- Sixtenth International Istanbul Theatre Festival
Turkey, surrounded for the most part by the Black, Aegean, and Mediterranean seas, is a country in the middle of everything. To the east and south are Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq, and Syria; to the west are Greece and Bulgaria. The waters of the Bosphorus Strait divide Istanbul, literally, between Europe and Asia. When the United States wanted to send military hospital ships to Georgia by passing through Turkish waters during the conflict in the summer of 2008, Russia, which bordered Turkey as the USSR, voiced discomfort. NATO has large military bases in Turkey, and Turkey has been an ally not only of the United States, but also Israel.
Conflicts in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the ex-Soviet territory surround Turkey. There are also many internal conflicts, almost always involving human rights violations. Unfortunately, it is true that international standards for human rights, especially women’s rights, are often violated in Turkey. In practice, gender inequality remains in many arenas, ranging from the workplace to access to education. Despite recent improvements to the penal code regarding murder and rape, domestic violence challenges the lives and rights of large numbers of women, most of the changes granting independence and protection to women existing only on paper. Thus it made sense that “Human Rights” was the theme of the Sixteenth International Istanbul Theatre Festival, which provided a civil platform for women to perform these issues. The festival featured eight international and twenty-five local productions. Women created fourteen of the local productions, most of which were original.
The arts in general and this festival in particular constitute an important peaceful venue for women of Turkey to make their voices heard, especially considering that a significant part of local human rights issues revolve around women’s rights. In Turkey, as in many patriarchal societies, men largely direct women’s lives, even though women gained suffrage in 1930. On International Women’s Day, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the leader of the AKP (the ruling Justice and Development Party), called on Turkey’s women to have at least three children— whether or not they could afford it, and whether or not they have had an adequate education. This is in contrast to the discourse of Mustafa Kemal, Turkey’s founder, who implemented changes that would allow women to have equal presence in politics, the arts, and other professional venues.
Such a presence is embodied in the work of Talin Büyükkürkciyan, a young Turkish choreographer of Armenian descent, a woman and a minority who performs her identity through art. In Inside Out, Marika’s Tale, she had dancers moving in a confined space. They reconfigured the rectangular space into a circular one, instantiating the desire for transformation, for expansion, and for change. Here, I will discuss three works created by four other women artists in which similar agendas were mobilized. These works have broken traditional practices by using everyday speech or movements in uncommon settings, demonstrating the desire to rebel against the rigidity of current authoritarian ideologies.
Dance and theatre have an equal presence in this festival. Aydın Teker, a choreographer who has profoundly influenced the growth of dance performance in Turkey during the past decade, consistently creates innovative work involving new artists. In harS, she worked with Ayşe Orhon, a performer of the younger generation. Orhon was the only human performer in harS, but this was certainly not a solo; she shared the performance space with a harp as tall as herself. HarS asked philosophical questions as it opened spaces for imagination. At one moment, Orhon suspended herself, inverted, on the harp, facing away from the spectators. Her body was covered in black clothing, contrasting with the paleness of her bare arms, while becoming one with the harp. Her arms, much lower than their normal position in an upright human body, moved slowly, dancing to the internal rhythm of this brand new figure of life. Later, the spectators heard the sound of this body as Orhon held one edge of the instrument, and pushing it...