Csardas! The Tango of the East

The pilfering of “ethnic” forms by “high” artists is not a recent phenomenon. Many dance aficionados know the csardas from its genteel, watered-down manifestations in such ballets as Coppelia and Swan Lake. But this folk dance–whose music was also appropriated in the mid-19th century by composers like Brahms and Liszt–has its own, more authentic history too. Now artistic director Zoltan Zsurafszki of the Budapest Ensemble, made up of 21 dancers and seven musicians, is here to set the record straight. Though often thought of as Hungarian, the csardas is more regional, Zsurafszki says, than national–it’s a dance that throve in various forms in villages throughout central Europe. The traditions from which it arose are perhaps a thousand years old, but the form reached its current state roughly 200 years ago, when it was consciously devised as a dance for the common people–as opposed to the waltz, for example, performed by the nobility. The csardas can be fast or slow, romantic or martial in feeling; in fact some of the men’s movements are based on ancient victory dances with swords or other weapons. Robust and vigorous, it’s characterized by lots of stamping, slapping, clapping, and whirling; the men tend to outshine the women. The form was revitalized in central Europe in the 1960s and ’70s when tanchaz (“dance house”) clubs were started. Indeed, this show begins in a dance house of today but takes the performers back in time, to a story about a young woman and two rivals for her affection. Csardas! The Tango of the East can be seen in one show only, Friday at 8 at the Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State; $20.50-$29.50. Call 312-902-1500 for tickets.

–Laura Molzahn

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.