50 YEARS OF TURKISH BALLET
by Prof Dr. Metin And
The ballet department run by Dame Ninette de Valois was modeled according to that of the Sadler's Wells School in London. When Dame Ninette de Valois first decided to come to Turkey, people regarded her idea as an Arabian Night's Tale. In fact, other than herself nobody took it seriously. However, her strong belief in Turkish talent has been justified, and ballet is now firmly taking root on a land where hitherto there was no trace of it.
After nine years of training, the first pupils of the school had the good fortune to be able to perform with a number of guest stars, including Margot Fonteyn, Nadia Nerina, Anya Linden, Marion Lane, Michael Somes, David Blair, Alexis Rassin and Peter Clegg. All the major classical ballets such as Coppelia, Sylvia, Giselle, Don Quixote, The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker Suite, Pas de Quatre, La Fille Mal Gardee and contemporary ballets such as Les Patineurs, The Rake's Progress, Assembly Ball, Les Rendezvous, Checkmate, The Burrow, Interplays, Prince of Pagodas, Beauty and the Beast, Pineapple Poll, Blood Wedding, Three Sisters, The Glazounov Suite, and Orpheus have been performed. In a short time ballet has become a truly indigenous art.
The highlight of the 1965 ballet season was undoubtedly a new work choreographed especially for the company by Dame Ninette de Valois. The ballet, called "Çeşmebaşı" which translates as, "At the Fountain" referring to the fountain found in the centre of the village square of every Turkish village was the first large scale attempt to create a ballet with music composed by a Turkish musician, which had elements of Turkish folk dance music. It is a truly Turkish ballet. The music was from Ferit Tüzün's 'Anatolian Suite' a composition which had been awarded first prize in a competition sponsored by a prominent Turkish bank.
The following season two more Turkish ballets were added to the repertoire: Sinfonietta, also choreographed by Dame Ninette de Valois and with music composed by Nevit Kodallı, and 'Hançerli Hanım' (The Lady with the Dagger) choreographed by Richard Glasstone and with music composed by Bülent Tarcan. Reflecting the composer's synthesis of Turkish and western musical idioms, Sinfonietta combines classical ballet and Turkish folk dance patterns in a light-hearted story of a romantic intrigue the scene of which is a rehearsal of a dance company. Besides the revival of Çeşmebaşı and Judith, both set to music by Turkish composers and choreographed by visiting artists, the works of two talented young Turkish dancers and choreographers, were staged in addition to other works of art. Oytun Turfanda (the company's principal dancer) choreographed a dramatic ballet 'Pembe Kadın' (A Woman Called Rosy) based on a village drama by the same name written by playwright Hidayet Sayın and set to the music taken from Necil Kazım Akses' 'Ballad' symphony. Pembe Kadın is a bitter village drama depicting the ignorance and hopelessness of the Turkish peasant woman. The ballet Judith was first staged in the 1969-70 season and was especially created for the company by a guest choreographer, Alfred Rodrigues, the music was composed by a young Turkish composer Çetin Işıközlü.
Oytun Turfanda produced two more ballets: 'Yoz Döngü' (Vicious Circle) and 'Güzelleme' (Ode to Beauty). Yoz Döngü is a ballet with no plot. It was set to Turkish folk music arranged for western musical instruments with the addition of the Turkish folk stringed instrument the 'saz' or 'bağlama'.
Güzelleme set to a montage of three musical scores by Nevit Kodallı, takes place at a happy village wedding, with lots of folk dancing free of cliches, with humorous and satiric elements and, as a contrast to the peasants, the refined guests from the city look out of place and clumsy.
The State Ballet Company in 1980 and 1981 staged two imported Soviet full-length ballets: 'The Fountain of Bakhcheserai', a four-act ballet, choreographed by Zakharof to music by Asafiev. The plot takes place in a Crimean setting. The other work, 'Legend of Love' (Bir Aşk Masalı) a three-act ballet, with choreography by Grigorovitch and music by Melikov (an Azerbaijani composer) is based on a Turkish play by Nazım Hikmet, in which an eastern queen sacrifices her beauty to save her sister. Both ballets are striking examples of how classical ballet can be enriched by folk traditions. Both have a distinctive Turkish flavour.
Some young choreographers approach their work differently. Instead of obtaining their material from folk traditions, legends and Turkish history, they have created ballets in modern international idiom and the music they have chosen is also in this style. The ballets we have mentioned are among the many performed by the State Ballet Company. The long lines in front of ticket offices show that ballet has taken root in Turkey.
The State Ballet Company was proud to celebrate its 50th anniversary this year. At the celebrations there were performances of various styles of ballet and plaques were presented to those who serve to advance this art.
Besides religious and quasi-religious dancing and folk dancing, professional dancing carried out by professional dancers, and entertainers has long been a recognized performing art in Turkey. Today Turks have also discovered ballet.
Although Turkey is a country where there is no tradition of classical ballet, and little knowledge of it, much has been achieved in the past few years in this field. In 1948, Dame Ninette de Valois, the well-known choreographer and founder of the British Royal Ballet, was invited by the Turkish Government to come to Turkey to research the possibility of setting up a ballet school as a part of the State Conservatory of Music and Drama. The School was established in Istanbul in 1948 and later moved on to the Ankara State Conservatory in the capital.