The Big 1000 Hungarian performers marked their homeland's 1st millennium
By ROSEMARY CLANDOS, Special to The Times

The central European country of Hungary turned 1,000 in the year of 2000, and to celebrate, Tarzana-based Thalia Studio -- the only permanent Hungarian theater group in the United States -- performed a historical drama Sunday at Cal State Northridge.

Musicians and members of Karpatok, a Hungarian folk-dance ensemble, also performed. The contemporary drama centers on the life of King Stephen, who unified independent territories and established Hungary's borders on Aug. 20, 1000. He turned the army from an aggressive force under the ancestors of Attila the Hun to a defensive one and made Christianity the official religion. The play moves to the 20th century and illustrates the consequences of Stephen's actions, as well as the effects of World Wars I and II and the 1956 revolution.

Although the play is in Hungarian, director-actor Tibor Wargha said people who do not know the language will be able to understand because the action, music and dance are self-explanatory.

Laszlo Gaspar, manager of the Karpatok folk-dance ensemble, said the best way to describe Hungarian dance is "Riverdance meets gypsies." Dancers absorbed the influences of Asians, Turks and other Middle Easterners who ruled the country in the 16th and 17th centuries. Adding to the cultural mix were gypsies from as far away as India, who contributed an ornate style to Hungarian folk songs and dance.

For women, folk dances were a way to express life's joys and sorrows. For men, the dances were a lure into battle. "Military recruiters would come to towns and show their dexterity and athleticism through dance," Gaspar said. "The next thing you know, young men were off to military careers."

About 120,000 Hungarians immigrated to the United States after the 1956 revolution, but the community has always lacked a strong center, Wargha said. This concerns those who want to preserve the culture and language. "I lived here for two years and I didn't know anybody from the Hungarian community," said Livia Feher, who studied ballet in Hungary for 10 years and dances with the Karpatok ensemble.

Wargha said cultural activities are a unifying thread for the nearly 15,000 Hungarians living in the San Fernando Valley and the 50,000 expatriates elsewhere in Southern California. Shortly after Balazs Toth, 22, of Chatsworth, came to the United States in November, he joined the dance group.

"I love the Hungarian dance, and I need friends and exercise," said Toth, who was a dancer and metalworker in Hungary. Thalia Studio is based at Grace Hungarian Church in Tarzana. The event is co-sponsored by the Hungarian consulate in Los Angeles. Consul General Marta Fekszy-Horvath said Hungarian culture, with its many ethnic minorities, enriches American culture. Hungary has had times of internal strife, she said, but people of different backgrounds have learned to live together peacefully.

(L.A. Times)

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