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Brahms, Shostakovitch and the 'Díszmagyar'

Updated: Mar 12, 2019

About the first two choreographies and the costumes |

After our performance at the Festival des Migrations last weekend, I realised that we have presented our dances for the fifth time since December, yet we have hardly had the opportunity to talk about them or about costumes to our audience. So I feel it's high time I say a few words about them, even if I cannot go into details at this moment.

The Dances

Our first dances are two typical choreographies from the 19th century: a Hungarian dance and a waltz. Both dances have their origins in the folk culture. Choreographies like the Hungarian dance became part of the ballroom repertoire as a result of the tendency in Romanticism to go back to the roots of national culture: to research and describe the elements of folk dances and then create choreographies by adding a noble flair to the characteristic motifs and combining them in a carefully designed way by the dance masters of the age. This is how Polka, Polonaise and many other folk dances were reborn as court dances in the 19th century.[1]

Music and dance at that time—the turbulent times of the formation of nation-states in Europe—were strongly related to national identity and they could even be considered as an expression of one’s principles. From this point of view, the combination of these two specific choreographies in our program might be regarded as a reference to the Hungarian–Austrian Compromise in 1867 in a symbolic way.

The Music

Regarding the music, the first choreography is danced to the 5th Hungarian Dance by Johannes Brahms, which formed part of a series of 21 Hungarian Dances and was published only two years after the Compromise, in 1869. The second choreography is designed for the Waltz No. 2 by Dmitri Shostakovich. The curiosity of this piece of music is that, although it was created more than 80 years later, in the 1950s, it is one of the best choices for teaching traditional waltz choreographies. Its richness of sound and classical air competes with the waltzes by the Strauss-dynasty or Tchaikovsky, but its pace is much more even, the beat is always clear to hear for the dancers and the length is enjoyable even for today’s audience (think of the similarly popular tunes of the Blue Danube (first performed in the year of the Compromise—over 10 minutes long) or the Waltz of the Snowflakes (from the Nutcracker, Tchaikovsky’s 1892 ballet—around 7 minutes) as a comparison). This is why we chose this music for the first waltz of our group.

The Costumes

Our costumes model the ceremonial wear of Hungarian aristocracy ('díszmagyar'), the ‘birth’ of which is linked to the coronation of Ferdinand Vth in 1830.

Remaining popular until after the Second World War, the function of 'díszmagyar' changed from gala suit to everyday wear and back, and the cut of the women’s dresses used to closely follow the frequent changes of 19th-century fashion. Our costumes depict an early version of the ceremonial wear slightly adapted in order to balance authenticity and practicality. For images also showing the evolution of the 'díszmagyar', check out our dedicated board on Pinterest.

Hopefully, we will be able to devote separate articles to the choreographies and the costumes soon. Follow us on Facebook to get notified about new blog posts. If you attend our classes, you can also create an account on this website and receive new articles in your inbox as soon as they are published. You will also be able to access videos of the choreographies in our members’ area.

Our beauties (still in preparation here)

[1] A társastáncok története, Edit Kaposi, Budapest, NPI, 1980, pp 27–47.

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