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I Migrated Back Home - Interview With Pál Frenák

Virág Vida @

2009. november 28.

I first met the Hungarian dancer and choreographer Pál Frenák several years ago, on a train. I learnt that he communicated with his parents as a child in sign language, and only later discovered the world of sound, then the world of movement. At the time we talked, Frenák was constantly redefining his art. Little has changed since.


You have come here with some sketch books and sketches. Do you always make drawings for your choreographies? Is it your way to plan your works?

I made these drawings months ago. They were continually developed during rehearsals, some of them I threw away, some I kept and others I reworked. You can imagine my libretto as a disassembled Rubik cube, with the different phases written down independently. After three or four months of work, we reached a point yesterday, when we could put together the Rubik cube for Seven. My drawings trace this continually changing process. The most exciting thing about it is that the elements can be put together in different variations. That's what really interests me. It characterises almost all of my pieces that the order of scenes is interchangeable. InTime could be started even from the end. Well, perhaps it would be even more exciting that way.

But changing the order of scenes would also change the coherence between the piece's context and its elements. New paths of interpretation would open up. Would that not overturn the basic concept too much?

The coherence between parts would indeed change but the piece would still create the same emotional space. New interpretations would emerge and other would disappear but the spirit of the piece would not change My pieces work when the audience is able to see this spirit.

How long have you been planning Seven?

The idea for Seven was taking shape already while I was making InTime. I was exploring the diversity of human relations in InTime. I tried to create a choreography that expressed in dense images this continually changing and diverse system of relations. Seven deals with a much more global problem, emigration, homelessness, special territory and the question of identity.

You spent more than two years in France. What do you think about homelessness?

A creative person must keep a distance from his or her personal experiences. These experiences and feelings can appear on stage as authentic only if they find their place in a wider context. The artist must use his or her own experiences but also go beyond them. One must not present himself on the stage but project and filter experiences originating from a multitude of sources. I indeed have personal experiences about homelessness. After many years spent abroad, I migrated back home. I also have my own experiences about what it feels like when someone cannot return home for six or seven years. When I left Hungary, I had to close down my past, I had to reborn in a different culture and new environment. But there is also internal homelessness which is not the same as leaving your home against your wish, under coercion, when a natural disaster, war or other reasons forces you to get confronted with a new environment. One can be homeless even if he or she seemingly has a home and an ordinary life.

How does the search for identity appear in Seven?

Beyond emigration and homelessness, Seven also refers to such historic moments as the '56 revolution, deportation to Auschwitz, the Gulag or the painful memory of the Berlin Wall. The piece incorporates all these but in a very abstract way. It is not the task of the artist to solve these matters, only to call attention to our shared responsibility. It is important for everyone to understand the age that he or she lives in. It is a responsibility that no artist can disregard. The performance will include the well-known "Frenák elements," such as exciting stage sets, but there will be also lots of new things. I expect my dancers to act as partners. I know that I am very tough but I do not like parasitic elements within the movements. Everything that only serves the purpose of being pleasant I eradicate. The piece explores how we are able to create ourselves in a new, unstable and unknown environment, how we can let go of the past and learn to live in the present. In Seven I am looking for the possibility of self-realisation but it is in no way self-mourning.

In addition to Seven, Compagnie Pal Frenak is preparing for an extraordinary premiere. During December, the company will celebrate its 10th anniversary in Hungary at the Trafó. For the occasion, you have reworked Ká.Osz! Why did you choose that performance?

Ká.Osz! has a certain family-like feel to it, which is perfect for celebration. We will not stick to the original choreography. The performance will be improvisation-based, with a free and easy atmosphere, with the audience sipping on red wine served by the dancers when possible. For the occasion, I also invited a few dancers from the original performance, in order to celebrate the entire company.

The departure of dancers is a natural process in the life of a company. Young people seek their own paths and try themselves to be choreographers. How do you feel when your former dancers appear as independent choreographers but a Frenák-type language of expression appears in their work?

All choreographers know that dancers will leave the company. This is a natural process, to allow dancers to try new ways with different choreographers and me also to explore new paths with different dancers. And there are those dancers who start going their own way, but that is their responsibility, not mine. There are two things that bother me: when someone tries to shift the responsibility for their own creation on me or when my movement-combinations or performance elements directly appear in other people's work. I find such experiences emotionally very distressing. But I highly respect someone who can start off their own way, like Krisztián Gergye, looking out for his own self.

If all your dancers left at the same time, would the Pál Frenák Company still survive?

I am the intellectual capital of the company, therefore it would still survive. Such a situation would be a real test. I would have to ask myself the question why such a thing happened to me. And I could only find and express the answer in dance. Perhaps in a solo piece, perhaps with a new company.



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