The anatomy of creation - Interview with Zoltán Balázs in Pesti Műsor

He has been the founder and director of the Maladype Theatre since 2001, and regularly undertakes guest directings abroad. He consciously seeks out for the unexpected opportunities and irregular acting solutions provided by theatrical and non-theatrical spaces. In the fall, he prepares for another heroic venture: he sets the musical Nine on stage, a stage adaptation of Federico Fellini’s film 8 and ½ with Arthur Kopit’s libretto, and Maury Yeston’s music and lyrics. The premiere of the performance will be held on September 25 at the Budapest Operetta Theater. We talked to the Jászai Mari Prize-winning director Zoltán Balázs about the unusual performance.

- You have been interested in Nine for a long time. Why?

- Because it is an ensemble-building work and provides a wide playing field for all actors. Its complexity and unique structure do not allow the director and his co-creators to build their concepts on classical musical traditions. It is also an extra challenge for performers to be constantly present on stage. In this story which is running through many threads, the questioning of the nature of reality is guaranteed by magical realism. This style organizes the game, the use of space, manages time cyclically, and merges the narrative present of situations with unusual aspects. The “stratospherical” imagination, drawn from the protagonist’s memories, desires, and dreams, here desperately needs scenic solutions and visual effects that help move specific characters and events to another dimension.

- How was your encounter with the company?

- Our creative relationship deepened during the chaotic and crisis period of the pandemic, filled with curiosity and a desire to learn. This is also due to the fact that the artists of the Operetta Theater have retained their openness, their childlike spirit. They are just as insecure and vulnerable as members of any other company who want to give the best of themselves, the most, and they desire for trust, for artistic reinforcement. They are grateful if, as an expression of respect for their sovereign creative personality, the director initiates them into the details of his concept and understands with them the causal connections that move the intentions and actions of the given roles. They appreciate the organic attention of the director, the time devoted to analytical rehearsals, the workshop-like construction, and the need for analytical thinking.

- Where did the idea for the strange floating, rhythmic space come from?

- From Fellini's works. In almost every film, the Master features variations of spaces outside the locations of specific social life: symbolic mirrors of the spaces in which real life takes place. This kind of symbolic use of space reflects the protagonist’s state of mind, the atmosphere of the whole broken world. The lack of site identification causes different action pulses to occur between ever-changing landscapes and time zones. Also, the spa in which the story in question takes place is merely an allegorical venue for the protagonist’s external and internal transformations. Therefore, with Éva Szendrényi, the set designer of the performance, we tried to create a visual world, a space composition in which the gradually coming to life images of consciousness keep the viewer's attention in constant motion, inviting them to active participation. Nine’s rhythmic space combined with Japanese minimalism also evokes the thinking of scenic innovator Adolphe Appia, Edward Gordon Craig, and Josef Svoboda.

- How would you describe Guido's figure?

- I consider him extremely talented with every losing moment of his. He’s like a “crash test dummy” who goes with its head against a wall to draw attention to himself. Guido is both a perpetrator and a victim of his neglected actions, superficial and arrogant manifestations. The world he knew is disappearing; he is left alone, and the dark forces that have accumulated in him begin to devour his creative energies. There is nothing in it that opens the gateway to recognition. From the subjective consciousness of the director struggling with inspiration, despair brings to the surface bilocation experiences that allow him to find himself in two places at once: in his childhood as a child Guido and in the abstracted present as a 43-year-old guy. Encountering yourself is inevitable. You have to break to zero to be able to thrive again. Like any artist looking for new ideas, wanting to innovate, he must let go of frills, clichés, nerves. According to Fellini, a good idea has three components: efficiency, elegance, and robustness. Guido is looking for these three components. With her nine-year-old child-self, he explores these in a clear, magical, and inspiring world of his childhood.

- As an artist, do you go back to your roots?"

- I only feed on my childhood experiences. If we want to find back to something essential, we sometimes have to bathe in the lake of childhood. We must allow the joy of accepting simplicity, the beauty of our banalities, freshness, personality and playfulness to permeate us again. We need to remind ourselves of our frivolous selves and also dare to integrate theatrical solutions to be articulated in the spirit of naive art into our works. If we give up all this because “our oeuvre obligates us” and do not encourage the provocative and mischievous parts of our personality, we are saying goodbye to the fragile moments of recognition, the nervous system awareness of the anatomy of creation.

- Do you have any desperate moments like Guido?

- A lot. For today, however, I have accepted that these weary moments are also part of my human, masculine, artistic development, without these there would be no progress. I had to learn to use them to be valuable building blocks for a creative method based on heterogeneous dimensions.

Klaudia Nagy, Pesti Műsor, 2021

Translation by Zsuzsanna Juraszek