17 April, 2010


Bilkent had its first-ever Turkish Festival, and on the last evening, Oğuzhan and I stop to hear some music. The musicians are hidden, actually, sitting beside the stage: there is an accordion player and two drummers. On stage, a young man reads officially, proclaiming the next dance as if it were a decree. And then the dancers file on stage, garbed in elaborate traditional Çerkez costumes, with sleeves that (like Ottoman sleeves and dervish sleeves) are far too long for their arms, and flap elegantly beside them.

The Çerkez ethnic group is Caucasian in origin; like my friend their roots are in the mountains of modern-day Georgia. Oğuzhan has been telling me for a while about the traditional Caucasian wedding-party dances, and after the performance has ended, the dancers gather on the grass in front of the stage. I'm not sure whether it's planned or spontaneous, but one accordionist begins playing, and the crowd circles tight around a small patch of grass, clapping a breakneck beat. One man and one woman move out onto the grass, their bodies seeming to float in an arc while their feet kick and step intricately. The dance is improvised and ritualized at the same time; dancers and the crowd together choose who will enter the circle next, and a given pair has only a minute or two. Like some courtship display you'd see in an Attenborough film, the male circles out around the female trying to cut her off, and she tries coquettishly to avoid him, the whole while the two are strutting their stuff and making a rather big deal of this fox-and-goose thing. But it's just a small circle of grass with a crowd close around. The clapping goes on for twenty minutes or so, and a second accordionist steps in as the first one tires. Çerkez  music is not particularly melodic, but full of subtle rhythmic variation, and gosh it's fast. Many thanks to Bilkent ** Culture Club and **NAME** for the photographs (coming soon).

Until i can find the videos the Bilkent folks took, here is an example of the dance form.