An Unusual Relation with a Harp…

An interview on harS with the choreographer Aydın Teker and the dancer/musician Ayşe Orhon

Sarma Jan 2014English

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Contextual note
This text is part of the bilingual (English/Arabic) collection 'Cairography' (January 2014), which was initiated by HaRaKa (Egypt), edited by Adham Hafez and Ismail Fayed, and produced by ARC.HIVE with the additional support of Sarma.

Istanbul, 23 March 2008

Aylin Kalem: In your previous work aKabı, the choreographic writing was based on the relation of the body with shoes of unusual heights. Here, you expose a body in its relation to the harp as a huge instrument. What is the drive behind establishing particular relations with objects in your choreographic creation?

Aydın Teker: I guess it is an inclination I have from the composition courses I am doing with my students. I ask them to practice on the possible relations with an object. I know that I certainly do not start a project with the idea of creating a relation with an object, nevertheless, it is there. On the other hand, I do not consider the harp as an object, but rather as a character, and a very strong one. I feel that Ayşe is doing a duet, not a solo. They both engage in a relation with each other.

When I first started to work with the harp, I had serious problems with the beauty of the instrument. Everything I was doing was turning out to be too beautiful as the harp had a very strong aesthetical character. I was disturbed by its beauty. I believe that every work requires a certain period of time to reveal itself and to guide us. I believe that one has to wait for that moment to happen. I don’t understand the idea of creating in a rush because I am focused on the research, the time I am spending with Ayşe at the studio, the process of exploration, accompanying each other towards a discovery. I am enthusiastic about the idea of a lab, the experience we have is unique. Otherwise, it becomes a product-oriented work, there has to be something that will keep the work alive. 

Aylin Kalem: What are the paths you are taking throughout the process of creation?

Aydın Teker: I am not doing much physically; I am watching Ayşe and talking a lot. Somebody had asked me if I imagine before I start creating. The answer is no, I definitely do not reflect on or imagine how the work will be. I am only curious and look for what will come out of the process. I didn’t have any idea at the beginning. I didn’t know how I would overcome the beauty of the instrument.

Aylin Kalem: How did you decide to work with a harp?

Aydın Teker: I had already created a piece with a counter-bass in England. I knew that Ayşe had a harp background and that she had not touched the instrument for a very long time. In a conversation we had, the idea of doing something with a harp came about. It was an important moment. Then I went to Paris and bought this huge instrument without further thoughts on the project. This is also what I did with the shoes for aKabı. I immediately looked for having the shoes as soon as I got the idea. I didn’t spend time on thinking about “what ifs”. When we received the harp, we didn’t have the working conditions that we now possess. We were looking for studios. It was a very difficult task to carry the harp wherever we go. Once, we were walking in the narrow streets of Istiklal, and Ayşe was carrying the harp. A young friend of hers came across and offered help. When he realized how heavy the instrument was, he literally ran away. The conditions were difficult for us. We finally found a studio to work but the temperature was too high for the harp, so that the strings were pulling apart. The motivation I have to continue comes from the curiosity I have towards the relation we are going to have with the instrument. The instrument also led us to know more about each other’s limits. The process is overwhelming. We have been working on this project a bit less than two years now.

In the beginning I thought Ayşe should also play the instrument as she is a musician as well as a dancer. However, I realize that I cannot impose on the piece things like ‘there should be this’ and ‘there should be that’. It is the piece itself that decides what is necessary. This is what I understood throughout the years. I also believe that if I do not put a problem or an obstacle, the piece does not go anywhere.

Aylin Kalem: Usually this problem or obstacle is a physical one in your works. You are not focusing on problems of the society, or on political messages that the audience might get.

Aydın Teker: If I have a message to give, then I would say it, I wouldn’t make a piece out of it. What I am really looking for is to go beyond the acknowledged limitations, both aesthetically and physically. We already know what we have, and what is considered as beautiful. I am looking for the things beyond that.

Aylin Kalem: The relation you establish with an object, both in aKabı and in harS, is something that transforms the body. The object becomes an extension of the body. In this sense, your approach is quite technological.

Aydın Teker: Yes, that’s true. Although I do not intend to start with that idea, I somehow reach that point. For a body to adapt itself to new extensions, it had to develop a certain technique. The body has to be powerful, the nervous system has to perceive the new condition, and the person has to accept the new state.



Aylin Kalem: What kind of an experience did you have in relation to the harp, not as a musician in a conventional way but as a dancer/musician? How did this change your perception?

Ayşe Orhon: I started music education at a very young age, but I had never considered myself as a musician; I was telling Aydın Teker at the beginning of the project that I was not a musician. However, I have changed my mind. I had to remember and develop what I had learned as a musician during the project. I believe that music and dance resemble each other in the sense that they both engage body and mind and that they follow a similar path towards expression, one in the form of sound and the other in the form of movement. In this project, we have the two of them simultaneously. At first, I was very kind towards the harp, I was afraid that it might fall and crack. Then, as I got to know better its dimensions and weight, I started to better understand its language. As I was less afraid, I discovered its potentials. But it took a long time to get there. To be side by side and face to face with this instrument, which I played sitting on a chair for years, aroused in me a curiosity for establishing different forms of relation with it. I had many questions, like could I lift it, what would happen if I turn it upside down, or could I fit in it? Each curiosity led me to new ideas and new problems. Aydın Teker’s patience and care is very important for me. I am rather impatient, I want to realize my wish or her suggestions spontaneously, but this is not the way it should be. One has to work on it very carefully and systematically.

Aylin Kalem: What kind of an experience did you have in your body in developing a virtuosity in handling such a heavy and massive instrument?

Ayşe Orhon: We are like two rivals on stage. Rather than someone mastering the movements that I am required to execute, I am like someone who tries to exist in this rivalry. Maybe, it is this sort of competition that reveals all these ‘virtuosic’ materials.

Aylin Kalem: What was your role as a dancer, in the process of creation?

Ayşe Orhon: I possessed an opposing position. I had a choreography background rather than a dance education. In the first project I worked on with Aydın Teker called Density, I was supposed to learn the part danced by Kelly Knox. It was an interesting experience for me as I was not used to learn an already set part. But this kind of creation process is more difficult. The choreographic signature belongs to Aydın Teker, but at the same time, I am not someone who does everything that is told to me, I am rather doing things that are unsaid. I cannot hold myself from telling my thoughts and desires. But we are rather three in rehearsals. Aydın Teker makes a step, then I develop it, and then the harp makes another step towards the creation.



Choreographer Aydin Teker’s latest creation at the time of this interview was harS;  a duet between one dancer-musician and a harp instrument, performed by dancer and harpist Ayşe Orhon.

Aydin Teker is a pioneer of post-modern dance in Turkey and in the Middle East. She graduated from Ankara State Conservatory in 1973 and joined Ankara State Opera and Ballet as a dancer. In 1976, she got a scholarship and first went to London and then to the USA. She received her B.F.A. and M.F.A. from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. Her choreographies and site-specific works have been shown in many countries. Among these, Density that got a special award at the 22nd Zurich Theaterspektakel. Aydin Teker is currently a faculty member of the Modern Dance Department of Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, Istanbul.

Ayşe Orhon has been working as a choreographer and video, and holds her MA in choreography from the Amsterdam Theater School, and is a co-founder of “AMBER – Association for Process-based Arts” (Istanbul).