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.
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.