After a forced hiatus of four years, dunaPart will return this November. At the invitation of the organiser of the event, Trafó House of Contemporary Arts, the six-member board of curators (Orsolya Bálint, Zsuzsa Berecz, Tamás Jászay, Beatrix Kricsfalusi, Levente Lukács, and Júlia Sándor), consisting of theatre theorists and practitioners, evaluated and discussed a record number of 187 applications received by the deadline in early June over the course of several online sessions. During these discussions, a flexible and open system of criteria, as described below, was outlined to select the 22 performances that made it into the final programme.
Since its establishment in 2008, the aim of dunaPart has remained unchanged: the platform aims to present the current state of the independent performing arts scene in Hungary, as well as the works of its leading and emerging artists, to foreign professionals through the mediation of invited curators. A key objective is to facilitate new or ongoing collaborations, to support international distribution, and to promote Hungarian performing arts abroad. In our experience, it is primarily the independent performing arts community that can and does exhibit productions that can stand their ground in an international context.
That is, as long as they are allowed to and as long as they can: the independents in Hungary are fighting for survival at the moment, but it is also becoming clear that many are giving up the fight. Since 2010, the cultural government has viewed independent artists that are often critical in tone as enemies, with varying degrees of intensity. The pandemic of 2020 spectacularly depleted the reserves of the sector, after which the restrictive government measures taken on the grounds of the February 2022 Russia’s invasion of Ukraine made work radically more difficult. By now, it is clear that the losers of Hungary’s extremely complicated theatre funding system are the independents: they have to cope with drastically reduced operating subsidies without prior consultation; grants awarded but not paid out for months; international cooperation made difficult by the unpredictable handling and limitation of EU co-funding - independent artists either just starting their careers or having been active for decades (would) have to work under such conditions.
It is therefore important to note that since the last dunaPart organised in 2019, the conditions for creating art in Hungary have changed radically. Our selection reflects on these developments. Every crisis brings with it positive aspects: in the independent scene, several collaborations have emerged, typically smaller but with a different organisational structure than before, and occasional, project-based performance-making has become a feature alongside (and partly instead of) permanent companies. The growing financial and infrastructural insecurity, also at an international level, has certainly become a factor in the increasing self-reflection in performances, the appearance of the pandemic or burn-out as a theme, and the fact that in many cases the creative process itself is becoming the subject of the work.
The selection is dominated by innovative works that experiment with genres, aesthetics, and means of expression. During the selection process, we took into account the relevance of the performances in the Hungarian context and their potential to deliver in an international context. The majority of the selection includes artists who have never performed at dunaPart before: we primarily aim to give them the opportunity to present themselves internationally. However, we have also included some well-known names: in their case, we have identified new paths that we think might be of interest to foreign guests. The selection is intended to offer a wide range of works, regardless of genre, aesthetic or stylistic boundaries, primarily but not exclusively from the independent performing arts. In the case of several artists/performances, we believe that it is the method of creation itself that could be “exported”: what was seen in Budapest could form the basis of either a workshop or a licensed performance.
In the selection, we moved from the artistic product towards the process, from closed aesthetics towards open ones. Research as a process, the artist’s work as the subject of reflection, is emphasised. Consequently, the role and position of the spectator in the performances we consider remarkable is also transformed: spectators must live, observe, and research the work taking place in their presence. The spectator becomes an active participant in the aesthetic communication, that is, the attention of the performers poses a challenge to the audience as well. In addition, several performances reflect on physicality and subjectivity by exploiting, re-dimensioning or questioning the performers' capacities or by exploring the performative aspects of autobiography.
In recent years, a number of Hungarian artists have chosen temporary or permanent emigration for forced reasons, which has led to a different kind of internationalism in dunaPart. The selection reveals the phenomenon of creating art from the diaspora, thematises the question of something or someone being “made in Hungary”, and sharply reveals a more networked and physically fragmented production environment than before. It is nevertheless a big question whether any force will be capable of retaining the artists who have yet stayed in Hungary: the isolated, small communities persist for the time being, but for how long, we do not know.
Orsolya Bálint, Zsuzsa Berecz, Tamás Jászay, Beatrix Kricsfalusi, Levente Lukács, Júlia Sándor
Translated from the Hungarian original by László Mózner