The Fire of Anatolia dance troupe enjoyed a successful run of performances in the Balkans, spreading the message of cultural tolerance.
By Menekse Tokyay for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 06/01/14
Fire of Anatolia artistic director Mustafa Erdogan acknowledges the crowd at a performance in Romania. [Fire of Anatolia]
The world-famous Turkish dance company Anadolu Atesi enjoyed a successful tour of Balkan countries in 2013, providing an example of the arts' ability to bridge cultural gaps in the region.
Known internationally as the Fire of Anatolia, the group performed before a crowd of 12,000 on March 29th in Sarajevo. On December 6th, the company performed for the 10th time at Sala Palatului in Bucharest to a crowd of 5,000, then went on to do a show for 4,500 on December 8th at the National Palace of Culture in Sofia. The group plans to visit other capitals in the Balkans throughout 2014.
High-level state officials and diplomats, including Bulgarian Foreign Affairs Minister Kristiyan Vigenin, Culture Vice Minister Velislava Krasteva and Turkey's Ambassador Suleyman Gokce attended the show in Sofia.
Svetla Ruseva, from Sofia-based Degris Music Company, the organiser of the Turkish troupe's visit, told SETimes that tickets for the show were sold quickly. "
The similarities in the mentality and the way of life of people in the Balkans in general," were the main factors for Bulgarians' interest in the Fire of Anatolia shows, Ruseva said. "All folk dance shows usually turn out to be a big success in Bulgaria," she added.
For the past five years, Fire of Anatolia has performed a production titled Evolution, which is the updated version of its long-running show, Anadolu Atesi. It is a unique synthesis of hundreds of folk dances and music from different regions in Turkey and takes its roots from Anatolia's cultural and mythological history.
Performing since 1999 and having toured the world since 2002, the troupe aims to introduce to the entire world the ancient mosaic of peace, love and cultural history throughout Anatolia.
"Those who do not hear the voices of history cannot hear the voice of the future," reads a statement on the troupe's website.
Ruseva said Bulgarians were drawn to the show because of "the very idea of the clash of civilisations."
"I think that, aside from the troupe's extensive, 10- to 14-hour-long rehearsals, the show has such a powerful effect because it has been very well thought out," Ruseva said, adding that the show's elements are interwoven and attention grabbing.
"Art knows no borders, it has no age. It has always been a unifier throughout the ages," she added.
Fire of Anatolia first toured the Balkans in 2005, starting with performances in Romania and Bulgaria. In the years since, the troupe has performed in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Albania.
A performance in Sarajevo in March drew a crowd of 12,000. [Fire of Anatolia]
Plamen Ralchev, assistant professor at the University of National and World Economy in Sofia, said cultural exchanges are always helpful in building bridges and bridging gaps across cultures, and they have far-reaching and long-term repercussions in shaping the environments where policy-making occurs.
"We cannot rest upon cultural exchanges only, hoping to promote and strengthen good neighbourliness and co-operation. Much more is needed than that. But, of course, we cannot do without them," Ralchev told SETimes. "Cultural exchanges set mind frames of approximations, and within these mind frames we find it easier to interpret each other's actions or inactions despite differences of culture. This helps us understand each other, even if we can't speak each other's languages."
Ralchev added that in the case of the Balkans, cultural exchanges, like Balkan folklore dances or songs and their modern transformations, create the feeling of proximity and shared background. He likened the impact of the dance troupe's performance to the popular Turkish historical TV drama "Magnificent Century," which is broadcast throughout the Balkans.
"Fire of Anatolia is expressively impressive and it reproduces the evolution of a Magnificent story and sends a Magnificent message to the audience -- domestic, regional, international. Of course, Turkey has a huge cultural bearing and it has projections throughout the Balkans, but my point is, and here I have to say that the devil is in the details, that the interpretations of this cultural bearing, common history and traditions are multiple-choice, and any single answer might be wrong," Ralchev said.
On December 6th, about 3,500 people gathered at Sala Palatului, a concert hall in Bucharest, to witness a two-hour show involving 55 dancers, 3,000 different dance traditions and 1,000 costumes.
"It was an electrifying show," Amalia Dinulescu, 35, a marketing manager in Bucharest, told SETimes. "What is important is that we blend in the atmosphere so easily because the music, though original, is not strange to our ears since it hails from this region."
"I loved the energy they conveyed to spectators and how they interacted with us. This is not a mere show, it is an explosion of culture and history and brings the Oriental civilisation close to us," she added.
The artistic director of the group, Mustafa Erdogan, told SETimes that Balkan audiences are quite receptive to the performances.
"Before returning to Turkey from our performance in Sofia, we received many performance proposals for 2014. This time, we are planning to go to different cities of Bulgaria. We do think that our culture is quite similar to Balkan cultures. Besides that, we accord a place to Balkan dance figures within our performance," Erdogan said.
"We consider ourselves as cultural ambassadors," Erdogan added. "Our team gives peace messages to the entire world. In addition to that, we offer a cultural feast to the audience. We are trying to introduce Turkey in the best way wherever we go because our main concept is the encountering of civilisations between Western and Eastern cultures. So we believe that we are promoting the convergence and good relations between Turkey and the countries we visit."
Correspondents Svetla Dimitrova in Sofia and Paul Ciocoiu in Bucharest contributed to this report.
How can the arts contribute to cross-cultural understanding in the region? Share your thoughts in the comments section.