Ballet dancer

Ivan Markó, Hungarian ballet dancer who became an international star but never defected – obituary

In communist Budapest, as in Moscow, children who showed exceptional aptitude for dancing were often offered a way out of the poverty trap in which their once well-to-do parents found themselves. Anna Markó encouraged her son to apply for a place at the Hungarian State Ballet Academy. Iván was only accepted after his third application.

A few years after graduating, he proved his exceptional talent and became one of the principal dancers of the Hungarian State Opera. He quickly misses the repetitive roles and the rigidity of the daily routine at the Academy.

In 1972, he became a soloist with the then Brussels company of French choreographer Maurice Béjart. It was through his association with Béjart that his international reputation grew, particularly when he danced in Béjart’s innovative production of Stravinsky’s The Firebird, a role with which Markó became closely associated throughout. throughout his career.

In 1978, he returned to Hungary, then described as “the most comfortable barracks in the Soviet camp”. At that time it operated under what was called “goulash communism”, a system which encouraged limited forms of private enterprise and was not as oppressive as that of neighboring communist countries.

Iván Markó founded his own ballet company in the city of Győr in 1979. Over the next 10 years he built it into a highly respected Hungarian institution and it also achieved considerable international fame, performing in Vienna, Athens and at La Scala and Bayreuth. In 1991 he separated from the Győr company and worked as a guest choreographer in several countries.

Markó married Judit Gombár, a set and costume designer 10 years his senior, but left her for a dancer with whom he left Budapest for Jerusalem. He became ballet master at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance in 1991 but, as usual, returned to Budapest after only three years.

After his return, he invested his energy in founding the Hungarian Festival Ballet. His artistic success was not matched by his managerial skills and in 2012 a major row broke out which saw his ballet company accused of being overfunded by Viktor Orbán’s government at the expense of small businesses which were struggling to survive.

In the same year, a bitter row over funding for the Festival Ballet was aired in the Hungarian media, and performances directed by Markó were interrupted by protesters wielding a megaphone.

An unseemly defamation case was brought by Markó in the Hungarian courts in which he defended his reputation for being acclaimed as “one of the 10 best ballet dancers in the world”. His opponent in action countered by saying that Markó had been “one of the best dancers in the world only in Hungary”.

His wife predeceased him.

Iván Markó, born March 29, 1947, died April 21, 2022