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All contents are Copyright © 2006-2013 John M Blundall and Stephen Foster or is part of The John M Blundall Collection unless stated otherwise.

Dezsőo Szilágyi

An appreciation by John Blundall April 2010

Dezsőo, for many years, had been a great friend and constant support. In the early 1960s he introduced me to Gyula Urban, young actor director in Allami Bábszínház and former student of Jan Malik in Prague. This led to regular visits to the theatre and I became very close friends with Dezsőo, Kato Szony – who was like my Hungarian mother – and Ivan Koos, designer. Dezsőo was one of the most kind and gentle people that I have known, and many years of collaboration with him during the time that he was President of the Publications Commission of UNIMA was a great joy.

For many years he held together a small team of individuals who produced a series of important UNIMA publications, including the great photographic volumes and the annual illustrated calendars, also the development of the Encyclopaedia. We all met in various parts of the world and it was always like the meeting of a happy family that worked very hard to achieve desired results.

Dezsőo was formally an Inspector of Water Mills in Hungary and he ultimately became the artistic leader of one of the most outstanding modern puppet theatres; ‘Allami Bábszínház’ in Budapest. He formed a unique company of the finest specialists in all aspects of the art and craft and art of the puppet theatre. He also masterminded the reconstruction of the original theatre to create one of the most extraordinary modern puppet theatre buildings in the world, with resources conducive to the production of some of the finest productions that played a substantial role in the inspiration and development of what is now referred to as ‘The Golden Age of Contemporary Puppet Theatre’. The theatre also had a second venue in Budapest.

There were over two hundred staff members in the theatre. It was the National Puppet Theatre with an extensive repertoire of plays, ballets, operas and experimental works; it had its own training school, and a professional studio group for experimental work. Within the company there were a number of self contained smaller groups that travelled through Hungary.

Dezsőo, with his closest creative collaborators, Kato Szony, director and choreographer, formally a classical dancer and choreographer, who worked with one of Vaslav Nijinsky’s daughter Kyra to create puppet versions of her father’s major ballets, Ivan Koos, designer who won numerous important international awards for his innovative designs, and Vera Brody, designer, they created major works based on musical scores for ballets, including those of Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Britten, Bartok, Ligeti, Kodaly, Ranki and others. There were also numerous works by some of the worlds leading playwrights for adult audiences.

Dezsőo developed the scenarios for the productions that all had remarkably high levels of production values. He demanded the highest standards of production and when on tour I often sat with him at the back of the auditoriums where he would sit with his mobile phone in contact with the backstage team adjusting any problems that may occur.

Everyone in Allami Bábszínház created a wonderful atmosphere that reflected Dezsőo’s calm and quiet management. It was like a happy family totally dedicated to the production of some of the finest and most innovative productions of a quality rarely seen today. They set standards for all to aspire to.

For many years I sat on Juries for International Puppet Theatre Festivals in Pecs and Bekeszaba. These juries consisted of the leading personalities and specialists in all aspects of the puppet theatre. We would all first meet in Budapest and then travel by road to the various International Festival centres. The journeys followed the Danube where we would all dine in the most wonderful fish restaurants to enjoy Hungarian cuisine, sitting on the banks of the river or swimming, again it was like a family day out that led to many hours of deliberation over the many productions that we saw.

Dezsőo would frequently sit with Evelin Krafft and I and related amusing anecdotes. One of the most memorable was when he had to share a hotel room with Obraztsov during an UNIMA meeting. Obraztsov collected pigeons that he found in markets. On this occasion he took his latest acquisitions to the hotel room, unfortunately the birds escaped and settled in an elaborate chandelier and the two of them spent all night trying to catch them.

He was a wonderful man much loved and respected for his unique contribution to international puppet theatre.

I have in my collection puppets and original designs by Ivan Koos for productions in Allami Bábszínház.

John M. Blundall