In Memoriam: Thomas Erdos, 1914–2004

Thomas Erdos, long-time European impresario
for the Nikolais Dance Theatre, died on February 25, 2004.

Thomas Erdos, Alwin Nikolais, and Elisabeth Hayes

Thomas Erdos, Alwin Nikolais, and Elisabeth Hayes backstage at the Theatre des Champs Elysees at the sixth Festival International de Danse de Paris, November 59, 1968.  It was the first appearance of the Nikolais Dance Theatre in Paris.  The company was awarded the Grand Prix de Ville de Paris for best production of the 1968 Paris Festival, and Carolyn Carlson received the award for Premiere Danseuse.

Thomas Erdos Slips Away From the Artists

By Jean Pierre Thibaudat
Liberation, Saturday, February 28, 2004
English translation by Virginia Dillon

The agent, confidant and counselor of Pina Bausch, among others, has died.

Thomas Erdos died of cancer at his home on Wednesday afternoon.  If his name is unknown to the general public, it’s because he wanted it that way.  But all the artists with whom he had a relationship as an advisor, tour firector, and especially as a trusted confidant to whom friendship was more important than money — all are weeping for this exceptional man.

Which artists?  The very greatest.  To begin with, Pina Bausch, who had just been with him to celebrate his 80th birthday.  He was behind the Festival of Choreography at Theatre de la Ville (for which he was the Artistic Advisor for twenty five years) and the Festivals at Avignon as well as in Japan.  In the shadows stood the discreet and elegant Thomas Erdos, a man of such taste, tact, and consideration that the word “agent” does not seem applicable to him.

We must also mention the other artists — Alwin Nikolais, Paul Taylor, Carolyn Carlson, Antonio Gades, Giorgio Strehler — to name but a few.  And don’t forget India where he found so many dancers and musicians.  Also Japan, where he played such an important role in creating a network of mutual respect and friendship between Japan and France in 1997.


During the 50s and 60s, Thomas Erdos was the major force behind the Festival at Baalbek in Lebanon, and then at Cheraz-Persepolis in Iran, where he met Soudaleh Kia, who was to become his collaborator.  She was a rebel — he was a diplomat, making a great combination to deal with the music establishment in France.  With artists like Joseph Nadj or with directors like Alain Combecque (Festivial d’Automne) or Stephane Lissner (Festival d’Aix), “Thomas was there, attentive, and vital, with an unparalleled international network made of associations and sensitivity,” recalls Crombecque.  In India Erdos was received as an ambassador.  The Japanese honored him with their “Tresor Sacre,” which was rarely given to a foreigner.  Last autumn Tomasaburo, the star of stars of Kabuki, invited Thomas to Tokyo as his guest to see his last performance.  This same past autumn, in a ministerial salon in Paris he was honored by France, his adopted country (he was born in Hungary but naturalized in 1968).  He addressed the small group of attendees (of whom Pina Bausch was one): “For a long time I have chosen to remain in the shadows, the wonderful shadows of the wings that lead to magic.  I’ve been so happy there and so comfortable, but today I am very intimidated to find myself in the light and on the stage.”  Then he spoke of others dear to him who had passed away, his Mother and Michel Guy.

Ten times we wanted to speak to him for Liberation, but ten times he begged to be excused, because he was a very sensitive man who liked nothing more than to please others.  Once in India he was received by a Maharaja who was fading from glory.  Thomas believed it would honor him to ask how many elephants he had.  “One,” he responded, kissing his head.  Twenty years later Thomas Erdos was still mortified by this gaffe.

We wish we could have heard him tell stories about his youth in Hungary, the land of his ancestors and the writer Krudy whom he adored.  His bravery in the underground at Wallenberg in Budapest before he was even 20 yrs old, his coming to France in 1947, avoiding the regime, trying to earn a living.  And then his adventures with his friend Andre Borocz, also a Hungarian refugee, the nights in the casinos playing Bridge.  His modesty prevented him from talking about these youthful, fun times, as it prevented him from talking about Hungary, a private wound, which he didn’t get to visit again till after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Delicous Accent

This great traveler, who never changed offices for fifty years, had a wonderful accent from his native language, which only added to his charm.  On November 1, 1949, Thomas Erdos and Andre Borocz arranged for the Stuttgart Orchestra, directed by Karl Munchinger, to perform in Paris, the first French engagement for any German group since the war.  Everything started there.  They continued to work very hard with this orchestra, but they also founded the Festival of Chamber Music at Menton in 1950, as well as many other projects together and separately.

Borocz died first, several years ago.  In their adjoining offices on the Avenue Delcasse, Thomas continued to keep the name of his friend next to his.  “He’s a go-between,” smiled Thomas, and he believed they would meet again.  After which, he will return to his place in the shadows.  We had to wait till he was gone, to dare to say here, what a bright, shining man he was.