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Much Ado—About What?

Updated: Nov 11, 2018

Manifesto or What You Will |

One of the most defining experiences of my life was being a member of Pavane, a Hungarian historical dance group. The group was formed in 1992 'with the aim of reviving the lost tradition of old ball dances' and performing them on stage using authentic musical material and costumes. Travelling with the group to perform at balls or festivals held at Hungarian castles or abroad, and fully submerging in the atmosphere of former ages was an experience I wish for everyone. It is amazing how much you may learn through such an activity not only about the dances themselves but also about the music, other cultural aspects and the society of old times. Simultaneously, you get to know a lot about what is universal through the ages—human character—, as well as about yourself.

To get an idea of the dances performed by Pavane, as well as of the costumes and the atmosphere, check out this short introductory video. Although the language is Hungarian, you can see a nice selection of dances such as:

  • XIXth century Hungarian court dances from 0:00 to 1:50

  • Renaissance court dances from 1:59 to 3:28

  • Wiener Waltz from 3:29 to 4:20

My wish is to enable people to see and learn historical dances as I was shown and taught them: not as some distant and dusty art only disseminated among the strict walls of academies, but as the mere social fun we know from going to parties nowadays, expressed in the most contemporary form imaginable at the time—and still enjoyable today.

In this effort, I am following in the path of three former teachers of mine. First and foremost, I have to thank György Lázár, the founder and artistic director of Pavane, who invested tremendous time and energy in researching archives, private collections and books containing dance descriptions and then sharing his knowledge with my former dance group. He established cooperation with Renaissance Consort to record or for them to perform live many of the musical material we used for our performances. He also created a magnificent wardrobe for the group with costumes pleasure to look at and practical to dance in. His passion for these dances made it possible to successfully lead the group for over 25 years.

In 1999, when my generation of the group started, every class was divided into two parts of 45 minutes: (1) warm-up, stretching and motif practice; (2) choreography. The first part was lead by Virág Réka Túri, now renowned dancer of Odissi (ancient Indian classical dance), then student of the Hungarian Dance Academy. Apart from great technical insight, we received a very contemporary view of historical dances from her. She showed us how they are related to ballet, but also how we can relate to them and ballet at the same time. She helped us adjusting our very XXth century moves to the air of these dances, while her youthful spirit made us feel at ease and realize that we can actually find ourselves in the old steps and figures.

Apart from my dance teachers, I have to mention here someone who had nothing to do with dances but had a huge part in bringing medieval and Renaissance culture skin-close to me. His name is László Szörényi, he was my teacher of Medieval literature at university. Whenever it came to medieval literature before (in primary or secondary school), I could hardly wait to get over it: it sounded so rough, uncultivated and ordinary to my ears. Compared to the elaborate ways of XXth century writers and poets to express even the slightest quiver of the soul, those from the Middle Ages seemed merely falter. What's even worse, through their words written in their primitive national languages (that were only being born around that time) they sounded to be weirdly dumb themselves. I could never understand how could anyone find any beauty in these pieces of writing at all.

Consequently, I was rather uninterested when Dr Szörényi walked in to give us his first lecture. However, when he started to talk, something incredible happened. I was expecting him to enumerate dry facts to meticulously draw a background to boring recitals of unenjoyable poems later—but as soon as he began, he was immediately immersed in painting a compellingly vivid Tuscan landscape at daybreak with brush strokes unstoppable and not waiting for anyone. My eyes opened wide and I was gasping for air trying to keep up, not to miss a word of his description of that dawn—the dawn of humanism, in fact. He was telling about an age when—no matter how far it was and how outdated all the knowledge available at that time may have become by that day—was a time when worlds were opening up for mankind. A time when worldviews got questioned and ever-standing truths were abolished to be replaced with excitingly, even frighteningly new ideas. It was a time when culture and science went through a rebirth accompanied by blood, blinding pain and light at the same time; when fundamental ideas of our age, a new sensitivity towards the 'man' and: national languages were born.

Suddenly, I could feel the uplifting struggle of these people—those lucky enough to study at all—as they were searching for and forming missing words to describe their feelings and this new world. It must have been similar to when you try to communicate with someone in a language you master very little. You struggle to find the words to convey your thoughts yet they fit what you really mean as those loose and rough medieval clothes of serfs used to fit their body. Or so it may feel for you—and for someone who is looking for the elaborate and complex emotional and intellectual character of the XXth-XXIst century person behind your words. Just imagine: you are using the best tools at your disposal to your best knowledge to get something fantastic through—but in fact, understanding depends on the benevolence, the empathy and the fantasy of your partner in the conversation to complete and refine the picture. Benevolence, or the readiness to suppose that you are just as a sensitive and intelligent person as him/herself; empathy, so that they try to put themselves in your shoes and feel how you may be feeling; and fantasy to sense the full and complex meaning of your simple and primitive words. This requires the ability to listen, curiosity, and above all: respect and appreciation of the other person and his/her efforts.

It is this way of looking at the culture of old ages that I would like to share with you. I would like you to suppose that the people who used to dance historical court dances, had just as human thoughts, emotions, struggles, griefs and joys as you have, even if they necessarily experienced them in a different form. I would like you to imagine what could they have felt when enjoying the company of their friends, meeting new acquaintances or even their personal enemies at a ball. I would like to you imagine the excitement of dancing the first dances, maybe even with your sweethearts, and then becoming more and more confident and relaxed towards the middle of the party, to the point of becoming freed from the desire of perfection and feeling only the joy of dancing when leaping into the last dance of a suit of supposedly strict high society dances, such as the quadrille.

I want to bring historical court dances as close to people as a 'young peach still preserving the bloom' (to use the simile of Dr Szörényi), for which you can reach out on a Tuscan hill in a fresh summer morning that feels the beginning of everything.

#manifesto #waitbutwhy #heritage #purpose #historicaldancing #atmosphereofthedances

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