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DANCE REVIEW : Hungarian Folk Ensemble Riveting in 'Dance Words'


COSTA MESA — Although it was necessary to see the earlier dances to process the movement vocabulary that would surface later, nothing--absolutely nothing--prepared for the searing intensity of "Dance Words," which opened the second part of the program by the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble on Tuesday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

The inspiration for the work dates back to the early '70s, when an underground political movement surfaced in Hungary in which young people danced traditional folk steps while shouting protest poems by Laszlo Nagy.

Accompaniment was pared down to basic rhythms provided by the poet's text and percussive strikes on a cello-like instrument called the gardon , which was slung across a musician's chest. Costuming was likewise simplified to everyday street clothes.

The repressive authorities must have been terrified by the raw power and focused anger and invincible spirit evident in the movement and this particular work. They banned the piece, created by company artistic director and choreographer Sandor Timar, after only four performances.

Virtually every traditional element in the choreography took on a different meaning and tone because the verbal accompaniment and the everyday costuming raised it to a new level of abstraction, concentration and universality.

The women's contained arm gestures looked both suppressed and explosive. The men's arm-arching turns seemed to be bounding flights of freedom. The fluid formations and dissolves among lines of dancers and simple couples suggested new social solidarity and relationship.

Responding to the artwork created by the youth of his country, Timar has shown how 19th-Century traditions can be preserved and made relevant to the late 20th Century and even become a laser-like influence into the future. A brilliant achievement.

In comparison, for a non-Hungarian, much of the rest of the program, which was sponsored by the Orange County Philharmonic Society, looked like a museum collection--perhaps a necessary and authentic and attractive museum collection, but one that did not relate to this time and the future as did this piece.

This judgment may be unfair because texts for all the songs were not available, which meant an incomplete understanding of their contexts. (Press members did receive a copy of Nagy's poem, but only after the piece was danced). Still, the relentless up-beat quality of the other works mitigated against such contemporaneity.

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