Compagnie Jozsef Trefeli: Creature

Compagnie-Jozsef-Trefeli-CREATURE-Jozsef-Trefeli-and-Gyula-Cserepes-photo-by-Bill-StephensIf the name Jozsef Trefeli sounds familiar, it should, because although Trefeli is a Swiss citizen of Hungarian heritage, he was born in Canberra.

In the early 1990’s as an enthusiastic young dancer, Trefeli could be seen on stages around the district performing at multi-cultural festivals with the Hungarian Folkloric dance groups, appearing in musicals, West Side Story, Mack and Mabel and Show Boat for the Canberra Philharmonic Society, Old Time Music Halls for Canberra Repertory Society, and even in cabaret at the School of Arts Café.

In 1996, after graduating in Dance from the Victorian College of the Arts, Trefeli moved to Geneva and after many years working professionally as a dancer and choreographer, formed his own company, Compagnie Jozsef Trefeli, and specialised in deconstructing and recycling traditional dances to make them relevant to contemporary audiences.

The 2023 Ausdance ACT Dance Week celebrations provided the opportunity for Trefeli to return to Canberra with his colleague, Gyula Cserepes, to present a Hungarian folk dance workshop, and this single performance of Creature.

Designed to be performed in the round, or at least with the audience on two sides, as it was in Canberra, Creature commenced intriguingly with the two dancers entering the room to a rhythmic backing track which initially sounded like raindrops.

Their faces were fully hidden by colourful scarves. On their character boots they wore golden spurs, and in their arms an array of apparatus including whips, sticks and four mysterious bundles.

Between interludes of scatter-gun heel taps they ceremonially arranged the apparatus around the floor, before removing the spurs and placing them on cushions, and unrolling the four bundles which were revealed as two extraordinary long coats covered in colourful strips of fabric, which they donned.

Then kneeling down and taking care not to show their faces, they ceremoniously placed their heads into the other bundles which became tall headdresses transforming them into ancient carnival creatures.

Maintaining the constant rhythm, the creatures circled each, and eventually rolled around the floor, before discarding the headdresses and revealing their faces to the audience for the first time.

Then the  two dancers, perspiring heavily, picked up the whips and began circling each other while taking turns to produce loud whip cracks while executing staccato heel taps.

Eventually they discarded the whips, replacing them with sticks which they used, not to fight, but to add additional rhythm to their dancing, before surprisingly dropping on one knee and lustily singing a traditional Hungarian song.

The effect was both exhilarating and moving while the traditional symbolism may not have been obvious to most of the audience, the performance itself provided a fascinating insight into the value of investigating traditional dance forms for the opportunities they provide for creating new and intriguing dance works.

Ralph Wilson Theatre, 55 Ainslie Avenue, Braddon (Canberra)
Performance: Sunday 30 April 2023

Image: Jozsef Trefeli and Gyula Cserepes in Creature – photo by Bill Stephens OAM

Review: Bill Stephens OAM