Serious clowns - Interview with Zoltán Balázs and Kata Janza

They swing completely on the same string. Who would have thought? I was already surprised that the director of Maladype Theatre, an alternative, independent company, and the popular diva of the Budapest Operetta Theatre met on the same stage. The musical Nine interpreted from Fellini's 8 and 1⁄2 was a wonderful journey for both of them. I talked with the two artists a few weeks after the premiere.

- From where are you running in such a haste?

- Zoltán Balázs: I arrived from Kosovo this morning and will continue to travel to Israel tomorrow, I have just arrived in Budapest. My company and I have been touring around the world for many years, including America, Asia and Africa. We are lucky because the whole company and thus our entire repertoire travels with us, so we always get the performance that the theme of the current festival requires.

- Kata, you're coming from a rehearsal. Are you ready for your next premiere?

- Kata Janza: Yes, the day after tomorrow The fiddler on the roof will have its premiere. I play Golde, the milkman's wife. The parents are usually depicted as old, but we, Zsolt Homonnay and Yvette Bozsik, came up with the idea of forming a youthful couple. A couple for whom not only the future of their daughters is at stake, but also their own relationship. In real life, we have children of the same ages while our lives are still in full swing. A beautiful moment happened during the first rehearsal. Tevje turned to me and we both knew what was going on in the other’s soul. I felt that Zsolt thought that if Janka was about getting married, he would be there. In response, I said with my gaze: if Zsombor gets married, I will be there too! Our tears started to fall. Zsolt and I got married at the same time, divorced and raised our children at the same time. It’s a huge gift to be able to live on stage in advance, what if Janka stands in front of me one day: mom, I’m getting married. It can happen at any minute.

- Z. B.: I really like listening to Kata! She is an extraordinary artist who not only lives an intense inner life, but can also put her emotions and thoughts into words. One can immediately relate to a sentence. I also love the way she looks at her partner. She sees into his soul, almost melts into him, as when a child stares at the sparks of fire and does not even notice it, through concentration he slowly slips into a more elevated dimension. Kata's giving nature also energizes her partners. The way they looked at each other with Zsolt in the Fiddler, was the same as with Gyuri Szomor at the rehearsal of the musical Nine - he plays Guido Contini, Fellini's alter ego - and then sang their duet with intimate naturalness. Then the air freezed for a moment... I think a director needs to notice these unique manifestations and special personality traits.

- I'm surprised you, the daredevil of theatre, who loves to push clichés aside, have now tried himself in a popular genre. It's not like the end result isn't impressive.

- Z. B.: I am an adventurous creator, I was excited about the challenge. Plus, I’m a big Fellini fan, and Nine was born out of the master’s self-confessed work. It was a huge innovation in 1963 that through Mastroianni’s person, he testified about his own creative crisis in his film 8 and 1⁄2. I think it’s a huge gift for a director to come into contact with Fellini’s intellectual heritage in some form. We almost met once in person, in Rome. I worked there with the set and costume designer Judit Gombár, who knew Fellini and his wife, Masina. One day she took me to their apartment, which is a completely average two-story house in the center of Rome, but unfortunately they did not open the door because they were just in Paris. I will never forget the way Judit pressed her face to their nameplate with endless love and stroked it. Returning to Nine, the musical was born twenty years later, in 1982, and was a huge success in New York. It was awarded twelve Tony Awards. I wouldn’t even call it a musical, but rather a kaleidoscopic piece of music with a thousand layers, colors and patterns, which is why it’s a great opportunity for a director seeking complexity.

- Weren’t you afraid they'll eat you for breakfast at the Operetta Theater? Because everyone is used to the rivalry light there, and there are huge personalities on the stage.

- Z. B.: Many people were scared by this, but I met a humble artist with a childlike spirit, open to novelty. What was amazing about this trip - and to be more accurate, still is, as the performances will continue in February - was that the actors, the dance troupe and the technical staff also believed in my concept from the beginning. The performers in Nine are indeed predators of great appetite one by one, but their desire to innovate and their healthy maximalism have served the production very well.

- K. J.: It was a great experience to work with Zoli! When we sat around during the first rehearsal, he had a sentence that shocked me. He told me, “I have been following your life, the work you have done so far. You have the ability to care about others. About in which state of life they are, what they are feeling, and if you get next to each other after a while, you will continue from where you last left off. And they can always count on that ... ”Well, here I felt like I was going to cry. It’s been so long ago, I’ve experienced that a director is genuinely curious about me, he knows who I am, and I don’t have to start from scratch. It felt very good. And Zoli said something else: he is not curious about what the world around us is already delighted with. We should get on stage with so much more because he came to us with more. He managed to free my playfulness so that I forgot all my routines and tiredness of the last twenty-five years. And that’s not just me, the other actresses, the “predators with huge appetite,” all told that. Under Zoli’s control, we became rascals again, serious clowns playing till death on the stage.

- Is that how you always do it, Zoli?

- Z. B.: Yes. I think I can be credible if I take my playmates with whom fate brings me seriously. It is very important to map out the nature of the actor, to get to know one's life path before we start rehearsing. I try to stay in touch with the changes in the world, I try to pay attention to what is happening with who from a distance, because if we work together, this knowledge will help us to build trust between us... In these nine months - because of the quarantines, it took us that much to finally carry out the premiere of Nine - in fact, we spent very little time together, yet significant, close ties have developed between us. That's why it matters to me now what's going on and how their careers are going, sometimes I call or send encouraging sms to the actors. And I'm sure there will be a continuation.

- The musical features several women, wives, lovers, producers and prostitutes. Kata plays Fellini’s muse, Claudia Nardi. Did you feel the figure close?

- K. J.: Absolutely. Claudia is the actress, the idol, the star who wants to be both a woman and a mother. This duality is present in my life as well. I take my child to school in the morning, I rush for him in the afternoon, I cook, I wash, but in the evenings I can finally stand there on the stage that represents the world, and that’s my own time. By then, my nervous system has to be adjusted. It’s not easy, but I’m used to this variety of operations. What this role has given me is that I realize I don’t want much anymore. That these few sentences are enough for me to condense into all that Claudia carries within her. The point is to be able to say those five sentences so that her whole destiny will shine in it. Of course, there are many years of work involved in making everything that simple.

- Thirsty for love, the protagonist commutes between his wife, his lover, and his muse, noticing he deceives them all. If I am right, you know a lot about men like that.

- K. J.: Hajaj...! In the meantime, I know they’re not bad, they’re just like that. In a way, in addition to my theatrical partners, I have played the role of the second wife all my life. Where are they messing it up...? Zoli once said that something happens to a person as a child and stays there. He told me then - I don't know if I should say this - that when he was twelve, his family moved from Transylvania to Hungary, and that little boy has been sitting on the bench of the train station ever since... Maybe the men should go back for that lost child and talk to him.

- Z. B.: Guido does the exact same thing. You can only awaken the inner strength needed for creation and creative work on your own by arranging your divisive relationships. To do this, however, you must return to your childhood, the creative world of cognitions and receptivity. It is a cruel confrontation, but it cannot be missed out. If Guido is unable to rebuild himself from his current life, he will be stuck in the world of memories, dreams and desires forever... As for my story, as a little boy I lost a country, my first love, my friends, and then I felt that I had nothing left to lose. I tried to let go of the associated innervations. I hitchhiked all over Europe, some took me for ten kilometers, others were getting me farther and closer to the city of my dreams, Paris. Then I founded the Maladype Theatre in 2001, and we soon became international. It doesn’t matter if I’m directing in Warsaw or Chicago, I’ll take this irregular guy who is manic of freedom with me everywhere.

- I saw an amazing glistening on stage, that many styles, dazzling clutter evoked the circus for me.

- Z. B.: Not by accident. Like Fellini, I am crazy for the circus. At the age of six, I decided to become an acrobat clown and hung out with a traveling circus. But unfortunately my grandfather brought me back with the police the next morning. Then I felt like they had taken my dream away from me. I didn't talk to my family for a month. I still don't think I've managed to come out of that trauma. The profession of theater-making was then an almost natural choice.

- In the performance there are all kinds of music played from Mozart to swing. How do you bear it with voice, Kata?

- K. J.: I sing from feelings. My colleagues always ask: Kató, what is the sound like here or there? But I never deal with that. It’s not the trill that matters, for me, these are inspired moments in which emotions filter through. It is also a misunderstanding that
the songs separate from the scenes. On the contrary, they flow into each other.

- Christmas is coming. I think you will rest a little.

- K. J.: I will perform with Attila Dolhai during the holidays, but since we do this every year and he is a playful puppy like me, we have learned how to celebrate with the audience. I decorate the tree at home in the morning and also bake a cake because my kids teased me so many times until I started baking during the quarantine and I’m trying to reproduce that now. Anyway, we will play board games a lot. I invite my friends and we will play Activity. I'll be the game master. I love it!

- Z. B.: I will fall under the tree. This year, for the first time in many years, I am having Christmas at home with my family. I roast an orange duck and then just watch out of my head. Next year, four mega-productions like Nine are waiting for me, so I probably won’t be able to stop my thoughts even at Christmas, but of course I’ll try to relax as well. Really looking forward to it!

Lilla Koronczay, Nők Lapja, 2021

Translation by Zsuzsanna Juraszek