featured photo

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home

Flash Review 2, 5-8: Celebrating Bartok's Roots
Muzsikas Traces Bartok in Dance and Music

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2000 Susan Yung

One of the beautiful things about life in New York is when the melting pot separates into its unique elements, as it did Friday at Symphony Space, where folk music and dance ensemble Muzsikas drew an audience that seemed nearly completely Hungarian. But even as I was a foreigner in my own city, I didn't need to understand the language in order to absorb the joy and sorrow expressed in the music. What added to the feeling of displacement was that the previous night I sat in the same house attending a benefit program of jazz dance.

For this concert, presented by the World Music Institute, the four musicians (Daniel Hamar, Peter Eri, Mihaly Sipos, and Laszlo Porteleki) were joined by vocalist Marta Sebestyen and dancers Zoltan Farkas and Ildiko Toth, with special guest violinist Alexander Balanescu. They played an assortment of string instruments with an emphasis on the violin and bass, flutes and drums, sometimes using the strings of their primitive-looking small cellos as percussion. Sebestyen's voice is liquid and quick like mercury, with a startling clarity of tone and an artful folk quaver. The music was a mix of Bartok and folk tunes mined from the Hungarian countryside.

The dancers performed only during a small portion of the program, at times wandering onstage mid-song and breaking into their routine. The social occasion dance was done mostly as a couple, with Toth carving tight pirouettes around Farkas as he stamped out the rhythm. At times, he would break off and pound away, whip his shins from side to side, or dart one of his legs behind the other sharply. In one Bartok sarabande variation, the dance mirrored the percussive music quite literally, and the two took turns popping into the air like happy toast. To the untrained eye, the dances blended strands of Irish step dance with its rigid, formal carriage and fancy footwork; at other times, it had a Meditereanean feel, with a concentrated energy that made even dorky-looking moves feel purposeful. Regardless, watching it makes one want to jump up and join in.

Balanescu departed from the program to play excerpts from a film score he just completed. What began as an engaging character study -- notes jutted into the melody like unwelcome guests -- soon became repetitive and a bit self-indulgent.

The folk songs tend to move in cycles, allowing them to be as long as the moment demands, and sometimes it felt quite long. The evening felt like a wedding and the ensuing reception -- wonderful, moving episodes, but when will the bride and groom finally leave? Still, when it ended, the evening was cause for celebration.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home