The spirit of Flamenco - Interview with dance artist Zsófia Pirók

"There is something magical and unpredictable about it."
Experiencing the enticing Andalusian Nights was never so easy as watching flamenco dancer Zsófia Pirók performing on stage: powerful yet feminine, playful and emotional, she has twisted the critics and the audience around her little finger. She was recognised in 2016 with the “Career-starter dancer of the year” award. Although seemingly delicate and not unlike the graceful little bird her name indicates in Hungarian, actually she is a dedicated and strong-willed young artist, always taking the untrodden path and searching for new ways of expression.
-Your show entitled 'Dance Melodicas' was a great success last year. Which of your performances do you consider as the big breakthrough?
In my career the first major breakthrough was the premiere of my show entitled Suspiros (Sighs) in 2014, followed by three successful tours in the subsequent years. The next comparably pivotal point was the recent 2017/18 season when four new performances have been created, including Dance Melodicas. This has been a very intense and productive period in my life. By now I can feel that a little breathing space would be welcome: as a creative artist I need some time to relax, to regain stamina and then continue with new ideas and energies. This September I am traveling to Spain again, after a two years' hiatus, in order to recharge my batteries a bit. I can't wait for all the new impulses !
-As a dancer can you possibly have a secret favourite beside flamenco? Like doing a little hip-hop furtively at home?

To be honest I love all kinds of dance if represented on a real high level. Street dance, classical ballet, salsa, hip-hop, hungarian folk dances or african tribal dances, I'm really into all these genres as I love dance and music for their own sake. Most of all music. I like to think that dance is actually a sort of music too: it is the melody our body can produce. Perhaps I have chosen flamenco because of this: thanks to the special footwork, the dancer is a musician too, and also a conductor, having the ability of writing and directing a symphony in an improvised manner. I think it was this exciting harmony that has really caught me.
-You also teach flamenco within the confines of the FlamenCorazón Dance Theatre. Can we say that more and more people want to learn flamenco inspired by your performances?

This I can surely say is true. Most of our pupils started to dance because they have seen one of our performances. It is a great joy that this community is getting bigger each year. We have pupils who dedicatedly form a stable part of our group since a decade now. Under the hands of my mother Andrea Lippai (dance artist recognised with several awards, founder of the FlamenCorazón Arte Dance Theatre) a whole flamenco generation has been raised. She jokingly calls herself the 'Flamenco Granny' because her former pupils sometimes come back with their little daughters who already want to learn flamenco. Actually I just follow in my mother's footsteps as a teacher.
We know that for exemple in classical ballet the physics of a person can be very important. Are there any special characteristics one needs to be born with in order to learn flamenco?

The only important skill is a good sense of rhythm and timing. These can be developed to some extent, but the later one starts to work at it, the harder it gets. Developing these abilities since childhood would be very important, as they have a great influence in so many aspects of life. I think more attention should be paid to this. Luckily, other skills or specific features are not strictly required. Every physique and character can be presented to its advantage and every shortcoming can be compensated with something else. We must formulate the good goals to aspire for, that's the key. That requires just the right amount of self-confidence and self-criticism, in order to spare ourselves the frustration.

-You studied at the 'Conservatorio Profesional de Danza de Sevilla'. What do you think, is it possible to learn flamenco anywhere else than Spain?
I would say that the technique can be learnt anywhere, now that we live in the age of internet and lots of videos and other materials are available with a single click. But if someone has a vocation and would like to practice this genre on a professional level, then it is absolutely necessary to spend some time in that special environment where one inevitably gets all that unimitable impact and influence. Because flamenco is not just a technique, it is also a way of living, and that unique flavour is only perceptible at the very source. If you decide to become a carrier, if you really want to convey that feeling onto others, then you must experience the truth for yourself, with your own eyes and ears, not only through different mediums.
-Have you got good memories from Spain? Were you accepted by the others as the only foreign student?
I felt that I was accepted right away, luckily my class was a very kind and loving community. It is rather that I felt a breakthrough when I learnt how to communicate with confidence. In the South part of Spain they speak the Andalusian dialect which is very fast and the speakers tend to omit the last syllable. It took me one and a half year to adjust myself to that. When my complex about speaking has ceased, then I felt 'Now I'm really part of the community' but this was my inner journey, a process only perceptible to me.

-What are your pupils' experiences about flamenco?
They mostly tell me that they cannot think about anything else while learning how to dance, it is like a wakeful meditation, it disconnects them from reality. Through the expression of our emotions flamenco dancing gives us more self-confidence while the technical part affects positively our coordination skills and our body perception. Also, they say that those who practice flamenco will never get Alzheimer's Disease because it keeps the brain in good condition.
-How do you explain that special charm flamenco has, enticing so many people all around the world?

It is hard to put it into words. There is something magical, something demonic about flamenco. Perhaps something to do with the unique rhythm, the unpredictable movements, the power and the spontaneity, or the personality of the performer... I think that the personality of the performer can have the most influence in this case. Because flamenco is a tool, an instrument, but it is very resourceful: its toolbox is so rich that a good performer can use it as a magician uses his wand. When different performers gather on the stage to make magic together... there is no one who could avoid falling under their spell.

-Last year on the World Theatre Day you had an other premier entitled 'If Sally Could Dance', based on the novel of Daniel Keyes (The Fifth Sally). It was kind of a fusion between dance and theatre. Is it more challenging to prepare for a performance like this?

It is very demanding on a mental and spiritual level. Carry a 60min performance alone on your shoulders is very hard. Showing your deepest emotions and preserve a kind of self-awareness at the same time is difficult. For me, this is even more challenging than the physical part, the actual dancing, though I leave the stage only for brief minutes to change my costume. And of course other, more practical details add up to this like driving to the airport and picking up the musicians at dawn, rehearsing all day before the show etc... One becomes forgetful of the days, it's like existing in another dimension. I can recall that last year after the premier I was so exhausted that I was barely conscious for two whole days. Of course that was the premier so that meant an additional pressure. Despite all this I'm looking forward to the next performance. It's like a spiritual cleansing process. The dancer dies a little, but then she reborns like a phoenix.
-When will we see 'If Sally Could Dance' again?

Right now, on the 18th of June at the city of Győr. We perform on the first day of the Hungarian Dance Festival. We are so excited about it!

-Can we expect more performances like this, that is to say, performances pushing their limits and connecting to other genres?

Absolutely! It is a very calculated decision from my part that I want to put a special emphasis on how rich is flamenco as a technique and how many other genres it can embrace. I definitely aim at showing a different color to it with each of my performances. I am constantly searching for connections as there are still so many possibilities lying untapped under the surface. I hope that other artists will join me with a similar attitude.

-This July two new performances will be presented in Budapest. What should the audience expect?

Dance Bazaar is a series of events organized by the National Dance Theatre every summer at the Castle Garden Bazaar open-air stage. I am proud to announce that we will open and also close this illustrious 8 days program with two new spectacles. Both shows will be authentic flamenco performances, evoking the atmosphere of the Spanish tablaos (kind of an Open Mic Night for flamenco dancers). These are colorful and thrilling pieces, suitables for a fine summer night. We will also have special guests from Andalusia performing with us on stage. There is a small bonus feature because after the productions the audience can take part in a short dance course and pick up some basic steps of flamenco, so those who have found it difficult to stay in their chairs during our performance will surely join us gladly on stage.


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