Saturday, September 18, 2004

Tonight, Electric

Dancing in an electricity substation, a mysterious new friend, gliding along walls to avoid security cameras, and a late night peek at a recently restored synagogue turned Holocaust memorial.

Performances have begun again at the Trafo after their summer break, so I went to buy my season ticket today. The Trafo is a former electricity substation that was built in 1909 and has been converted into a nexus for all contemporary arts. I'd been a couple years ago with Michael, where we saw a dance performance that was advertised as featuring "the eery machinations of breasts." The dancer incorporated her uncovered breasts into her choreography, including one ten minute session I could only describe as rhythmic jiggling. Sounds absurd, but it wasn't. It was beautiful and a revelation to me. Breasts usually seem like a liabilty for dancers; they usually have to be flattened and compressed and put away so as not to interfere with the oligarchy of torso and limbs. But this artist owned her breasts, and she literally made them dance. They are factual, breasts. There's no getting around them, so close to one's face. And if you have large breasts, then they affect your balance, how you walk, how you carry yourself, how you run up and down stairs, how you sit on the bus, what you wear. They fluctuate in size, evolve in shape, alternately feel tender, sore, or titillated (no pun intended). To not address their existence in modern dance choreography, a medium whose vehicle is the human body, is an egregious omission.

Tonight there was a performance by the Random Dance Company from the UK. I was sitting in the performance hall in the fourth row with one empty seat to my right, when an older gentleman, balding, gray, wearing a black-leather vest and a checked-shirt, asked if the seat was free. We started chatting during the first brief intermission. He spoke very good English, which is rare for older Hungarians.

During the second intermission, we went for a walk. I noticed a new construction building on the corner made of a light-colored stone which was stacked on the diagonal. A.H. began to explain the building to me, that it was a modern addition to an older synagogue that was recently restored. The entire site is a museum and exhibition space. For obvious reasons, the Jewish population has substantially diminished in Budapest, and there are not enough Jews to utilize all the old synagogues for worship.

We were standing outside the building, Albert explaining to me that the Hungarian architect borrowed significantly from Daniel Libeskind, when two of the museum guards peeked out of the door. A.H. has such a friendly way about him, (an Italian jolliness about him) that I thought that he knew the guards. Especially when they let us into the courtyard. And especially when we were allowed to enter the historic synagogue, though we were instructed to walk along the walls so as to avoid the security cameras. The ceiling had a blue painted backgound with white stars, and I looked up at them, trying to focus on the formal qualities of the building, but thinking more about the magic of what I was experiencing.

A.H. is a mystery. I don't know what he does. He skirted around a lot of my questions. He knows a tremendous amount about art, music, and architecture. He has traveled extensively, which is also very unusual for a Hungarian. He was asking about my experiences abroad, and I told him about working at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. He said that he makes a trip to Venice every two years. For the Biennale? I asked, and he confirmed. I asked if he was an artist, but he said no, no. We exchanged phone numbers and e-mail addresses, and he told me that he wants to take me to Obuda (this means Old Buda, and was one of the three distinct cities that were unified in 1873 to become Budapest) where there is a small sculpture museum dedicated to a Hungarian artist, and that he will introduce him to me.

So sleepy now. What will I dream? Of electricity and dancing and painted stars I hope.


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