Thursday, May 04, 2006

(D) April 30, 2006 - Fire of Anatolia

NOW, did I watch Irish dance show Riverdance or the Turkish effort Fire of Anatolia at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre on Wednesday?

It was supposed to have been the latter (previously a production called the Sultans of the Dance), which comprises a mosaic of folk dance and music from the historically and culturally significant region of Anatolia in Turkey.

However, those elements were weaved seamlessly into the mainly soft-shoe Riverdance (Irish folk dance) technique that Anatolia’s general art director, Mustafa Erdogan, had adopted. Confusing, not to mention disappointingly derivative. Each dance, whether it started out Turkish or Western (ballet and modern dance), to my disappointment, ended Irish and (without fail) with shouts of “Hey!” from the dancers. While big-bang endings are fine, quiet moments can have a very powerful effect in dance.

The chance for this was wasted in the piece called A Lament, where life ebbs away from the migrants as they travel the hard road into Anatolia. (The region has seen much migration over thousands of years as it has been populated by a host of peoples, including the Hittites, Phrygians, Cimmerians, Greeks, Romans, Lydians, Persians, Goths, Kurds, Byzantines, Seljuk, Ottomans, Turks and even Celts.)

The dancers in white, spinning upwards towards God, beautifully and accurately depicted the affirmation of death. But the impact of this scene was short-lived with the insertion of a template ending.

A Lament. Pixsource: The Star

The dearth of information in the RM20 programme did not help the audience appreciate Turkey’s rich culture and history. What were the types of folk dances featured, from where did they originated, what was the significance, if any, of the costumes? What were the instruments used? Who were the mythological characters cast in the story and why are they significant in Turkish history?

Their claim to being Dionysian (the act of worshipping Dionysus, god of law, wine, freedom, passion and fertility) was best reflected in the first scene that comprised a series of fiery dances of fire worship, flame flicker and sun formation. Although faultless in going through the motions, the dancers have not quite mastered what American dancer Isadora Duncan was particularly good at: emanating the spirit of worship.

The best part of the show was, of course, the belly dancing. Who can resist the vision of beautiful, midriff-baring girls with “vibrator” hips? The movement vocabulary was that of isolation – most pervasively of the hips. Isolation of the shoulders, head, and hands and the undulating movements of the torso interrupted with contractions were also used in the choreography.

Although culture and history were not explained, we saw a glimmer of Turkey through the snippets of folk dance performed in traditional costumes, and during the traditional drums performance.

Essentially, the success of the production relied more on mass synchronisation, formation and colourful costumes for spectacle, and less on choreography and artistic direction.

But then, this is just an armpit’s view of the show, seated just four rows from the stage. Fire of Anatolia did receive thunderous applause at the end of it.

To digress, I must say that the seats at the convention centre’s Plenary Hall were more comfortable than the crammed-together seats at KL’s Istana Budaya. Of late, big foreign productions seem to be moving away from the latter venue and heading towards the convention centre, which opened to much praise last year.

Fire of Anatolia, which is Erdogan’s brainchild, was first staged in 2002 and has since performed on several continents. It ran for three nights at the KLCC, beginning on April 26.

The show was brought to Malaysia by Jewels Events & Consultancy (M) Sdn Bhd in collaboration with Turkey’s under secretariat for defence industries, the Turkish Embassy, and Malaysia’s Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry.

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