The View from the Bus: Rethinking Cities through Performance | Wilson Center
Blair A. Ruble
I was invited in early March to attend the dunaPart3 – Hungarian Showcase Arts festival in Budapest celebrating the city’s vibrant performing arts scene. The festival became an opportunity for the international theater community to show its support for Budapest colleagues who are beleaguered by an increasingly authoritarian government prone to using political, bureaucratic, and financial levers to enforce compliance with their nationalist-oriented agenda. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán after all, has spoken with admiration about the accomplishments of Russian President Vladimir Putin and recently hosted his Russian colleague despite European Union sanctions. Putin hardly provides a role model for democratic leadership.
DunaPart3 brought more than three dozen leading theater professionals from the United States alone — organized by the Center for International Theater Development with support from the Trust for Mutual Understanding—to see nearly three dozen productions by over 25 companies together with multiple panel discussions. For my part, I viewed nine performances ranging from contemporary dance by youthful companies to highly polished theater productions, and heard three panel discussions about the state of the arts in Hungary. Overall, I departed impressed with the professionalism and creativity of the Budapest scene, and concerned with the constraining power of the state to subvert the arts to their own purpose. What is happening in Budapest is important; all the more so as it is happening in a member state of the European Union which needs to stand for freedom of expression in deed as well as refrain.
I was especially inspired by the work of a new cohort of rising arts professionals in their twenties and thirties who are enlivening the arts at home and, increasingly, abroad. As a person who thinks about cities, I was particularly taken by the performance of STEREO Akt’s Promenade – Urban Fate Tourism, which made me think about the city in new ways.