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Theatre, Ritual, Labyrinth

Tibor Martinovics

She has made herself. Individual discs, concerts with contemporary musicians, appearance in Madách's The Tragedy of Man, dance theatre performances, own pieces, and now a role in Meredith Monk's opera, Celebration Service. The piece, written in 1996, is quoted as a contemporary ritual, and after having been played in New York, Charleston and Minneapolis, it is now being presented for the first time in Europe, in Budapest, on 13 April at Trafó, with the participation of Hungarian performers. Monk's solo is being sung by Ágens.

Magyar Narancs: The reception of your latest piece, Tenebrae, was quite controversial, in any case it may be conceived as the summing up of all your works until now. I didn't think that after this severe piece, the presented daemon-world, you would get on the stage so soon.

Ágens: We presented Tenebrae at Trafó in Autumn 2002. This year, at the Millenáris Teatrum, the performance changed a lot in its details, but I already knew the "story". I don't miss it so much already, as when it first happened. The piece's reception actually was controversial, but after a certain time, it is only what you do on the stage that counts, and what is outside of that is simply unimportant. We have been working with the Monk piece since January, it has been a four month period of rehearsing, and you can nicely smooth the Daemon-world into this. The Tenebrae (Darkness) and the Daemon theme, which I have been dealing with for almost a year, tilts me over into another world. In the Monk piece, which is somewhere in between theatre and a ritual, there is a spiritual purity which, perhaps, cannot be perceived at first, but the unity of the songs, the texts, the movements creates the security, through which we dare believe, that this very simple spirituality, dissolved into its elements, exists. Things are closely related to each other - the Tenebrae with the Monk piece, the Monk piece with my new piece to be presented in Autumn. The Celebration Service is in the centre in my mythology. This is what keeps me in balance.

MN: How did Monk find you, did she participate in the selection of the company at all?

Á: The Mûhely Alapítvány (Workshop Foundation) called me that there was going to be this show, and that I should go to the selection. I didn't really want to go, I was uncertain whether to take part in a teamwork and in the work with a composer with a very strong character and representing completely different relations. In the end, it turned out that I could be tamed. It was Tom Bogdan, member of the Monk Group, and one of the three performers who instruct Meredith Monk's works throughout the world, who selected the performers, it is him, who holds the rehearsals. Bogdan, otherwise, works throughout the United States, with opera companies, choirs, oratorio groups and symphonic orchestras, and he's one of the pioneers of cross-over music, he likes to mix different musical genres in his own programs, from antique to pop music. Monk only arrives on the last week, she stages the piece and corrects. I was a bit deceived when it turned out that they communicate the performance as a workshop, as we have been working unbelievably hard for four months, and everyone in the company is a practising dancer, singer or actor.

MN: As far as I know, it has also occurred that Monk would sing a song in the piece. Would this be an occasion for a great meeting, or would her presence be disturbing?

Á: As of now, I do not know which of us will sing the opening song at Trafó, some say this, some say that. After all, it's her opera... Great meeting? There is a lot of good work, and stories coming from the work. This is already there without her, and this can give reinforcement and security.

MN: Monk is, after all, a guru. But you are perhaps in the best period of your career. Isn't it dangerous to step over into another world at this time?

Á: With every role, you step over into another world. But a person is the sum of his or her existential experiences, which he takes with him when stepping over.

MN: You started singing late, at the age of twenty-seven, from nowhere. With quite vulnerable surfaces, without any professional education, with an unclassifiable genre, which was difficult to classify. Then after a few years you stopped for a longer period. Recently, however, you have performances often, and it's as if you had found your partners as well.

Á: I didn't start out from the institutional system, I was never given the chance to take part in the traditional master and pupil relation, I didn't learn to respect authority, I didn't get years to get acquainted with and to learn the basics and the forms. I started from nowhere when I began to sing. I didn't know the communication signs of the system, so I didn't know how to beat them. I sniffed into the air and I only evaded the area if the smell of urine was too strong, that is if I definitely had to acknowledge that it was the hunting-field of another being. Sometimes my nose deceived me, I don't even know how I stayed alive. By now I have learned which surfaces and systems of communication are open to me. When I started, I had no idea about this. I brought my first songs to András Wilheim and Adrienne Csengery, you can imagine what I got... I stopped, as far as this can be stopped at all.

MN: And how did you get on from here?

Á: I was invited to Ispánk into a kind of artist camp, and there a painter student girl, who was almost completely unable to communicate, autistic, without a culture, and not speaking the language, in the context of creating land art, acting in a wild thicket seemingly impenetrable, set up a labyrinth, with hiding places and passages. She had me sit in the middle. There she smudged my body with clay and earth, pasted feathers, flowers, seeds in my face, in my hair, and left me there. Time stopped, I don't know how long time I spent in the middle of the labyrinth. It was raining, bugs and ants climbed on me, I lost my self-consciousness, I had no idea about how I looked, what was happening with me, and what was happening at all. At a certain point the "audience", the dwellers of the camp and the village started coming, they came one by one, and I started singing. I stayed in two with some of them. Hours passed, then they came to get me and they brought me out. They told me shocking things about what happened with them in the labyrinth. This was when it started again. That girl pushed me over to where I belong.