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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Fire That Swept Through Hungary

"Cultural Mosaics" by Timi, writing from Kisvárda, Hungary

The audience of the Szeged Open-Air Festivals greeted Fire of Anatolia with standing ovation. August 2007.

The show began with a few-minute delay and mesmerised the people of Szeged. The dancers of Anadolu Ateşi (or Fire of Anatolia) virtually lit the stage with their energetic performance.

But well before the show began, I had the most nervous moments of my life. This time I was really to meet and make an interview with one of the famous ballet-dancers of Turkey, Oktay Keresteci, who happens to be the ballet-instructor of the company and despite his 48 years of age still performs on stage.

Behind the scenes

I get through the gates without a media-pass, thanks to one of the managers who politely smiles at my accented Turkish and leads me backstage. The rehearsal is over now and I have to wait until all the dancers leave the area so that we can talk. Oktay appears, with a huge smile and the Hungarian interpreter wants to introduce us to each other. I tell her I won't need help with the interview. She seems relieved, I guess they've given a few interviews already.

Despite the fact he was probably very tired of all these interviews he has had to give, the still surprisingly handsome dancer answers my questions smiling and relaxed. He tells me that they like Hungary very much "because the people always welcome us very warmly. They must love Turks". I raise an eyebrow. Sure. I get to know that the head of the company, Mustafa Erdogan, is currently in Antalya, about to watch the same show we will, together with the Hungarian Minister of Culture, as the company has about 120 dancers, thus able to perform at different locations at the same time. "Most of our dancers have a folklore dancer’s background", he says, "so we teach them balet or step". As I learn from him, Fire of Anatolia has a unique mixture of folk dances, traditional dances and modern dances. "A characteristic feature of Turkish folk dances is that you can’t lift your feet higher than 45 degrees. We changed this a bit, included some show elements into the performance, stretching the legs as much as possible." And they are fast as well. In 2005 they recorded their name into the Guinness Book, completing 241 steps per minute. Well, and we thought Michael Flatley was fast...

The numbers tell it all

I ask him to tell me the story of the group and I hear amazing numbers. Mustafa Erdogan chose 90 dancers out of 750 hundred applicants and they were working for two years before the first show was staged. At the time they were called Sultans of the Dance. Now they have 120 dancers, and have performed in more then 40 countries so far. I have a question that has bothered me for a long time. Are they really all Turkish? Oktay laughs. "We have foreign dancers, as well. Here in Szeged there's a girl from the Netherlands, she plays Pandora's part in the show and we have a nice romantic dance together. In Antalya we have some Russian and Georgian dancers, as well." And what if I wanted to join Fire of Anatolia? "Well, the applicants have to have good physical characteristics, very good sense of rhythm and preferably some dancing background. But if someone has never danced before professionally but has a very good sense for it, a talent for it, he or she is eligible, too. But the body is very important."


I have a question for Oktay that sure hasn't been asked yet. I wonder if he finds any similarities between Turkish and Hungarian folk dances or costumes. "Umm, no, I wouldn't say so. I mean, not much. It's sure there are some similarities because of the past, that the Hungarians and Turks are relatives. Sure we had learnt from the Hungarians and you had learnt from us. In terms of costumes, I couldn't find many similarities. You know, the Turkish culture is very rich, very colourful. You can't find two villages with the same costumes or dances."


Finally I ask him about today’s show, named DAWOOL, which they perform for the first time in Europe. (I have to note that "davul" in Turkish means drum.)"Dawool is built on rhythm, most of all. It begins with a religious scene, then we have a love scene and then the drums come. We wanted to represent Istanbul with this show. Its colourfulness, the mixture of cultures and religions. There are a lot of different people living in Istanbul. You can even find Hungarians there. That's why we chose to represent all religions in Dawool, because we are open to all of them." Then he adds, "It's also an unbelievable feeling to dance on this particular stage, right in front of the Dome of Szeged. We've never performed on such a stage before. In the show you can see the different religions come alive, you can see Jesus, Muslim people praying and a Jew woman as well. And to perform this in front of a church, it's amazing. I am truly touched, and I hope the audience will feel the same."

The interview is over, we kindly say goodbye and upon leaving Oktay tells me that he remembers a group of Hungarians from last years show in Budapest, waving a huge Turkish flag and shouting "Türkiye sizinle gurur duyuyor" (Turkey is proud of you). I tell him, yes, those are my Turkophile friends and he laughs and waves goodbye.

And as he hoped – and I expected – the audience was just as touched by the amazing performance in front of the Dome as Oktay himself was. Standing ovation is standing ovation, proving that Turkey has a very able, very popular ambassador to be proud of.

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