Turkey


Konya, Turkey

Konya, Turkey

The Company had the opportunity of performing for an auditorium packed with university students at the Selcuk University in Konya. This concert of American modern dance was most likely the first such experience in Konya. It was also the first theatrical performance staged in the auditorium of the newly-built Dilek Sabanci Music Conservatory.

The Company gained an understanding of the fracture between secularists and Islamists that divides Turkish society at the performance in Konya. The head of the Music Conservatory is a secularist, and bridled at BDC’s intention to dedicate one of the works on its concert program to Ahmet Calisir, leader of the Mystical Musicians and Whirling Dervishes who had been the liaison and catalyst for BDC’s programs in Konya.


Dates

  • February 27 – March 14, 2008

    Sponsors

  • Embassy of the United States Ankara, Turkey
  • United States Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
  • Selcuk University
  • United States Department of State Bureau of European Affairs
  • Dedeman Hotel Konya
  • Sheraton Hotel Ankara
  • Middle Eastern Technical University
  • Garanti Bank

    Project Activities

  • 4 Master Classes at METU
  • U.S. Featured Performance, 10th Annual International METU Dance Festival, Ankara, Turkey

    Partners

  • Middle Eastern Technical University, Ankara

    Venues

  • Middle Eastern Technical University, Ankara (Map)

    Media

  • Local, Regional, and National News Coverage

  • Please see lessons learned from the Ankara 2008 trip

    The Company had the opportunity of performing for an auditorium packed with university students at the Selcuk University in Konya. This concert of American modern dance was most likely the first such experience in Konya. It was also the first theatrical performance staged in the auditorium of the newly-built Dilek Sabanci Music Conservatory. The Company gained an understanding of the fracture between secularists and Islamists that divides Turkish society at the performance in Konya. The head of the Music Conservatory is a secularist, and bridled at BDC’s intention to dedicate one of the works on its concert program to Ahmet Calisir, leader of the Mystical Musicians and Whirling Dervishes who had been the liaison and catalyst for BDC’s programs in Konya. An extensive series of meetings and workshops with Mr. Calisir resulted in the building of mutual respect and trust and has led to the development of plans for a new joint production that Calisir intends to propose for inclusion in the Istanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture Festival.

    Ahmet Calisir is the human portal through whom knowledge and experience of the whirling dervishes of Konya, the music and the philosophy of 12th Century Sufi poet Rumi may be accessed. My first meeting with Ahmet took place at his office in the center of this coal smoke and fog filled city. Thank goodness for Aysegul Taskin, the cultural assistant from the U.S. Embassy Ankara who accompanied me to this meeting. Her seamless translation made communication with Ahmet fluid. Greetings with kisses on both cheeks are customary in this part of the world; and the exchange of gifts an essential politeness. A spice cake purchased on the run at Paris' Charles de Gaulle Aeroport was well received, but seemed a meager token next to the gorgeous 6-volume collection of Rumi's poetry that Ahmet proffered. Exchanging information about our daughters (we both have two in their challenging teen years!) and our early introduction to music and philosophy. My concert-pianist mother allowed me to start piano lessons at the age of five; Ahmet had memorized the Koran by age 12, helped establish a bond of brotherliness that only continued to grow as we learned more about each other. The need for this taking-stock was unusually important: based upon reaching a zone of comfort on both sides, a very large project is in the offing: the first-ever dance collaboration with the Konya Mevlana Order of Whirling Dervishes.

    We stayed in the very luxurious Dedeman Hotel, our generous hospitality sponsor here in Konya. We've rehearsed in one of the many ballrooms at this hotel which also serves as a convention center. Having painstakingly taped all of the seams of the parquet that the hotel laid on top of the carpet for our use (with sharp metal ridges that wouldn't have been noticed by ballroom dancing couples but which would have gouged the bare feet of our dancers), we rehearsed for several hours in preparation for Ahmet's arrival. We made some refinements to the hastily learned "Moonbeam"; and improvised to the Sufi mystic music on Ahmet's recordings.

    After having rested briefly, Ahmet arrived at the hotel and we discovered that the hotel staff, thinking that we had completed our work in the ballroom, had dismantled the parquet floor. Ouch!!! However, our intrepid gang came up with an alternative: having fully scoped out and made use of the commodious fitness center in the hotel, they pointed out that the squash court would do just as well as the ballroom, perhaps even better because of its wooden floor. I invite you to picture our "mystical" first showing of our work to this illustrious man in the squash court of a 5-star hotel, with sweaty hotel guests peering curiously through the glass barricade of the court! Actually, whatever happened in that court proved to be magical and the bond established in the earlier meetings was reinforced by what Ahmet perceived to be the lyricism, grace and common values of modern dancers from New York and Sufi's from Konya Turkey!

    The tables were turned and we were treated to our first live display of the Sema at their 2,800 seat Mevlana Center. Twenty-four dervishes bowed, strode forth into the huge circular arena and whirled in a lush display of flowing white robes, high tapered wool hats, arms either folded across the chest or extended with one slightly upwards (to God) and the other draped slightly downward (to Earth)with accompaniment by a similar number of musicians.

    The ballroom at the Dedeman Hotel was once again equipped with a parquet floor, and we were joined for an afternoon session by Ahmet Calisir and his teenage son Taha and nephew Ebubekir, both of whom are members of the whirling dervishes. The moment had arrived for us to stop theorizing and get down to the business of experimenting with the blending of movements and the sharing of space between these two very different worlds. The dancers gamely followed the basic directions: always turn counterclockwise; always travel around the floor in a counterclockwise direction; always keep your left leg straight, as the pivot point as you step across with the right leg, your paddle, and the swivel on both legs. When in repose, cross right arm over left; when whirling, gently unfold the arms so that the right hand is up, the hand slight cupped; and the left hand bent at the wrist facing downwards. Ahmet watched patiently, every so often giving a gentle correction. His verdict at the end was that the dancers were all very talented and could master the whirling technique in a month or so if they persisted on their own. A beautiful moment occurred when Ebubekir, dressed in the Sema costume (white long full skirt; white long sleeved tunic; brown felt cylindrical cap) whirled in the middle of a tight circle made by the Battery Dancers who were improvising based on movements they had developed over the past several days. The simplicity of the juxtaposition was both striking and touching. Bafana, Robin, Paul, Sean, Adele and Mayuna all entered fully into the experience. Their facial expressions showed a tranquility (dare I say "spirituality"?) that seemed to be fed by the energy of the dervish in their midst. The harmony of those moments was complete.

    Turkey 2008

    Konya, Turkey
    Ankara, Turkey

    Ankara, Turkey

    Ankara, Turkey

    The Company’s program in Ankara centered around a performance and 4 workshops as part of the Middle Eastern Technical University or METU 10th Annual Dance Festival. BDC was the first American company to participate in the METU Festival. Since the Festival draws freelance dancers, dance students and audiences from all over the country, BDC’s exposure and outreach was quite broad. Dancers from as far away as Istanbul attended the Company’s master classes.


    Dates

  • February 27 – March 14, 2008

    Sponsors

  • Embassy of the United States Ankara, Turkey
  • United States Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
  • Selcuk University
  • United States Department of State Bureau of European Affairs
  • Dedeman Hotel Konya
  • Sheraton Hotel Ankara
  • Middle Eastern Technical University
  • Garanti Bank

    Project Activities

  • 4 Master Classes at METU
  • U.S. Featured Performance, 10th Annual International METU Dance Festival, Ankara, Turkey

    Partners

  • Middle Eastern Technical University, Ankara

    Venues

  • Middle Eastern Technical University, Ankara (Map)

    Media

  • Local, Regional, and National News Coverage

  • The Virtue of Patience: While delving deeply into cultural diplomacy, it is sometimes necessary to invest time and energy at a moderate pace that is at odds with one’s own. It is also important to validate the experience of nurturing relationships where the prospect of a tangible result lacks definition. During and soon after the Turkish program, we had hopes that there would be many follow-on activities. These have happened – Ahmet Calisir visited us in New York in 2008; we programmed Taha Calisir in a P.R. event for United Airlines at Newark Airport in 2012. However grander schemes have failed to materialize YET. We hope they will do so in the future, having created what we feel is a common ground with our Turkish counterparts.

    Be careful what you put into print: On a blog entry during our Turkish program, I mentioned that our dancer Bafana sang to accompany his warm-up on stage at METU because a boom box could not be obtained. A student from the university read the entry and was inflamed, taking from my casual words that I was criticizing the students. In actuality, my impression of the student volunteers who organized the festival was that they were phenomenally dedicated.

    The Company’s program in Ankara centered around a performance and 4 workshops as part of the Middle Eastern Technical University or METU 10th Annual Dance Festival. BDC was the first American company to participate in the METU Festival. Since the Festival draws freelance dancers, dance students and audiences from all over the country, BDC’s exposure and outreach was quite broad. Dancers from as far away as Istanbul attended the Company’s master classes.

    We arrived in Ankara after having driven in two van-loads from Konya yesterday. We had bid a sad farewell in the early a.m. to Ahmet Calisir and our new friends at the Dedeman Hotel and then stopped off at the Seljuk University to pack the costumes and load up. We're now at the Sheraton in Ankara, a stunning hotel located half-way up a steep rise, looking out on a bank of houses stretching up the hill. I finally have an image to share from the Sema ritual in Konya. The blur of color does do a good job of conveying the aura that we felt at the time. I've also attached a photo of Shell Games that likewise has vapor trails. Battery's show at the University was very well attended (99% full, I'd say) and very warmly received. I spoke to some students at intermission, those who weren't too shy to venture a conversation in English. They had some fascinating comments about Shell Games; in fact, I thought they "got" the piece astonishingly close to my ideas about it. Moonbeam was dedicated to Ahmet, who sat with his nephew, in the second row. He said that he was deeply touched and that I have a big heart. Nothing could have been more gratifying to me. The dancers did a sensational job and who can say enough about Barry? He was working in a brand new theater (ours was the first theatrical performance given there) in which none of the equipment had been tested and only a couple of trained hands. Two English majors from the university were pressed into service – presumably as translators, but in reality, Barry put them to work as technicians, and wow, did they learn fast! Yesterday was a whirlwind day. Our masterful production designer Barry Steele had a challenge to beat all challenges: how to load in, hang and focus lights, prepare a video projector, hang scenery and train a crew in less than 12 hours (it usually takes about 20 before the curtain is ready to part!) When I entered the theater with the dancers in the mid-afternoon, I heard Barry's usual refrain: "I'm not ready; take your time warming up." Bafana, the warm-hearted clown of our company, is also the person who offered to give the company class. When he asked the crew for a boom box, the answer was "no", uttered so automatically and dryly that we thought it was a joke. But not so: no boom box. So Bafana in his charming off-key voice, sang the company through their barre and other warm up exercises. Meanwhile, the university students who run the METU / Middle Eastern Technical University (Turkey's MIT) ... were huddled in the lobby putting the finishing touches on the playbill for that evening's show. After having pitched in to help them, they were off on their labors of translating the whole thing into Turkish. As is almost always the case, the playbill got done just before the audience arrived; and things on stage got done too; well, sort of.

    The hall of 800 seats was filled to about 2/3 capacity --apparently twice as many as who had attended the previous night's show. There was surprisingly little diversity of age in the audience -- primarily college students and a smattering of teachers, Embassy staff and the odd senior dance fan! Each of the four dances received warm applause, though Shell Games and I'll Take You There were the crowd favorites. Our student guide Zeynap rushed the dancers into their clothes so that we could get to the nearby kabob house before closing. We downed our dinners in minutes flat and were back to the theater to pack up the costumes (still damp, a testament to the dancers' exertions). Several of the dancers had to wake up early the next morning to take the shuttle bus from our hotel back to the University campus in order to teach master classes. I hope that one of them will post a report soon on those activities: Instead of watching them myself, I spent most of the day in my room on the internet figuring out our return flights, due to the cancellation of our program in Armenia caused by the unrest there.

    Turkey 2008

    Konya, Turkey
    Ankara, Turkey