44th National Táncház Festival & Fair • 4–6 April 2025
Starting page: 3
Martin György: On Karsai Zsigmond – Master of Folk Arts – excerpts from the book:
Karsai Zsigmond, Martin György: "The dance life and dances of Lőrincréve". Hungarian Institute of Musicology, 1989 Budapest
Excerpts from the excerpts translated here:
“Karsai Zsigmond was born in the Transylvanian village of Lőrincréve [today Leorinț, Alba County, Romania] in 1920. Growing up in the typical rural community of that time, he didn’t leave his village until 1942 when he was called into military service and stationed in Chișinău, Moldavia. Granted sick leave, he escaped to Kolozsvár /Cluj Napoca and found work painting scenery for a theatre there. Then in the fall of 1943, he went to Budapest, where he was accepted to the Academy of Art to study painting and also joined an association of young college and university students from Szekélyföld (Transylvania). Since childhood he had wanted to be a painter. He also participated in the Szekely student association’s folk dance group where [choreographer, dancer, dance researcher] Molnár István noticed him and filmed Karsai dancing the dances of his native village. This was the first documentation of traditional dance from Karsai’s region of Transylvania. After the war he found work in the village of Pécel east of Budapest, married a girl from there, settled in the village [and lived there for the rest of his life]. His life was spent painting and travelling all over Hungary and beyond presenting the folk dance, songs and culture of his native village of Lőrincréve.”
„Karsai’s dance knowledge is a condensation of the dance tradition of his native village. He was suddenly cut off from his village in one of the most remote regions [of Transylvania] at the most impressionable period of his youth. Karsai’s dance knowledge preserves tradition of his village [as it was before WW II.] The lives of people who remained in the village changed quickly to accomodate the local changes, preserving much less from the memories of their youth. When Karsai visits with relatives and contemporaries from his native village they are amazed to find the memories from this youth more alive in Karsai, than at home. Living in a foreign land, his [extraordinary] memory has preserved a complete and correct picture of the past."
"We are especially lucky that since 1943 it has been possible to continuously document every facet of Karsai’s dance knowledge. Four decades of continuous research offers a special and rare opportunity to examine documentation more than 3000 beats long, of more than 60 dance improvisations.…..Because of Karsai’s example the researchers and choreographers have been amazed….[Through Karsai] the pontozó has become [a key dance] in Hungary’s folk dance movement, dancers have grown up on it, choreographies made. [Documentation of Karsai’s dancing has] contributed to the general analaysis of structure and form of [Hungaraian] dance."
"When [ethnographer] Kiss Lajos heard about Karsai’s extraordinary memory and propensity for preservation, he documented several types of melodies - some 800 recordings of Karsai’s huge vocabulary of songs and tunes – comprising the most extensive, most complete folk song monography from one person at the time."
"From the end of the 1950s, Karsai often visited his native village and began to do his own scientific research there…with other ethnographers he was able to document the dances and songs not only of his relatives, but also of the Romanians of the village, musicians of the area and traditions of neighboring villages.”
"Karsai’s unique dance and music dialect is the most beautiful example of Hungarian and Romanian folk culture living side by side. It was Karsai who first drew the researchers’ attention to the existence of another important men’s dance type - the Romanian haidau.”
"In his new home, cut off from his native community Karsai preseved the pontozó men’s dance completely intact. For lack of a partner from his home, the couple dance was not as well preserved as his men’s dance."
Karsai was invited to the Hungarian State Folk Dance Ensemble, to the Hungarian Academy of Dance, and by Russian choreographer Igor Moiseyev to demonstrate his dancing. He appeared on Hungarian TV countless times, traveled to the USA, Canada, Africa also to present his dance and culture. He recieved the title of "Master of Folk Art” in 1964.
By Martin György Budapest 1983 July.