New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women and girls. Click
here to see a sample of our products and a list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always performance
at its best.
back to Flash Reviews
Flash Review 1, 2-28:
Celebrating Gyor's "Purim"
By Alicia Mosier
Copyright 2002 Alicia Mosier
NEW YORK -- The story
of the Jews in Hungary is one of the most tragic in the century
just past. After centuries of robust participation in public life,
Hungarian Jews were deprived of their communities, felled by pogroms
and massive deportations to Nazi death camps, and subject to virulent
anti-Semitism, both in government policy and on the street. Great
courage is required to face up to such a history -- especially since
anti-Semitism is far from dead in Hungary. And great courage is
what the Gyor National Ballet demonstrated Sunday night at the Joyce
in "Purim," an evening-length ballet based on the biblical story
of Esther, with choreography by William Fomin and Istvan Juhos,
libretto by Robert Ben Turan, and music by Ferenc Javori and his
Budapest Klezmer Band.
Simply in cultural terms,
"Purim" represents a remarkable collaboration. Janos Kiss, the company's
director, had the idea to create a ballet based on klezmer music;
he is not himself Jewish. In an interview with The Jewish Week's
Daniel Belasco, librettist Ben Turan described the project as "a
positive instance of the 'coexistence' of Jews and Christians in
Hungary." When "Purim" premiered there three years ago, an anti-Semitic
faction of the community sent a warning: do not present this ballet.
But the show went on -- to wildly enthusiastic acclaim. It's not
difficult to understand why average Hungarians would celebrate this
creation. It represents a very public embrace of a people who for
too long have been forced into the shadows, a passionate reappropriation
of Eastern Europe's Jewish culture.
By taking as their text
the story of Esther -- a tale of the liberation of an entire community
through the courage and determination of one woman -- Kiss et al.
show an imaginative seriousness. The story allows them to delight
in the happiest day of the Jewish year, while at the same time paying
tribute to the suffering that leads up to it. In the biblical narrative,
the Jews are tricked and oppressed by King Ahasverosh's lieutenant,
Haman. The king is in love with Esther, who bravely gives herself
to him in marriage, then tells him that if he kills her people he
will have to kill her too. The king chooses Esther's side, then
orders Haman's execution on the same gallows on which he planned
to execute the Jews.
Gyor National Ballet's
production follows the biblical story, but tells it quickly (sometimes
too quickly) through a dozen or so scenes that interweave the life
of the Jews under Haman's iron rule with the personal drama of Esther
and the inner struggle of the king. It's a beautiful idea to have
the ballet begin and end with an Old Jew in a black coat and hat
(choreographer Fomin) unrolling a Torah scroll; it centers the work
in the reality of Jewish faith and history. It's ingenious, too,
to have the seven members of the Budapest Klezmer Band onstage with
the dancers. Sometimes perched atop the pyramidal structure at the
back, sometimes intermingling with the performers, the musicians
carry their incredibly joyful, soulful songs all over the stage.
This music, this story, and these people, they seem to say, are
still very much alive.
Fomin and Juhos's choreography
shifts between vigorous traditional Eastern European steps and somewhat
nondescript modern/jazz moves. Some passages seemed designed merely
to fill time and space; some steps (like a jump-up-and-roll-on-the-floor
bit for the men) were repeated so often that it began to look like
laziness on the part of the choreographers. Character came through
the astonishing stage presence of the dancers rather than through
distinctive movement. There were more than a few dead-air moments,
especially in part one, in which I found myself just watching the
But at many points in
between (as in Esther's solo at the beginning of part two) the choreography
shone with elongated lines, striking shifts of the body between
horizontal and vertical planes, and virtuoso passages for the male
dancers. To a relentless drumbeat, Haman's henchmen savagely beat
the five men who represented Esther's Jewish community. Those same
five had some very special moments, particularly in a haunting dance
around a water basin, set to a song for solo voice and drum, in
which the mournful voice of prayer came right through their shuddering
A duet for Esther and
the King on their wedding day was sweet and playful -- Esther lovingly
butted her head against his stomach -- and, in a passage full of
peace, an angel in blue silk appeared to Esther under a canopy of
stars, breathing out a blessing through long arabesques and multiple
turns, then sending Esther's troubled companions off to safety with
a quiet push of her floating arms. When Haman was finally hanged,
the joyous onlookers -- whom Esther has saved -- tossed their cloaks
into the air again and again, almost in slow motion. The finale
was an exhilarating dance of liberation. In general, the choreography
did best when it moved beyond the easy jump-and-turn combinations
it sometimes fell into. When focused, the ballet found -- in sharp
leaps, keening backbends, and unusual port de bras -- the physical
language of the music.
It also found, in New
York, as enthusiastic a response as it reportedly found among dancegoers
in Hungary. The house was packed (with WASP-looking women and little
boys in yarmulkes alike), the applause was long, and the company
gave a raucous encore of the final dance, at the end of which the
artistic director came out, kissed his hand, then touched the stage.
Despite some vagueness in choreography and some haste in storytelling,
"Purim" is an extremely impressive achievement -- one hopes, not
the last of its kind.
The passionate leading
dancers were Szabina Cserpak (Esther), Balazs Patkai (King Ahasverosh),
Otto Demcsak (a gentle giant as Esther's uncle Mordechai), Ervin
Muller (Haman), Hajnalka Szantai (Vashti, the king's deposed queen),
Laszlo Zadorvolgyi (Tseres, a courtier to Haman), and Krisztian
Horvath (another courtier). Ingrid Gottlicher created the simple
yet richly textured earth-toned costumes. Along with composer Javori,
the extraordinary Budapest Klezmer Band featured Isvan Kohan, Katalin
Fenyo, Anna Nagy, Gabor Kiss, Gabor Tamas, an d Balazs Vegh.
Gyor National Ballet
takes "Purim" on tour to Germany next month.
back to Flash Reviews