America, an invitation to perform
in the Old Country is the ultimate honor. Csárdás, Cleveland's Hungarian
dance company, won the coveted prize early in its history.
Founded in 1994 by executive director Richard Graber, the ensemble
first traveled to Budapest in 1998 to participate in a gala concert
organized by Sandor Timar, former artistic director of the Hungarian State
Folk Ensemble and now director of Timar Folklor. So successful was the
Csárdás performance that the dancers were asked to return two years later
to help celebrate Timar's 70th birthday.
This week, members of the Cleveland troupe are back in Budapest
rehearsing for a gala at Pesti Vigado ("place for merriment"). The
performance will be the last event in the magnificent cultural center
before it closes for renovation.
Csárdás will be the only American company in a huge cast that includes
Hungarian dance ensembles from Japan, England and Hungary. All
participants were selected by Timar, who is producing the show.
"Sandor is still active at 73," Graber said. "He is a very generous
man. He gives freely of his knowledge."
The Csárdás dancers discovered the depth of the renowned director's
knowledge five years ago, when Graber commissioned a work from Timar and
his wife. The piece, "Dances of Sarkoz," will be performed at the gala by
members of the Cleveland company.
Because Csárdás was invited to participate in the program just a few
weeks ago, only four of the 11 adults in the company were able to juggle
their day jobs and arrange to take the trip. On short notice, the Ohio
Arts Council contributed $2,500 to help pay for airfare, and a couple of
small local foundations kicked in an additional $500. Friends of the
company are providing lodging in a Budapest apartment.
During a rehearsal at the Movement Arts Center in Medina, where Csárdás
and its school are based, the dancers ripped through the rapid turns and
stamping steps of Timar's vigorous choreography. The men did tricky jumps.
The women showed off their fancy slippers in fast footwork. All wore heavy
costumes decorated with elaborate embroidery.
"The men of Sarkoz wanted women of wealth," explained Karen Majewski,
dance consultant for Csárdás' female dancers. "The women were considered
prizes. They were rich, proud and flashy. They showed their status in the
richness of their costumes. The more decoration, the richer the woman."
To make their full skirts fuller, the dancers wear "butt pillows"
beneath their petticoats. To keep the backless slippers on their feet,
they curl their toes.
The colorful costumes were handmade in Hungary, and so was the
less-showy clothing the dancers wear in "Dances of Szatmar."
This fast-paced work was choreographed by Zoltan and Zsuzsa Zsurafszky
of Budapest. In the Csárdás repertory, it's paired with a stick dance from
the same region. Originally a competitive dance performed by shepherds,
the bravura solo is a specialty of Csárdás artistic director Christopher
Besides performing the Sarkoz and Szatmar dances at the gala, the
Csárdás couples will join other ensembles in the grand finale, "Dances of
During the dancers' nine-day stay in Budapest, Graber plans to acquire
folk materials and research music appropriate for new choreography.
Smith, an accounting assistant for an Alcoa business in Northeast Ohio,
will make a courtesy call to an Alcoa office near Budapest. Majewski, a
folklorist with a doctorate in American culture, will shop for authentic
village costumes in flea markets. She and Elizabeth Krajcz, a chemist for
a hazardous waste company, will spend their evenings checking out urban
Both women are so devoted to Hungarian dance that they commute weekly
from their homes in the Detroit area to rehearse and perform with Csárdás.
"I was forced into Hungarian dance at age 5," Krajcz said. "I liked it
as a child. Then I quit until 1999, when I joined Csárdás, and I grew to
Graber, the son of Hungarian immigrants, loves everything about his
cultural heritage. Smith has no Eastern European roots. But he is
sometimes mistaken for Romany. Both men are striving to keep Csárdás
stable at a time when money for the arts is tight and funding for ethnic
dance companies is particularly difficult to raise.
The company currently operates on a budget of more than $100,000, and
the dancers are paid only when they perform. Unhappy about the inadequate
compensation, Graber would like to offer monthly stipends.
The visit to Budapest, he says, will strengthen the company and its
mission to promote appreciation for the ethnic arts in the Midwest. "We
don't get invited to Budapest every day," he said. "This trip gives us new
energy to keep this unique culture alive."
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? 2003 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.