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Summer Series: The Art of Freelance Dance with Mate Szentes

Robert Fulton - July 10, 2023, 10:08 p.m.

Summer Series: Candid Conversations with the Pros 

Get to know International Guest Artist & Choreographer
Maté Szentes

Mate Szentes is originally from Budapest, Hungary and began his training at the age of six. He studied at the Hungarian Dance Academy while attending summer programs at North Carolina Dance Theater in Charlotte, NC on full scholarships. Upon graduation he joined the Hungarian National Ballet where he danced for 3 years performing corps de ballet and soloist roles in the company’s many classical and contemporary productions. In 2012 he moved to California and joined the Sacramento Ballet as a company artist and continued expanding his repertoire. Mr. Szentes relocated to the east coast in 2015 to join the Richmond Ballet where he danced principal and soloist roles in the company’s very versatile repertoire. Besides dancing classical ballet’s most famous roles he had the opportunity to dance many of George Balanchine’s works and worked with world renowned choreographers such as Ma Cong, Val Caniparoli, Mariana Oliveira, Melissa Barak, Katarzyna Skarpetowska, Annabelle Lopez-Ochoa among many others. Since 2021 he has been a freelance artist and is currently a permanent guest principal dancer with American Contemporary Ballet as well as Ballet Project OC and Raiford Rogers Modern Ballet.

Since 2016 he has also been choreographing and had his original works showcased in Virginia, California, Michigan and New Mexico. He has been a finalist at the Palm Desert Choreography Festival in 2022. 

With your choreographic experience, what do you look for in a dancer you want to feature in your work?

"I love working with dancers on both professional and pre-professional levels. Besides technical abilities it is important to me that a dancer has good musicality and is picking up details quickly. I also love when they’re not afraid to bring their individuality to the material. Over the years I have featured many dancers that were not necessarily considered to strongest technicians in their group, but their movement quality, artistry and musicality elevated them, making the final product really unique."

Why did you decide to go freelance, & what aspects about it have you enjoyed the most?

"I have been a seasoned professional for 12 years (both in Europe and the US) when I switched to freelance. As years passed by I realized I was not able to take on a lot of opportunities offered to me because I was locked into a contract for a full season with very limited time off (mainly during the summer). After building a strong network and putting in 12 years as a seasoned dancer I felt confident to make the change to become a freelancer. While both has it’s pros and cons, what I have enjoyed the most about freelance is to be able to decide what aspects of my career I want to push more and when. Sometimes it’s more emphasis on choreography, sometimes performing, and of course teaching and coaching depending on how busy I get."

How did you transition to the United States & start to build your career?

"While studying at the Hungarian Dance Academy (now University) I was able to attend summer intensive programs in North Carolina thanks to great scholarship program. In a way I felt like I could really be my authentic self - both as a dancer and person - in this environment. I spent 3 seasons with the Hungarian National Ballet after graduating and while I had a great time and learned a lot, I still felt that I wanted to pursue a career in the States. Regardless of all the challenges with auditioning, cultural differences and immigration, I have found happiness in a world very different from what I was born into. After getting my first job in the US, my focus was to learn and experience as much as possible. Always looking for new opportunities, I worked through all my breaks and layoffs and built great relationships with lots of amazing people in our field."

At The Ballet Scout, we want dancers of all backgrounds to pursue their dreams regardless of their age, level or physical ability. What is a piece of advice you would go back and give yourself when you first started auditioning (whether it be for companies, schools, or summer intensives)?

“My advice would be to not be afraid to be yourself. I was definitely very caught up trying to be “perfect” especially in my younger years when I was auditioning. Looking back, I now know how my focus of trying be technically proficient took away from being able to show my uniqueness. Artistry is what makes our profession so beautiful and we all have something different to share so I encourage everyone to focus on finding their own unique selves while trying to perfect their technical skills."