We are swimming. We've already left the mainland - Interview with Zoltán Balázs / 2009

Zoltán Balázs is one of the most talented young directors and actors, the leader of the Maladype Theatre, is currently directing Faust at the Budapest Puppet Theatre. Coming from Transylvania, he can understand Faust's feel of no man’s land. He says, that Goethe’s amazingly rich text is as complex and bold as if we were to swim across the ocean itself without a lifeboat.

- Why is the genre of puppetry important to you?

- When I was studying with Bob Wilson in Paris, he said that theater is nothing more, than the resurrection of the dead in slow motion. I think this statement also applies to puppet theater. It is similar to Butoh, with which a new theatrical genre was born after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima: it reverses or slows it down, places the relationship between time and space in a new context. The intensity of the atomic bombing burned the shadows of the bodies onto the walls. Butoh makes irreversible processes reversible, copying shadows stuck to walls back to living bodies. This is the resurrection of the dead in slow motion.

- And the puppet is the revival of dead material.

- The puppet itself is an effective, truly straight signal. It frees me completely. I come to the puppet theater, and I feel extremely free. For example, if I told an actor at the end of The Cherry Orchard to say goodbye to the house he had lived in so far and to drag his hand along the walls, he would surely put something else into the scene, he would stop, yearn, shed a tear. The puppet is held by an actor and he drags his hand along the walls. So this way the gesture becomes important, the fact that he touches the walls of the house for the last time.

- Quite different generations of an actor are in the performance.

- There are nineteen actors in it, the youngest one is twenty-two and the oldest is seventy-five. The different generations must meet through Faust. The energy, impulsion and the wisdom of the elder can truly affect together. For me, among other things, Faust is about the same thing. Some amazing artists work at the Budapest Puppet Theatre. Actors who are also wonderful in working with puppets. And to all of this adds Goethe’s amazingly rich text, which is as complex and bold as if we were to swim across the ocean without a lifeboat.

- As a playwright, Sándor Zsóter contributed to the performance text creation. What is your Faust like?

- An agitated inner journey of an androgynous personality whose soul is habited by two. In this way, he tries to recreate the unity of two people over and over again during his journey.

- You are always working with designer Judit Gombár.

- Yes, it’s been eight years. This is no different in Faust’s case. Without her, I could hardly imagine my works.

- When and why did you leave Transylvania?

- In the year of the revolution. My mother felt the need to leave, which I hardly bore, but I understand it now. She felt like she was suffocating there, and both of her children would suffocate. We came here even if we had to live in difficult conditions for a while. But I'm thankful for these experiences because I could understand Faust's sense of nobody. The night we have left Sighetu Marmției we got on a train. It was raining, my grandparents stayed outside next to the train. I cried desperately, the train started, then braked and stopped. I was happy, I thought we weren't going anyway and I ran out of the compartment, but then the train started again and then it didn't stop anymore. And since then, I remember that the kid who ran out of the compartment got off. As strange as it sounds, that twelve-year-old boy, my ghost-body, is still sitting there at the train station and is waiting for me.

- What do the child and his current self represent?

- One is a strong longing and desire and the other is tradition, an insane attachment to the roots.

- How does this connect with what you have learned in Paris?

- Everything is connected to everything. When I didn’t go to university, I wasn’t studying in Paris, I hitchhiked around Europe to experience and to see all sorts of things. After losing Transylvania, I had nothing else to lose. That’s why there are no real idols for me in Hungary.

- As the director of Maladype, you strongly dictate the speed of working...

- The Maladype actors are free people if they didn’t want to work this way they certainly wouldn’t do it.

- But it is still a very closed community.

- I will do my best not to make it remote. This is why I have invited a foreign guest director, this is why Zsóter will be directing and we will also take part in a foreign co-production next year. I don’t want Maladype to become Zoltán Balázs and his company, I am just the artistic director. I am determining the future, the path, and I'm sure that I'm not dictating an easy speed of working.

- But you became an idol because there are very few talented directors in your age group.

- Certainly not, but it’s very good to be between thirty and forty years, which I have just entered, I enjoy it.

- You are not performing now at all, although you also did Hamlet and Macheath in the Beggarséopera.

- I am not playing at Bárka anymore, I suspended acting all season, because I want to pay attention to Maladype and my directing.

- In the last three performances, The Mikado, Leonce and Lena and Egg(s)Hell I feel that work-wise they go above the average Hungarian theaters - this has been the case so far in your directing -, and all this is accompanied by a liberated stage existence. Although many of your performances are about suffering, they radiate happiness as well.

- I haven’t been unhappy so far, but you are right, I am happy now. And it certainly contributes this that I had a riding accident, was paralyzed, I had surgery. While I was lying at home and rehabilitating from head to toe, I dropped the unnecessary burdens that I have put on myself.

- It was a good thing that the Seagull was postponed for a month at Bárka so you could play Treplyov, no one took over the role.

- In this János Szász had a great part, who said that he would either direct the play with me or he won’t do it with anyone. What should I say, I am lucky. After losing everything by leaving Transylvania, I tried to replace what I have left behind, so I hitchhiked in Europe, I have studied in Paris, and today I could no longer tell how I had the energy and time to do acting and directing at the same time. I’ve learned that the personality of the actor is the most important thing in the performance. I also accepted to direct at the National Theatre because I knew I wanted to work with Mari Törőcsik. I will be directing The Duchess of Malfi at the end of the season.

- You have visited Mari Törőcsik after she was released from the hospital. What did she say?

- That “You know Zoltán, if I smell a director, I’ll go.” Lately, I had the opportunity to try myself out in several genres, so I was able to direct an opera at the Mezzo Festival in autumn, now I am directing Faust at the Budapest Puppet Theatre, but then I will return to the Maladype Company, whose members are the most important to me.

- In what phase are the Faust’s rehearsals now?

- We are swimming. We’ve already left the mainland, but I don’t see the other shore yet. I think Faust could be directed for a lifetime.

Gábor Bóta, Népszava, 2009

Translation by Brigitta Erőss