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Canberra Today 16°/21° | Monday, March 4, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

József comes home for  Dance Week

József Trefeli warming up at the Ralph Wilson Theatre. Photo: Helen Musa

AUSTRALIAN Dance Week begins on Friday and Canberra hoofers past and present are gathering in the nation’s capital it for a terpsichorean feast.

Hosted by Ausdance ACT, it is believed to be the largest such program in Australia, with no fewer than 30 separate events, including main stage performances, performances, dance morning teas, workshops, a dance session for deaf and hearing-impaired people and a dance tribute to art works at the National Portrait Gallery.

First cab off the rank will be “Hillscape”, choreographed by Ashlee Bye, a marriage of dance and music by Australian Dance Party to kick off the Canberra International Music Festival at the National Arboretum.

On Thursday, I popped in on a rehearsal of “Compagnie József Trefeli” in Ralph Wilson Theatre at Gorman Arts Centre, ahead of performances on the weekend of two strikingly contrasted works, “JINX 103” and “Creature”.

Trefeli, a Swiss citizen with Hungarian ancestry who was born in Australia, turns out to be a true-blue Canberran.

His company is located in Geneva –  “very convenient for touring” he tells me – but his early dance experiences were all here and he’s tickled pink to find himself in Gorman Arts Centre, where not long before leaving town, he performed in Paige Gordon’s production, “Party Party Party”.

József Trefeli, left, and Gyula Cserepes rehearsing a stick dance. Photo: John P Harvey

While a schoolboy, he was taken off to the Hungarian Club on weekends by his parents to learn traditional dance, all the while studying, jazz and tap at local dance schools and dancing in musicals such as “Mack and Mabel”, “West Side Story” and “Showboat” for Canberra Philharmonic. He even appeared in Old Time Music Hall for Rep.

This visit to Canberra by Trefeli and his fellow-dancer Gyula Cserepes is part of an extensive tour funded by Pro Helvetia, Switzerland, which has seen them doing residencies in Bangalore, Chennai and Delhi, India and performances at a dance festival in Taiwan.

After performing this weekend in Canberra, Trefeli and Cserepes will fly back to Switzerland on Monday to perform in Lausanne, then head to Milan for another show the following weekend.

The beginning of spring heralds an outburst of dance opportunities in Europe, he says.

“While my background is in Hungarian dance, I see myself as a professional contemporary dancer.”

In contemporary dance, he says, “the body is open, so that each performance is different. We believe the dance is about freedom.”

For instance, “JINX 103”, co-created with Gabor Varga, is full of improvisation and has been performed more than 200 times – it’s never been the same twice.

Another thing that interests him is the spatial relationship between dancer and audience. Inspired by ancient dance customs of performing in market places, temples and community squares, he prefers to set dance in the round or at least with the audience on two sides.

With “Creature”, he says, they decided to base the work on ritual dance that has been going on for hundreds of years. “You might say the ritual side of things is fixed, but then we deconstruct it.”

In the process, they use devices taken from traditional cultures, such as sticks, whips and spurs, and from the carnival world, costumes and masks.

“We take from old traditions and give them new life, we don’t set dance in stone,” Trefeli says.

“JINX 103”, Main Hall Gorman Arts Centre, noon, April 29. “Creature”, Ralph Wilson Theatre, Gorman Arts Centre, noon, April 30.

Australian Dance Week, April 28- May 7. All details at



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Helen Musa

Helen Musa

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