Nejla Yatkin, artist/choreographer member

1. What inspired you to become a dancer/choreographer?

Life inspired me. I was born and grew up in Berlin, Germany, to Turkish parents. Living in two different communities that are culturally so different from each other you learn, as a child, to observe people and assimilate accordingly. Body language teaches you a lot. Learning four different languages growing up I was most comfortable in my body. When I danced, I felt that I could communicate and tap into a depth that words could not express. Dancing also brought me back to myself and taught me how to be true to the voice inside without trying to be the perfect assimilation of my surrounding. In addition, I loved painting as well as art, actually planning to become a painter. My French art teacher in Berlin saw me dance in a Glee-like production in high school and she told me that she believed dance is what I should do. Until that time I had not thought about dance as a profession. It was something I loved to do in secret.

The more I dance, the more interesting it gets and more inspiring it becomes. I have been dancing now for over 20 years and I still have so much more to explore as well as discover in the language and expression of the body. The human body is such a miracle. I am awed by the vast possibility of the human instrument. We never think about it but our bodies are amazing and so intricate. The thought of moving an arm and how many muscles work together in harmony to move each part and how every cell, bone, muscle, tissue is built to collaborate together to make us who we are, is amazing. It’s never ending learning process.

2. Describe a memorable dance performance and why it’s significant to you.

The very first dance performance that I consciously remember was at a Turkish wedding in Berlin. I was five years old and so taken by the dance that I still have the image of the dance and the dancer clearly in my mind. The dancer seemed not to be from this world. It appeared like her feet were floating off the ground; as if gravity did not affect her. Throughout her dance she transformed and became fluid like a string of energy moving through the dance floor. Time stopped, space became infinite, and nothing else mattered. For a moment I forgot where I was. I wished it had never stopped. She turned and spanned and reflected the light, I think everybody was in awe. We were all infatuated by her dancing and being, transported into another dimension of time and space. But the clearest memory is the last moment of her dance when on the last beat of the music, she dropped down on her knees in a perfect hinge, gave into gravity and became one with the floor. What an ending it was! I will never forget that moment. It was a moment of total silence. For a second everybody held their breath. We were all so moved. The wedding crowd seemed to be in one thought, one feeling, one experience, one big silence. We all felt connected in some way. A unified crowd, a moment of rhythm in time, and space into a moment of silence. I was six years old and this was my first experience when I consciously felt that human beings could connect beyond the spoken word. There are not enough words that describe that feeling I was experiencing while watching the dance. The individual as a microcosm or maybe this let me believe that we can find the microcosm in the individual. I did not really know what it meant, I did not really understand it but I could feel it.

Mary Wigman, one of the German modern dance expressionists, once wrote that “Dancing is a living language, which speaks directly to all mankind without any intellectual detours. The mediator of this language is the human body, the instrument of the dance.” After living through that moment as a child, I knew exactly what she was saying.

3. Where do you see dance in the future and how do you/the work you do fit within that vision?

Mos Def says “when we speak of Hip Hop sometimes, we make it sound like it is some giant in the hillside. That’s not Hip Hop. We are Hip Hop.” Dance is the same way. Similarly, we cannot speak about the future of dance as if it is something out “there.” We are dance. As a consequence, I see dance everywhere and wish to take it everywhere that it appears not to be or appreciated. I am passionately in love with movement. I see movement every waking hour. That’s why I am really open in bringing dance to every possible venue and corner of the world. I try to be open and flexible and go where we/dance are/is most needed. Some places don’t have the luxury and possibilities that big cities like New York have and it is important as an artist and activist to give back to places that don’t receive this kind of food for the soul. Last year I was in Honduras for a three-week residency supported by the Performing Americas Project. After just having a coup d’etat, people did not like walking in their city for fear of being mugged. Despite electricity outages, water shortages, and demonstrations during the creation period, we kept creating and focusing on art making. The responses were immense to the moving performance experience. People were so grateful for this experience because they said this art walk piece changed the perspectives of their own reality, allowing them to see their own city in a more positive light. This experience was enriching and showed me how important dance was for community building, bringing people together, and transforming perceptions.

4. If you could have dinner with anyone (living or dead) from the dance field, who would it be and why?

If I could have dinner with somebody from the dance field it would be Mary Wigman. I find this woman and her work so moving, puzzling, and troubling at the same time. Despite a probable lack of hunger due to excitement, a mozzarella and tomato salad would be ordered and I’d pose the question: why she collaborated with the Nazis? Was there no alternative? Over some pasta al dente and red wine, I would ask her if she was naïve about her association with violent political organizations or was she thinking about something beyond the Nazis? What the heck was she thinking? Did she have no other choice? Over some sorbet, I would ask her if she felt she sold her artistic soul to the devil – literally? Did she imagine that her creative work could be extracted from the historical context within which it was created? Over a desert wine, I would ask her if it was all worth it?