Q&A: Korhan Basaran talks about collaborating with David Dorfman

Turkish choreographer Korhan Basaran talks about making a dance with David Dorfman as part of DanceMotion USA

Korhan Basaran Company performs as part of DanceMotion USA with David Dorfman Dance

Korhan Basaran Company performs as part of DanceMotion USA with David Dorfman Dance Photograph: Gem Gork

DanceMotion USA brings together David Dorfman Dance and Turkey's Korhan Basaran Company as part of a U.S. Department of State initiative to aid foreign policy through cultural exchange. In advance of a season of free performances at the BAM Fisher, Basaran talked about moving between New York and Istanbul, learning to create dance for dance's sake from Merce Cunningham and collaborating with Dorfman.

DanceMotion USA, a cultural-diplomacy program initiated by the U.S. Department of State, is based in foreign policy, but that doesn’t mean art can’t intervene. Case in point: David Dorfman Dance, a company selected to participate in the project, traveled to Turkey, Armenia and Tajikistan for a four-week education-and-performance tour. It was in Istanbul that he first encountered Korhan Basaran. “I was charged with finding a company from one of the three countries to bring back for a U.S.-based residency,” says Dorfman. “After two days hanging out with Korhan and seeing his dancers, I asked, ‘Can we consider Korhan? This guy’s fantastic.’” Basaran, an admired Turkish choreographer who spent four years in New York, is back in town with the project’s culminating event: a new dance created with Dorfman that explores the idea of reconciliation. Basaran, for one, is in the mood to heal.

How did you get into dance?
I started dancing to help my acting. I was studying acting and as an actor I just felt I should know more about my body so I started taking some dance classes. I had very strong coordination and awareness, so I was encouraged to do more dancing and eventually it felt right, and I felt like I belonged to dance more than anything else. [Laughs]

What kind of dancing were you doing when you started?
I joined a modern-dance company in Ankara—MDT, or Modern Dance Turkey—and they had guests from all over the world. Lloyd Newson [of DV8] set a piece on them; some Martha Graham dancers came and held workshops. Their repertory was from all over Europe; there have been some successful choreographers from Turkey as well, who managed to transform their information from ballet into more contemporary movement. I would say it was neoclassical and modern with a little bit of contemporary.

How old were you?
I was 21.

How difficult was it starting that late?
Within the company, it was very challenging, because everybody was coming from a strong conservatory training. I don’t know—something was there obviously because the director gave me a two-year contract. But it was hard. I’m also 6'3", which makes it harder to put yourself together. I had to really train myself.

How quickly did you get a contract?
The summer when I was 21, I went to Vienna to the ImPulsTanz festival. I had been taking some dance classes, but had never been exposed to such rich information. That summer in Vienna, I met the director of MDT; I went back to Ankara and started taking company classes and within the first month they offered me a contract. I was still an acting student—it was a big shift in my life and very beautiful.

Did you dance with the company?
Yes, and I graduated from the acting department. Then I did another acting job, which was a big production, almost like a Broadway show. There aren’t many productions per year in Turkey, and there also aren’t many settled companies, so either you’re just going to go and work with some freelance choreographers or this. I auditioned and got a leading part. The show was mostly traditional Turkish dance, but I was a main character—it was a story from the Ottoman Empire. I started making work little by little, just researching my own feelings and how I related them to movement. I danced with another choreographer for two years, who was a dancer with the Graham company; she was a Turkish woman. And then I just wanted to move to New York. I was so done with my career in Turkey, and I had nowhere to go. I wasn’t able to find any support; I wasn’t meeting anybody yet—I didn’t have enough information or enough knowledge of myself or of my art, so I just wanted to be somewhere else, and I spoke English. I also had a tourist visa.

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