(photo credit: TIMUR VARLIKLI)
Travelogue, choreographed by Beyhan Murphy for her company, the Istanbul Modern Dance Theater, is a result of herculean effort to use contemporary dance theater as a vehicle to revive Turkish cultural treasures through modern stage concepts. Murphy intended to produce a show that travels back and forth through the past four centuries, following impressions from the travel diary of by Eviliya Chelebi, who roamed the Ottoman Empire, interlaced with contemporary texts by popular writer Elif Shafak.
On top of all those heavy loads and aspirations, the dance on stage is also layered by projected visual images, such as old-style paintings and drawings, meshed with realistic scenes, abstract images and photography.
Fortunately, the company, settled within the Istanbul State Opera and Ballet, enjoys state support, which helped to maintain a good-size, quality dance company; well trained dancers, fine stage design, lighting and costumes, and plenty of props that pop up quite often to enrich and characterize choreographic segments.
Murphy’s creation is structured as a compilation of elements, among them recited texts, ongoing presentation of screened images and a line of supporting objects such as suitcases, rugs, satin blankets, long sticks, flashlights and more. Yet her forte is the actual movement language, which is updated contemporary, vibrant, with strong urban presence and mostly devoid of local flavors.
After establishing the fluidity and quality of her movement lexicon and the fine work of her 15 dancers, it seemed that the excessive list of ideas burdening the piece swayed the dance into various directions, thematically and stylistically.
As long as the dance maintained some equilibrium between the semi-abstract movement language and the projected images referring to old local cultural resources it worked pretty well, but toward the latter part the choreographic fragments got shorter, changes were faster and ideas weren’t fully developed. Scenes like baking Turkish savory pastries and handing out tea in small glasses, taking a five-minute break on stage, bursting into folklore- like dance, performing a variation on Sufi dance, all sent the work into an array of half-baked artistic directions.
Losing the work’s continuity and central line, and adding a couple of unneeded, lightweight scenes dried the work up.
So much so that the ending was welcomed.