The ancient magic of dance

Dance is the most varied form of expression of the soul, a truly ancient instinct, but it is undoubtedly much more than movement, just as music is not only a sequence of sounds. Dance is one of the highest forms of art. In our latest selection, to mark World Dance Day, we look at the history of ballet and contemporary dance, illustrated with photographs of Hungarian artists, and pay tribute to our dancers.

Classical ballet


Ballet is a diminutive of the Italian balletto, ballo ('dance'). The history of ballet is as rich as the history of dance itself. According to the vast library of literature on dance history research, a significant milestone in the history of dance in the world was reached in 1661, when the French Académie Royale de Danse (Royal Academy of Dance) was founded. Louis XIV, a ballet enthusiast who founded the institution, not only admired the dancers from afar, but also appeared in several performances himself. Many people do not know it, but the epithet "Sun King" refers to the fact that in the ballet performance "Night” that lasted until dawn, he gave an unforgettable performance as the Sun, according to his contemporaries.

Today, it is clear that the ballet genre has a large number of female dancers, but this was not a matter of course at all; for a long time, men danced female roles. The breakthrough for women came in 1681 when Mademoiselle de La Fontaine danced the female lead in her ballet The Triumph of Love, and the cult of ballerinas was born.

In the 18th century, ballet underwent a major development, becoming an art form of equal rank with opera. At the heart of this major development, Jean-Georges Noverre - whose birthday is also the World Dance Day - emphasised the importance of ballet d'action (ballet of action), enhancing the role of the dancers by making the plotline more comprehensible through their movements. At this time, women were only secondary characters, and could not have been very prominent because of the high heels and huge crinolines that hindered their movement.

One of the most significant events of the 19th century was when Avdotia Istomina danced en pointe. The invention of pointe dancing, however, is attributed to Marie Taglioni, who in 1832 achieved such success as the mountain fairy in the ballet "Sylphide" by rising to her toes in her satin shoes that she was immediately imitated by other dancers. This was a novelty, as until the invention of the pointe shoes, dancers had balanced on tiptoes. The pointe shoes we know now is attached to Anna Pavlova, who was the first to put a small cube-shaped box in her shoes, and the shoes she invented are still made in the same way today. At the beginning of the 20th century, the centre of ballet moved to Russia. Its most outstanding artists were Petipa, Ivanov, Fokine, Nijinsky and, in France, Diaghilev. The latter brought together the finest dancers, choreographers and composers of his time.

In Hungary, the influences were mainly Italian and Austrian. The Hungarian National Ballet Company was made up of women, with only one male member, who came to Budapest from Milan and joined the company. The company initially used the Italian and Austrian dance techniques already mentioned, and from the 1950s, the world-famous Russian Vaganova method was introduced. The Hungarian ballet art and education developed greatly during this period: the State Ballet Institute was established on the Soviet model - the first of the then "friendly" countries. The adoption of classical and Soviet ballets began; Russian specialists arrived in Hungary, while dancers and masters continued their training in the Soviet Union.

pnsz_pb_babi_19770525bepl_balettgalaest.jpgFerenc Nádasi, one of the most influential ballet masters in Hungary, taught at the Ballet Institute until 1963. From the early 1920s, he performed abroad, and returned to Hungary only in 1936. Then, he said goodbye to the stage and devoted all his energy to teaching, at the Opera House from 1937 and at his own ballet school, which he ran with his wife.

The Pécs Ballet proved to be the first of the rural companies to last. Imre Eck, who was entrusted with its management, took on the daring task with great enthusiasm and artistic dedication. Without any knowledge of modern techniques, dramaturgy and means of expression, and relying only on his own ideas and choreographic concepts, he had to create a modern ballet company in the countryside from a young group of people trained in classical ballet techniques.

The recently deceased Iván Markó was an emblematic figure of the Győr Ballet. Markó was admitted to the State Ballet Institute on his third attempt only, and he graduated in 1967 in Hedvig Hidas' mixed class. From 1968 to 1972, he was a ballet artist and titular private dancer at the Hungarian State Opera House. Between 1972 and 1979, he was a leading soloist in Maurice Béjart's company, the Ballet of the 20th Century, where at the height of his success international dance critics voted him one of the ten best dancers in the world in 1974. In 1979, he returned to Hungary for good and together with members of the then graduating class of the Ballet Institute and János Kiss founded the Győr Ballet Company, of which he was director and choreographer until 1991.

A contemporary, the Creative Movement Studio


In 1979, when Iván Angelus, a ballet master with a unique innovative approach, met Ferenc Kálmán at the jazz dance classes of Endre Jeszenszky, and soon afterwards founded the New Dance Club, they did not know whether they could fit into the tolerated category in the system of banned, tolerated and supported artistic activities in the cultural policy of the Kádár regime.

Angelus, the father of the studio, describes himself only as a "theatre man". He was involved in the Orfeo Group and Studio K Theatre during his university years. During this period, it became clear to him that he wanted to work in the movement arts, but this was not so easy in the 1970s, because, as he said, "only what originated from classical ballet or folk dance was considered dance". However, Angelus was only tangentially involved in ballet, and he did not even have that much to do with folk dance.
According to dance historian Lívia Fuchs, what was called modern dance in Europe in the second half of the 20th century was not only looked down on in Hungary, but was also a genre that was banned until the fall of communism. At the same time, in the 1970s it was difficult to create something new in the field of dance. Classical ballet had a long tradition in the Soviet Union, and owing to the idea of friendly coexistence of peoples, folk dance was recognised and supported, but anything outside these was practically non-existent.


Later, in September 1983, Angelus and Kálmán founded the Creative Movement Studio (KMS), which was housed in a gymnasium that had seen better days. According to Petra Péter, the initiative was part of an alternative culture that "could emerge as a parallel phenomenon to official culture". The studio they created was a good opportunity for people who did not meet the requirements of ballet schools, for example because they were over-age or not in perfect shape, but wanted to dance.

At the same time, Angelus and his company wanted to introduce renowned international figures in modern dance to their dance-loving audience. Photographs in the archives show that their courses often featured renowned foreign performers. They include József Nagy, born in Vojvodina and become world-famous in Paris, Bruce Taylor, born in the USA but living and working in Norway, Rhys Martin, born in Australia but also living and working in Europe, and the studio's most famous guest teacher, American jazz dancer Matt Mattox, a Broadway performer.

Tánc a tükörprizmában Performansz Nicolas Schöffer “Vizuális művek és hangstruktúrák” című kiállításán

Dance in the Mirror Prism - Fortepan, CC BY-SA

It is true that the artistic achievement of Angelus and his company was actually ignored by the "profession". Angelus recalls, “Apart from the review of Mirrors, none of my performances were appreciated, none of what we did was acknowledged. In the case of Mirrors, which was staged in 1982, the dramaturgy and the creative methodology were all more advanced than the dance language. I didn't even object that it wasn't considered dance, I didn't consider it dance myself, which is why I said that if it wasn't dance, then I was a theatre person who wanted to express himself through movement. They excluded me and I didn't particularly want to be one of them, so we got on well".

The vast majority of documents currently available in the online digital archive dates from the 1980s. Most of the material dates from the founding of the Creative Movement Studio in 1983 to the start of the Budapest Dance School in 1991.

Translated by Zita Aknai


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