born in Nicosia in 1961
Dancing for Cyprus
on tour with “The Dance of Cyprus”
As a boy, Tanju Hastunc didn’t like dancing at all. But that all changed when he was 13. “One day my friends persuaded me to come with them and see for myself what it was all about. Very reluctantly, I followed them. And I fell head over heels in love with folk dancing,” said Tanju, describing the love affair with dance that has lasted throughout his life.
His wife, their two month-old daughter in her arms, brought some Turkish coffee to the office-cum-store room and Tanju, his first assistant Edip Güven and I sat talking amongst stage decor, costumes, computer and files; I could even smell the stage dust.
Tanju was born in Nicosia in 1961 and still lives and works there. His teacher, when he started dancing in 1974, was Mehmet Levent, the first folk dance teacher in North Cyprus and “the best” according to Tanju. In those days there were hardly any folk dance groups. Tanju said: “When I was called to military service six years later, I missed my dancing and I obtained permission from my commander to teach folk dance in elementary schools. It is very important to start training early, as it is with all sorts of disciplines, and at the same time the students learn something about their country's history and traditions which is also part of the process.”
Soon Tanju had his own group, the Famagusta Folk Dance Group. Among his students were young people who, years later, carried on his passion and established new groups.
Tanju commented: “Now we may say that there are groups in more or less all the villages and cities of North Cyprus.”
“We did not have our own stage yet, but we performed, danced and practised on school stages all over the island. All the while I kept my mind open for a change, a change in style and teaching methods; you need to develop if you want to be creative.”
When Tanju started working in the Ministry of Youth and Sports, responsibility was given to him to plan cultural events and in 1987 they opened the first International Folk Dance Festival. International groups having come here now for 15 years.
“In the 1990s, I began to have a dream which slowly became clearer as I studied and researched into other dance groups worldwide. I wanted to go towards dance theatre: a story danced, a story told by dancing, without words, without song. I think that dance theatre is the most difficult art form as you only have your body to talk with,” he said.
Over that period, he started to write scenarios for the dance theatre of his imagination, based on the history and legends of Cyprus, and also based on some stories written by Ali Nesim. In 1996, he presented for the first time, the scenario to establish today’s Dance of Cyprus to the Ministry of Culture. But it was rejected, as they did not have a budget big enough to support the project. “I thought things over and told them, “Give me as much as you can and I will start with small projects,” the scenarios of which he had ready in his pockets.
“We went off with three pieces and presented dance theatre to the public. The titles were This is our Homeland in Spite of Everything, The Epic of Hasan Bulliler and Our Women from the Village to the City – pieces we also took to France, where we were invited to participate in the 1998 International Pyrenees Festival. We then travelled up and down the country with our group – it was a great experience.” Here I interrupted to ask Tanju whether he had ever encountered any difficulties attending international events; if he had been refused entry, as had the Gönyeli Folk Dance Group just recently by Spain, or the Kyrenia Folk Dance Group which was refused an entry visa by the Spanish Embassy. “Just once, the Armenians intervened over our participation in one of the French festivals, but all the other events have gone off without any problems. I believe that it is the decision lies with the host organisation whether they go through with it or whether they succumb to the despotic and shameful attitudes of a few people,” he said.
But back to the story of the fulfilment of Tanju's dream. It seems that he was on the right path, the same he has followed from the beginning: start small and gather experience, and progress to the big thing.
By now they had introduced modern dance techniques and Tanju and his group were on their way to bringing to life the big project, the scenario of which was still in the background, untouched. He said: “In the year 2000, we finally obtained our own stage from the Culture Department, which made it much easier to train the many students coming from schools and universities, and we were proud to announce the birth of Çağdaş Halk Danslar Derneği (The Contemporary Folk Dances Association).
“We had three years of immense work ahead of us, all for The Dance of Cyprus project. There was the choreography to be worked out which I did, and the music – largely composed by Cemal Özgürsel – which was in places based on genuine old folk music and arranged by Niyazi Nasıfoğlu. ? There was the scenery to be planned, the costumes to be created for the roles, all carried out by a fantastic crew. Word got round that we were planning a big project, so more students came from universities everywhere who were interested in participating and dancing, and we started working with the help of teachers who had been my students for years. They included Edip Güven here, my first assistant, and professional dancers, who came to join the group like Leyla from Georgia or Natali from the Ukraine, with their knowledge of modern dancing and ballet, and Adem, one of my students who added two years of ballet to his dance education. These elements became very important in the whole set-up. The most important, however, was the promise of support from many departments in the government and many, many sponsors which we have all mentioned in our event catalogue. We are very grateful to them.”
The Dance of Cyprus was first released in 2004 with 40 dancers, and was welcomed with great enthusiasm. By the end of 2005 the show had been on stage 20 times. In 2005, it was awarded the annual TRNC Culture Prize and also the Green Olive Art Prize – seen as a confirmation of the teams' wholehearted input of work and love for the project itself and the love for their country.
This year 2006, there will be seven shows in Girne/Kyrenia castle.
“We are very proud of what we have achieved”, said Tanju with a big sigh. “But there is no time to relax, we must go on from here”. I see Edip, his first assistant bring his arms up in a passionate gesture as he added “Tanju cannot relax, cannot stop, he has already big plans for the future.” Yes, I understand, the thing has developed its own dynamic.
Tanju explained: “There are two things on the horizon, the first is to build up my dance troupe to 250 students and to introduce new dance courses for ballet, oriental and rythm, aiming at big dance shows in these disciplines. The other project, another big dream of mine, is the realisation of “Şamaran”, which is the story of the King of Snakes who falls in love with a human - another legend of ours, - perhaps for 2008. But let us stay in the present: we will make The Dance of Cyprus a trademark and send it on tour to many other places to make people aware of our Turkish Cypriot culture, our history and our legends.” Then he stretched his arms out and took up his baby daughter: his private future and one day, perhaps, another student of his.
(Published by Cyprus Today on July 15, 2006)
Copyright Heidi Trautmann
The photos are from a performance in 2006