by Gabriella Medgyesi
a performance by Ágens and the Company Kompmánia
Almost everyone falls into the trap of asking you in interviews that how it is possible to define what you do. Now I can't avoid that trap, either.
Ágens: - I sing. I've been doing it for nine years now. It's all about a flood of sounds that broke out from me like a source and with which I didn't really know what to do at first. From an external approach it's a singing technique of falsetto and guttural sounds that contains elements of the classical voice-production, as well. From my aspect it's like communicating a system of information or relations that give very clear and exact ideas for the audience present.
And what is it that you sing?
You have to listen to it, it's really hard to verbalize. I think you should imagine me as a poet or writer who gets inspired by a tide of stories or a cluster of information and looks for a form to express it. Singing is my way of definition and that's all. It contains the story itself. Like a story by Márai that melts my soul while reading it because of what it conveyes beyond words. The same happens to me.
It's quite unusual that you sing without words.
Now I've started using them.
Yes but it's not that typical. Did it come naturally or is it a conscious decision?
It's a natural disposition, like a learning process or walking the path of human life. This is how I was able to open up and reveal myself from the very start-merely by sounds without words. This is the relation that fit most to what I've learned about the world and how I was able to define it. But now I reached a point where I've started to use words although still not in Hungarian but my special so-called 'found' language or Latin. I've done an Agnus Dei, which is really powerful and fine, if you ask me but it's an invocation with traditional lyrics not written by me.
Do you think there is a conflict between sounds and words?
Definitely. On a basic level what I do is like a scream. It's like stepping up to someone and shake him. This is how I sing. And in the minute when it's moulded into words or transformed into literature it will become an entirely new form of definition. More disciplined, more artificial. You can pack anything into an elemental shout but they can only be single words of exclamation.
Your performances are always somewhat theatrical. What's the reason behind that?
A simple gig just wouldn't fit into my conception. I don't step on stage with an instrument in my hand and there is no band backing me. There's only my voice and some pre-recorded music created by Ferenc Boudny, so this is really more like a theatrical situation. This is the foundation on which I build the atmosphere to express myself. And the people I work with do the same and probably that's why it's such a unique thing. It's not that easy to tune to each other...
But it definitely happened when doing a theatre-piece together with the Company Kompmánia. What's the story of this performance?
We became very good friends with the members of Kompmánia. It's like being bonded by blood, a state of unconditional trust- we really believe in each other and bring out things from each other that we haven't been able to achieve anywhere else so far. Attila Csabai had this idea of making an improvisational dance theatre piece guided by my voice- which is not very different from the situation when I perform alone because then the voice-that is thought itself - leads everything, as well. 'Passages' contains three stories happening in parallel.
Did you have a previous conception of what it was going to be about?
Each of us had an idea within his or her own relations. The voice-that is thought itself- is the core of the whole thing, evoking different things in each dancer and apparently in each member of the audience, as well.
Who gave this title to the performance?
It was an idea by Attila and me because we are both good at defining things and are able to convey what we think verbally, too. 'Passages' is a very precise definition of what happens within ourselves during the performance. It's like trying to reveal your own essential relations. Of course, this is obviously impossible because it's something only to be achieved in the last moment before death- if it's true. Maybe then we can reach the core of everything and understand the story in which we play a part. But I always hope and 'Passages' clearly marks it that I sort of have a hint about the story in which I play and I think it inspires all the dancers to be bold enough to open up and show their innermost worlds. Apparently this process can be absolutely revolting and outrageous but also elemental and vibrant. So there's a chance of catharsis which may sound a bit peculiar these days when talking about the contemporary dance scene where too much emphasis is laid on technical gimmicks.
The term 'passages' suggests that it is possible or necessary to get somewhere. Let's put it clear: what's the point of departure and where does the journey end?
It's impossible to answer this question. Everyone have their own path, just like in life. 'Passages' is about how you get back to yourself from yourself in different ways. And this is where the touch of God may come in. I don't mean it in a religious sense, I just have my own natural approach to the Universe or world sytem and it's free from any kind of philosophy. So what happens when you get back to yourself? Incredible things and nothing, on the other hand. To discover the meaning of this nothing is what I do in everything I sing. Nothing happens-to the extent that it almost makes me cry. I stand in a beautifully built room wearing a crown and a designed dress-these all mean certain things. I get prepared. I feel that a story is starting in moments and that I'll be the one who sets things in motion. But where is that story now which will be unfolded in five minutes? I hear the noise of the audience from outside, they'll come in soon. But the story is yet to come. Who brings it? The audience or me? Or it's still there already waiting to be realized for some reason by me and the dancers...A second before the audience comes in and I'm still looking for the story that I have to enter or start. And then the doors open and they are in the house. I usually start singing when they begin to come in-my voice guides them and they find me in a situation where magic can happen. And the story is there in that moment- and then I don't know what's going on and then it's over, the audience is gone and they take me with them. Everything disappears and I don't remember what happened. Of course later I can try to recollect the faces and situations... But the story itself is gone.
Now that you are after a performance do you think that magic happened?
I don't know. I don't know what the dancers say and I'll also face this thing when I watch the video of the performance. The other day I was thinking about the things that we remember and I realized that when I look on my life, it's just amazing what comes to mind. Not the first love and things like that but scents and objects. Once on my way to work I had this feeling that I'm still at primary school. In those days there were afternoon schools, as well, and I saw the same afternoon lights and felt the same scents. This is a story. Getting back to your question, the risk is enormous if the magic will be happening or not. This is something I think about a lot, as well. You know, by setting the date of the premiére we decide that it should be happening at a given time. Now we don't really know if it's the best date compared to the rhythm of the world or the rhythm of our own lives, so we have to work on it in the manner of an alchemist. It's more complex than we think. Why should it happen at that place and time? Stories come and give you a punch or kick you and then you realize that they're over. You notice that. But this has to be created the way an alchimist creates, so from where and how you manage to do that is incredibly crazy. So I don't really deal with this topic.
You seemed to go through a significant change in character between the first two performances. At the premiére you appeared as a prehistoric woman in a costume of mud and plants while the second performance saw you as a magician, an emerald-woman. What's the reason behind this?
It all started with a fundamental experience. Last summer I went to a camp of artists, where I lost my self-image. We did all sorts of tasks in this camp and once they made a mask for me from mud, clay and feathers, sat me in a nest with a maze built around and I was left there for long hours on my own. I went through entirely new things in that solitary place. My self-image vanished, I didn't know how I looked like, all the reflection I had being the reaction of the people coming there by chance. So I had to build up the story from that. From them. This became the essential core of everything I've been doing for years. And I thought that it could be revisited, which turned out to be impossible because the gift of meeting my own innermost system of relations or thoughts is an experience that just can't be reproduced. When we tried to make the mask and rebuild the scene-this time I was watching the whole process in a mirror- it was far from the original thing. So this is what made me change my mind, because it's simply unrepeatable and I even felt like betraying what I had gone through in that camp. This is not a game, things are not interchangeable even if everything dictates the opposite these days. The reproduction of art and all the plastics, you know...But I still think that they're not- and the same applies to people, as well. My father always said that nobody is irreplaceable, but the truth is that nobody can be substituted. And it's the same with stories, too. Betraying my own story would mean losing my credibility. That's why we swapped costumes, thinking that we should try to create a passage from the diva's path who is a purely spiritual being. You can do many things, betraying yourself is not one of them. And not because the audience might nab you, but for yourself.
There's another thing that I particularly liked about 'Passages': while there are many attempts today to break the borders between the different forms of art it's rare to see such a natural passage. Was it a conscious thing?
Not at all. This is your opinion. We never thought of it this way. It was all about the bonds between each other, how you crawl towards another person, surrendering yourself entirely. To let it happen. We never tried to invent a theory and then write a synopsis trying to raise money from foundations. It was like a necessity of life, like drinking water.
What are your main experiences after this experiment.
It's not an experiment. The dancers also call it an experiment all the time which gives me a fit, because it's just not that. It's a matter of life and death. Of course I learned a lot about theatrical relations, because I rarely appear on stage when working with theaters, they mainly use only my voice. Now I learned a lot about creating a scene and the importance of lighting, it's amazing how many things can be created merely by lighting. And I also realized that I have to keep on doing this kind of thing.
You have done a lot of radical stuff with your voice so far but we all change and go through different phases. Can you see where your path will take you next?
I'm really interested in changes and obviously I have intuitions where I'm heading to. I'm not really interested what people think of it because if I were I'd have to try to rape myself. Anyway, I really think that I created something radically new because I've been using human voice as a medium-also as a psychological one- in such an insolent and free way- and it's not conceit- which is very rarely done. Some people only get the courage to do this after decades of studies. I don't. I just happened to be this way... I just know what I know and that's all. Very few people are capable of passing the barriers of styles and the different ways of voice-production in an absolutely free way. Of course it's not a virtue in itself, because I could also be terribly amateur or unauthentic knowing that. But I do it in an authentic way. I know it's not that easy to hear this from my mouth, still it's like someone knowing that he or she can draw a line. Unfortunately I can't do that. I'm also not too good at swimming, but I like to ride my bike or sit in the sauna- although I'm not sure how much you know these things. I'm a singer, this is what I know.
Translated: Gábor Harmati