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Pal Frenák: W_all

Léna Megyeri @Springback Magazine

2019. 01. 08.

Within a couple of days, Budapest’s dance enthusiasts were treated with new productions of two choreographers with very distinct styles. To those who know their creators, both performances delivered exactly what they would have expected. Whether that’s a good thing is probably up to each audience member to decide.

‘When I get involved in something, it shows,’ says Pál Frenák in a report about the rehearsals of his company’s new show, W_all. Indeed: although it was long advertised that Frenák will give full scope to his dancers and only serve as their mentor during the creation process, the show is not much different from his classic pieces. By now, 61-year old Frenák has his own fanbase – no small achievement in the world of contemporary dance. Fans expect some artists (writers, musicians, choreographers) to always reinvent themselves, while others they ‘only’ expect to deliver the well-known and well-loved. Of course it depends more on the artist than on the fans: some of them are keen to explore new ways of expression from time to time, while others cling to their signature style. Whether the reason for the latter is lack of inspiration or whether these creators just do what they can do best, I guess is up for discussion in each case.

Once-radical Frenák has spared his audience big surprises for a while now, and W_all is no exception. Although the 11 performers come with very different backgrounds and abilities, and the list of inspirations on the show’s bill is long and diverse, it looks much like anything Frenák has done in the past few years. As in many of his shows, the scenery is defined by gigantic objects: this time it’s gym-class mattresses that can serve as walls as well. The dancers’ outfits are typical for the company too: underwear, black suit-jackets, kneepads and stilettos. Some scenes – dancers jumping on the mattresses, almost flying above each other; acrobatic duets and trios with vehement physicality that verge on violence – could have been borrowed from any of his recent works.

As for the context behind the form, the company wanted to talk about ‘diversity seen as difference, individuality seen as degeneration’ and question the limits of art and everyday life. But Frenák has built his whole career on being different and unique, and has often worked with dancers with extreme or at least unusual physicalities. If we were shocked (and were we at all?) by a man in a red leotard and pointe shoes dancing to Saint-Saëns’ The Dying Swan, by a deaf girl singing or a performer in a wheelchair, that wouldn’t be at one of this company’s shows. Difference has always been normal in Frenák’s world, and this time he doesn’t even do much more than show up these unusual characters, without giving them context or thought, which makes it hard to reflect on them.

Still – most walls have breaches that let some rays of light through; and just like that, W_allhas its own rays of light. It’s easy to be amazed by Milán Maurer’s incredibly loose joints or his artistic swimming on the floor and through the air (a reference to Philippe Lioret’s movie, Welcome); to become uncomfortable during a duet, in which Emma Lőrincz, throwing her stilettoed feet easily to her head, is clearly an abused woman, yet never seems weak or lost; and be puzzled by Fanni Esterházy’s maniac and robotic solo. The scene where amputee Tamás Kónya floats in, strapped up in the height of his missing legs, and slow-dances with Emília Polgár, has provoked mixed audience reactions – to me it was just touching. These bits and pieces let the performers’ individuality shine through – but paradoxically they are mostly shadowed by the company leader’s unmistakable touch.



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