A packed North London theatre was wowed by a spectacular Turkish dance production about love last night. Acclaimed Turkish Cypriot dancer Özgen brought his internationally touring hit show Aşk (Turkish for ‘love’) back to London to perform for one night only. A cast of 42, all dressed in stunning costumes, performed exquisite dances to Turkish Oriental, Romani and Sufi music in a show he wrote, choreographed and starred in.
Following its world premiere in London last year, Aşk went on to tour Australia. Later this year, Özgen will take his unique dance theatre show to Scotland and Japan.
On Saturday 3rd October, 300 people were present for the sell-out show staged at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre in Tottenham. Among them was the Mayor of Haringey, Councillor Jennifer Mann, TRNC Consul General Ülkü Alemdar, and Ansell Chezan, director of UKA Dance (the UK’s dance exam body). Some audience members had travelled from Europe and Asia to see the show.
Produced by award-winning Dunya Bellydance, Aşk centres around two different tales about love. The first is set in a bustling Romani neighbourhood: a colourfully-dressed cast burst into action with group dances, followed by playful solos, including a Russian Gypsy dance by Saeeda. Two of the Roma men (Özgen and Vivian Gayle), consumed by jealousy and dark passion, start to fight over a woman (Rosy Summerbell), who taunts both admirers by flirting with them. Their modern ballet dance-off encompassed an exciting mix of Turkish Oriental, Folk, Romany, and urban dance styles.
After the interval, the action shifts to the Ottoman Court, where romance is in the air as couples stroll arm-in-arm beneath coloured umbrellas. In the palace the Sultan (Özgen) is amused by his female entertainers. There’s a spectacular candelabra and sword dance, led by Melissa Bellydance, followed by some beguiling ballet by the court jester (Nuxya Ne), topped by a fire-eating, fortune-telling juggler (Sorcha Ra). When the Sultan falls in love with one of his pretty courtesans (Mayel), the mood and dancing is upbeat, with Oriental dance solos by Mayel and Özgen. As romance turns to tragedy, the sombre mood is captured by women in white performing a death ritual. A whirling dervish brings hope, her ecstatic rotations suggesting the constant presence of love, even after the loss of a loved one.
As a community show, Aşk again fulfilled one of its primary aims by helping to empower women through dance. This key philosophy brought together performers at different stages of their dance journey, from complete beginners who trained with Özgen for the past three months, to full-time dance professionals. The diversity of the cast was also reflected in their origins, which spanned 20 different nationalities.
Throughout, the production was shaped by its Turkish music. In total, fifty different Turkish songs feature in the two-hour show. They included songs by Zeki Müren and Sezen Aksu, along with music from the Muhteşem Yüzyıl drama series, as well as Turkish classics such
as Cifteteli, Üsküdar and the Sufi-inspired Gel Gör Beni Aşk Neyledi.
After the show, Özgen said: “I’m keen for Turkish music and dance to be enjoyed by wider audiences, so it’s wonderful to see the growing international interest in Aşk. Of course it’s a universal theme, so everyone can relate to our two stories. Yet the fact so many dancers and audiences from non-Turkish backgrounds are keen to experience this through our [Turkish] cultural traditions is truly magical.”
Last night’s production was supported by lottery funding from the Arts Council England, and sponsored by Bellydance Boutique, Melissa Bellydance, Babaji Restaurant, and Alamut Restaurant.