World-famous Hungarian acrobat shows never-before-seen photos by André Kertész
21 • 02 • 07László Baki
György Zsilák arrived in the United States in 1964, to amaze the overseas public with his juggling tricks. His persistence met with success, and in 2001 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the International Jugglers’ Association. A holder of the Jászai Mari Prize and the Hortobágyi Károly Prize, he and his wife were awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Hungarian Order of Merit.
Punkt asked György Zsilák to tell us about an encounter, and show us the pictures he was given by one of the world’s best-known photographers.
We arrived in Florida in 1964, at Christmastime. The tour was arranged by Hungarian Circus and Variety Show, and we collaborated with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. It was an international company, and we Hungarians were part of the show. We toured the cities of the USA for years, which was how we went to New York, where we performed at Madison Square Garden between 4 April and 17 May.
We used our time off to walk in the city, and we would speak Hungarian among ourselves. It was during the first days that a gentleman in the street said hello in Hungarian, and asked us if we were Hungarians. We introduced ourselves, and he was called André Kertész. He was kind, open-minded and likeable. When he learnt we worked at a circus, he became very enthusiastic, and we invited him for that night’s show. His name didn’t ring a bell; all we noticed was that he had a very good camera. Mind, I also had one around my neck, the only one in the group, and that may have been the reason in the first place that he stopped us. He was a pleasant man to talk to, but he was very modest, and told us nothing about himself or his success.
Kertész really enjoyed every moment of his first day at the circus, so we later got him a permanent pass, and he became part of the Hungarian team. A few days later he told us that in 1926 he had taken photos of circus acrobats in Paris. He showed us some of the photos, and he gave me copies.
We would meet Kertész almost every day while we were in New York. He came to the rehearsals as if it were his workplace too, and we also met a lot outside of work. For instance, he invited me and my future wife, Zsuzsanna, to the Museum of Modern Art, where he took photos of us. A few days later he brought the prints.
Later we went on to tour other US cities, and we would exchange postcards with him. A few years later, in a bookshop, I was leafing through André Kertész’s album, On Reading, when I came across a photo he took during our time in New York; it showed a colleague of mine, who was lying, in stage costume, on a bench in the dressing room.
In 1984, when Kertész had an exhibition in Hungary, I was working in Germany, with Krone Circus—another job arranged by Hungarian Circus and Variety Show. He wrote to me, and sent an invitation card, but my contract didn’t allow me to go home and meet him again.