When considering the unstable political life of the country after facing three military interventions in a time-span of 30 years ( the last one being in 1980), one may argue that the freedom of expression in general, and its bodily attributes in particular, were not gained easily in Turkey. Towards the end of the ‘80s, however, with the new generations who had not been heavily subjected to militaristic deformations nor to foreign/ orientalist impositions, Turkish contemporary dance began to emerge from the ruins of castrated bodily practices.
Today the Turkish contemporary dance scene, though very small and limited to Istanbul and Ankara, has a very promising outlook. After half a century, the younger generation of dancers and choreographers, and also the students of Turkish modern dance pioneers, are beginning to create works that are genuinely in touch with their culture. They also propose new ways of approaching the body. Original movement research is being supported by conceptual background and probably for the first time political opposition can be detected through the early works of these choreographers. The younger generation has begun to re-discover the shamanic influences in Turkish Islamic culture, evident in Mevleviya with its whirling dervishes or in “Ayin-i Cem” of Bektasi/Alevi communities. They used a Western academic style of techniques and combined it with an individual approach on movement, and their own original techniques acquired from various sources including folk dances of Turkey, sports and martial arts of the East. The interdisciplinary approach is also getting established more profoundly, since the young generation of dance artists who are educated in different disciplines like social sciences, architecture, design, visual arts, philosophy and engineering are increasing in numbers.
Susan Bauer, an American scholar who visited Turkey several times to conduct research on Turkish modern dance agrees with the above mentioned ideas. She wrote a report in 2005 as part of her sabbatical project, stating that Turkey has gained “self-confidence in its own work without the need of drawing on material from Euro-Western sources” and there is also a “greater acceptance of the traditional folk dance forms and a greater sense of openness to discuss and present political and social issues in dance pieces”.
During last few years it can be observed that the political engagement in dance is becoming stronger, and the questioning of certain historical, ideological, and gender positions is becoming more visible in the performances of contemporary dance and movement theatre. Reinterpreting the ritualistic body movements, particularly the whirling, is also tried out by some contemporary dance artists.
Some recent examples of contemporary dance productions are as follows:
harS / Aydın Teker (It is a piece developed by Ayşe Orhon as the performer who had a musical education with harp. So this time she engages a relationship with the body of a harp and it becomes a duet of a human body with a harp),
Hava-Air / Ayşe Orhon (The piece is constructed together with a composer on stage, focussing on a song sung by a famous deceased classical Turkish music singer Safiye Ayla. The choreographer used the song in order to make visible the voice/air used during singing it accompanied by the body- staged in the 17th International Istanbul Theater Festival, www.iksv.org)
To Dance Or / Ayrin Ersöz (It used a historical text focusing on a gypsy woman dancer who dressed as a man and became a famous dancer in Istanbul during the Ottoman Empire. The piece is about the quest of how the contemporary dancer can meet with the gypsy woman from a century before on today’s stage- staged during the 17th International Istanbul Theater Festival, www.iksv.org)
Pursuit-Story of a Quest / Barefeet Company (Pursuit is a dance performance on tracing, facing the most feared aspects of oneself. The story follows the traces of Orhan Pamuk and Lost Highway - staged during the 17th International Istanbul Theater Festival, www.iksv.org)
Home Sweet Home / Emre Koyuncuoğlu Project (The work was first produced in the south-east of Turkey, in Diyarbakır, in the ruins of a school, the folk dancers and video recordings accompanied by the voices of the inhabitants of that region were used to create a heritage and a home on stage as a contemporary theatre work. While it was touring the materials were changed/ rearranged in order to make sense for the targeted audience),
The City of Lost Children / Laboratuar (This is a physical theatre piece, accompanied by an original text written by a young Turkish playwright, and using architectural stage design. It focuses on a certain generational perception of Ankara after the 1980 Military Intervention- staged during the 17th International Istanbul Theater Festival, www.iksv.org)
cirCUMstances / Movement Atelier (10 women aged from 23 to 70 years worked with a civil history writing genre with texts and movement research, they created a performance of oral history of Turkey in the manner of movement theatre. The emphasis was to establish the link between tragedy and comedy - staged during the 17th International Istanbul Theater Festival, www.iksv.org)
Oggie Niente / Nine-to-six Dance Project (This solo performance tells a love story of a long gone relationship by using text and movement. The choreographer/dancer has a kind of installation/sculpturesque body which re-enacts the moments of this passionate relation while questioning the gendered bodies)
Neverland / Özlem Alkış (She creates very individual pieces donated by various symbols and fictions. As an audience you try to unravel meanings while watching her delicately moving body. The unseen, unsaid, the hidden is being somehow appear on the surface),
Issue / Prospero Dance Company (In Issue, Talin Buyukkurkciyan uses humour to focus on the issues of Turkey. She likes to combine theatricality, movement research and story telling - staged during the 17th International Istanbul Theater Festival, www.iksv.org)
Wet Volume / RemDance Project (used an abandoned prison as its stage, the dancers travelled inside the wet and dumped spaces of the prison corridors and cells while the audience followed their journey. A homage to the tortured bodies of the prisoners after the last military intervention in Turkey - staged during the 17th International Istanbul Theater Festival, www.iksv.org)
doKUMAN / TAL Dance Company (a joint project of choreographers Kaplan & Sızanlı and two other dancers accompanied by one composer, one designer on stage during the performance, the piece constructs, de-constructs and reconstructs all the relations on stage with one another, with sound and movement, with the audience. Everyone and everything on stage becomes one giant performance document in itself),
Araz/ Zeynep Tanbay Dance Project – ZTDP (She focuses mainly on the movement research, and how these young company dancers together can maintain coherence. The name ARAZ, an Armenian word for “temporary, needs others in order to exist”, focuses on various lives and relations explored through dancing bodies),
Behold/ idt+ ( İstanbul Dance Theater’s last project in collaboration with a Dutch choreographer Jack Gallagher staged in the context of Dance Platform 2010 focused on diverse perceptions of various cultural backgrounds),
Dervish in Progress / Ziya Azazi (He creates solo works where he continuously researches on the transcend-body using whirling rituals belonging to Sufi traditions. His reinterpretations of whirling travel abroad widely, much more than inside Turkey).
Very few choreographers/directors are interested in using folk culture in order to create contemporary performing art pieces targeted at a contemporary performing arts audience. Şule Ateş is one such a theatre director. She prefers to work with dancers and choreographers in her dance theatre pieces focusing on marginal cultures like Romans (gypsies) or Alawis in Turkey (further info: www.cgsg-tr.org) . Her project Long Road focused on the Roman culture, and particularly on their music and dance. It was an attempt to research Roman folk dance/ music and combining it with contemporary dance and theatre on stage. Her latest project, which is planned to be premiered in 2011, is Tawhid /Oneness, an interdisciplinary stage performance based on Alawis’ holy ceremony/ritual “Ayin-i Cem” (group ceremony) conveyed through folk songs (music), semah ceremonies (dance), documentaries (film), graphic animation (new media) and the text as a whole.
Despite to the interest in own cultural issues, one has to pay much attention to "self-Orientalization" tendencies. Since there is more recognition abroad for dance, and less chances to show work in Turkey, it is always a challenge for Turkish artists to be persistent in their own original interests and concerns since there has been a long history of "perceiving and reaffirming selves through the eyes of the foreigner” – in this case the “Westerner".