About This Issue
5th Annual dunaPart Festival
Budapest, Hungary 2019
REPORTER: NATKA BIANCHINI
This past November it was my great privilege to attend dunaPart 5, Budapest’s showcase of independent theatre and dance presented for an international audience. Begun in 2008, this fall was the festival’s fifth iteration, which brought together more than 130 participants from across the globe for four days and over thirty performances scattered in various venues across the city. This was my first time traveling with CITD, and my first visit to Hungary, so I was determined to cram as much as possible into my five days there. I ended up seeing twelve performances, touring many of the city’s top sites, and walking close to seven miles a day! I returned home inspired, stimulated, and very, very tired.
The mood was hopeful, if not jubilant, when I landed in Budapest. Artists were still riding high after the election of Gergely Karacsony, Budapest’s new mayor—the first major defeat to the Fidesz government since Orbán resumed power. Several Hungarian directors shared with me their enthusiasm for a mayor who can be seen biking to work and even attending the theatre. Many were optimistic that the situation on the ground would start to improve. Little did we know that less than a week after my return to the States, the artistic community would be plunged into chaos with a series of new reforms severely restricting sources of funding, and exercising control over the appointment of city theatre directors. The laws currently before Parliament were softened from their most severe initial drafts; nonetheless, the situation remains precarious.
But let us return to the moment immediately before this one, November 27-30th, 2019, in what my colleague (Z Space Assistant Curator Rose Oser) dubbed “a very Hungary Thanksgiving.” dunaPart 5 was organized along two parallel tracts: movement/dance based and text/theatre based. As a freelance director, I followed the latter track and managed to attend all but three of the text-based offerings.
As this was my first time experiencing theatre in Eastern Europe, I noticed certain trends and themes which ran as an undercurrent throughout the whole festival. Prior to my departure, I read several digests from Americans who had previously been immersed in the Hungarian theatre scene—particularly Howard Shalwitz’s piece published on HowlRound summarizing his experience in Budapest last November with CITD. So I was expecting the robust, physical, and incredibly skilled acting that I observed uniformly across the performances. I immediately saw why Hungarian theatre is known as an actor’s theatre. The performances were THE primary element of each production, with design, text, and often even directing, coming in second and in service to them.
Live music and live musicians were a constant in a way that prompted me to muse on the artificial division often drawn in American theatre between ‘plays’ and ‘musicals.’ These were messy performances, figuratively, but often quite literally as well, with several stages littered with food and fluids, and the frequent employment of both nudity and profanity that made American ‘trigger warnings’ seem quaint. What felt to my eyes as an ‘in-yer-face’ contrivance aimed to shock and arouse the audience made a lot more sense in the context of more than four decades behind the Iron Curtain and the increasingly authoritarian regime Hungarians are currently suffering through.
Issues of national identity and European identity were prominent themes throughout the performances—a deliberate choice confirmed by the event planners at the curator’s discussion on the festival’s final day. Stereo Akt’s European Freaks, Reactor’s 99.6%, Studio K’s Sacra Hungarica, Mihály Schwechtje’s The Legacy, all grappled with what it means to be Hungarian in 2019 during the reign of Orbán and amid a changing European landscape.
On my final day in the city, I had a chance to visit the House of Terror on Andrássy út. The building housed first the Hungarian Nazi party headquarters and then the communist terrorist organizations ÁVO and ÁVH, and was the site of the torture and execution of numerous political prisoners. Now preserved as a museum, the exhibits (including reconstructed prison cells and gallows in the basement) brought to life what it was like to survive under communist rule. The visit was enormously helpful in contextualizing some of the identity politics we had seen depicted on stage which had initially struck us as dated or problematic, but which made a lot more sense in a country that has enjoyed fewer than forty years of freedom. A freedom that is very much imperiled today.
Photo: Natka Bianchini
Photo: Natka Bianchini
Photo: Natka Bianchini
Natka Bianchini is a freelance director, a published expert on Samuel Beckett and 20th-century American theatre, and an educator with fifteen years of undergraduate teaching experience. Her productions have been seen throughout the Northeast with independent theatre companies, and on university and college stages. As an artistic associate with Iron Crow Theatre in Baltimore, MD, she directed the award-winning productions of Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties (Jen Silverman), The Mystery of Love and Sex (Bathsheba Doran), and Cloud 9 (Caryl Churchill). As an artist, she is committed to nurturing feminist and queer voices and to telling stories that weave together the absurd and the tragicomic.
Natka’s first book, Samuel Beckett’s Theatre in America, was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2015. She has presented her work in numerous venues throughout North America and has been published in a number of international theatre journals. As the current vice president of the Edward Albee Society, she is co-editing a book of essays on Albee’s influence to be published by Brill.
Natka is an associate professor of theatre at Loyola University Maryland where she teaches directing, theatre history, and queer theatre. She holds an MA and Ph.D. in drama from Tufts University and a BA in sociology from Wellesley College. Examples of her professional work can be seen at www.natkabianchini.com.
The Trust for Mutual Understanding
The Trust for Mutual Understanding, a long-time supporter of CITD, is a unique and important player in Russia and Eastern Europe. Set up as a trust by a single anonymous donor in 1984, the focus was “to support direct person-to-person contact between American and Soviet professionals working in the field of art and environment.” A second gift was made in 1991, continuing the dual focus of art and environment, and opening up to Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe; the Baltic States; Central Asia; Mongolia; and Russia. They are now celebrating their 30th year continuing this essential work.
Thank you to Anikó Rácz and the dunaPart 5 staff.
THE CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL THEATRE DEVELOPMENT
Philip Arnoult, founder & director
Carol Baish, Jarod Hanson