Interview with Gizem Aksu

Gizem Aksu is a contemporary dancer, choreographer, and instructor based in Istanbul Turkey. She is now working in Aakash Odedra Company’s dance project in New York University Abu Dhabi in the UAE. In this interview, she shared with us her dance-related background, her thoughts on this current project and her ideas on how dance raises self-awareness and thus helps solve sociopolitical problems.

Interview video link is here:

Transcript of Interview Jan 15 11:00 AM @Art Center

G (Gizem Aksu); J (Julie Liu); Y (Yaozhong Xu)

J: Hi Gizem! I’m Julie.

Y: I’m Yaozhong.

G: Yaozhong, Julie?

J: Yeah, nice to meet you.

G: Nice to meet you too.

J: We are students from the class How Movement Creates Meaning. For the past one/two weeks we had dance classes with Aakash; we watched your rehearsals at the black box; we went to Greece to teach dance there. S, now we have a couple of questions about this dance project and your participation in it. It would be a pleasure if you could talk and share some thoughts with us. So, could you first briefly introduce yourself?

G: Yeah, I’m Gizem Aksu from Turkey. I’m based in Istanbul recently but I travel a lot in Europe, basically. I’m a freelance dancer, choreographer, and instructor at the university in the contemporary dance department in Mimar Sinan Fine Art’s University. I’m here now.

J: Great. So how did you meet Aakash? Was it in Turkey?

G: Yeah. It was I think five or six years ago. Aakash came to Istanbul for dance festival. I danced I was studying contemporary dance in that while. Aakash came to our department to study dance with us, to teach us actually. In the mornings, we were doing technique classes, contemporary techniques, his techniques.

J: Was it Indian style?

G: Not very much. We were doing some basic stuff from Kathak, but basically, we were doing the contemporary dance things. And then I couldn’t remember how it started, but the few people started to dance with him after the class, after the afternoon until night.

J: After the official class?

G: After the official class. Yes. And after our classes finished, it took two weeks I think. At the end of these two weeks we had a presentation with Aakash, about what we created altogether. It was a fascinating experience. It was unexpected for him as well as for us. We became friends, and the exchange in this studio was very powerful for us because we were so committed to each other, with Aakash and among ourselves as well. And then, yes this is how we started.

J: How did he persuade you to join this project? Did he persuade you to join this project?

G: Yeah. In this process five or six years ago. He said to us that guys you are amazing. We are so concentrated and dedicated to dance. If one day I have a company I would invite you.

J: And now there is the company.

G: Yeah yeah. After three years he emailed us about this company’s project.

J: We’ve heard that this dance piece that you are doing is trying to address some world crises, like refugee crisis, political turmoil, community conflicts. What do you think the relationship is between dance and those crises? How do you think dance can help solve some of the problems that exist in this world?

G: Yes. It’s a big question. For me this is a big philosophical question that I always think about. Because I’m coming from the political science in the first degree. And then after studying political science, I started dancing. I started dancing while I was studying political science at the university. And political context and sociopolitical context and economic context are always in my mind when I am living. It is the part of the picture. And it is part of the ground we are living on. Dance for me and live is so connected and the politics of live are so connected as well. So they are really in a relationship. And the other question for me, of course, what’s dance, at first?

J: So, what is dance?

G: Yeah so basically the question it’s hard to answer. It’s hard to define. It’s always changing for me, the meaning. The answer is always changing for me, about dance, about life, about my soul, about politics. But for me, yes, body and movements can change the world.

J: In which way?

G: Err…

J: You mentioned there have been some changes in your perception.

G: Yeah for example, I’m recently interested in the movements of the feelings, movements of the affects, and how these feelings create movements, how these feelings affect body, to move, or to experience through a precise situation. So that’s why movements for me, everything moves. That’s the basic principle of life. And that’s why this principle, this unexpected principle, because you couldn’t know, you couldn’t guess how thigs move. You don’t know actually. We try to observe, we try to think about. But we don’t know the actual essence, the mathematical. What is the rule behind this. And I believe this unexpected power, I believe this mysterical[mysterious] power did the movements. Because for me, for example this is about the internal movements of the internal organs as a dancer. As we dance we usually think about the bones or the..

J: The muscles?

G: The muscles or the articulation[wrists]. But as a dancer when I was listening [to] my organs and how they move. It’s a different world.

J: The internal world.

G: Yes, and movement is so layered. And it’s everywhere, every time, any time. And it’s really amazing experience to feel the moves. And this sense could change the world I think. Because for example, for me, I think if more people are bodily aware, the politics, the economics, the socio, the anthropological structure will change. It’s about awareness. It’s about how you channel your awareness, your concentration to what direction.

J: To be self-conscious about decisions?

G: Yes, yes. For me, it starts with the body. I’m doing body workshops to people, especially LGBTQR people. And sometimes I came across with people who haven’t seen his or her fingers, foot finger.

J: Mhmm, toes.

G: Yeah, toes, yeah. It’s amazing because you are living with these, you are living within this. For me it’s really about self-consciousness. It really starts with the body. The physical is the first thing we can reach.

J: So are there some examples in this dance piece that you can talk about like to be self-conscious, in this Aakash’s choreography?

G: Err…

J: Are there some specific movements or scenes that you like?

G: Yeah. Aakash is a person who is dealing with this self-conscious issue. Also as a person, each of us is dealing with self-conscious thing. That’s why it’s in the piece. It’s in the piece but for me this piece is going through a more superficial layer. Because for me we are dealing with a lot of other issues, which are politically, which are sociologically heavy. And in this sense, it’s very hard to direct people to the self-conscious path. But we are proposing, for me, some scenes people can actually easily see self-consciousness, about their feelings, about their movements, about their toes. And we are creating this space, or opening this path together, to think together, to move together, to feel together. In that sense, this piece is a protection to direct people, or to move people to the self-conscious path.

J: So you have made some proposals to Aakash about changing some scenes and adding some movements, what do you think is the difference between the role of choreographer and dancer since you’re already a dancer in this piece?

G: Yeah, you know, this course, language categorizes things, and they make things in an order, but life is not, for me, yeah for me really. In a creation process if you are dedicated and if you are so concentrated and if you are feeling together, there is not that kind of separation, and for me, what I feel with Aakash, I feel so connected to him, and I feel so connected to the other guys. I don’t feel this kind of boundaries. If I have something… have an idea, just say it, or I have some proposals, just do it. For me as a choreographer, (I’m working as a choreographer as well), and I’m also in my working process, I don’t like this kind of categories. It’s pointing some issues of mind, mind is working like that, but you are really dedicated from here, from your internal organs—there’s no boundaries, there’s no separations. Choreographer, dancer, maker, creative dancer, performer, blah blah, it’s all about markets for me. It’s about kneel the barrel, structure of the labour, yeah. For me, no.

J: In practice, do you gain some different perspectives as a dancer?

G: Yeah, we have. For example, if you are a dancer, you have some major responsibilities. I mean, you have to take care of your body, you have to warm up yourself, you have to concentrate on the line, choreographer’s proposals, these kinds of basic responsibilities, but it’s not about the separation between a choreographer and a dancer. In this position, I have this kind of responsibility, but when I propose something or create something, there is no categorization as a choreographer or as a dancer, we are just creating, you know. It’s another kind of energy you couldn’t label. It’s just… yeah.

J: This is going be a general question, so what do you hope to achieve in dance overall? What is your ultimate personal and career goal in terms of dancing?

G: yes, for me, it’s changing, but these years I’m… at last year in 2017, I experienced to be a human through dancing. What does it mean, I don’t know.  Sometimes when I was sitting, just the sense came to my mind, and came to my body, yes. I’m so happy in the world to be a human, experience the role to be a human. For me dance is really in a relation to this essence, to feel, to sense, to sense the space, sense the time, sense the movement, in and around, because each of them… the space is always changing, the time is always changing for me, the move, energy is always changing for me. For me in my career, in a point I’m so happy with it, because I’m traveling too much, I’m creating too much, I’m meeting with different people in different contexts, and it’s feeding me as a human. I’m really open to learn, to someone, to some places, and dance for me is part of this learning process, and what is amazing for me is bodily, bodily learning, the sensible learning, sensitive learning. Because I come from a very intellectual background, yes, experiencing the world, me, not through the books, not through the articles, through myself, through the other bodies, other people, feelings, the movement of feeling, these are all amazing for me, that’s why I’m so in love with dancing.

J: So when you were doing you political science major in college, did you think you would ever become a dancer?

G: no, it was impossible to imagine for me, because I wasn’t able to move at all. I was a sportive girl, but my body changed a lot. Another body was born through my body while dancing.

J: What caused that change?

G: Because I started dancing a bit late, I spent a lot of time with myself, and my relationship with family and my friends became weaker, because I was so self-concentrated and it was a big construction through myself and I was so concentrated on these constructions, and I couldn’t look around my bubble, my own bubble. This human relation, in terms of human relationships, my relationship with my family became weaker, and also (the relationship with) my friends also became weaker, but after a while, after 4 years, for now, it’s ok because I’m stable in my ground and I know my new myself. It’s about… it’s really like a second life, yeah, really. I’m trying to reconstruct all the relationships, and to the nature as well, because I invested too many hours while studying dancing in the first four years, and then I recovered all the relationships, to people, to nature.

Y: So that’s basically our questions, thank you very much, we hope you will have a perfect performance in #Jesuis.

G: Thank you.