Fiorito: Kurdish love story set for Toronto stage
Fethi is a dance historian and a teacher; what kind of trouble could he possibly have been in? He reminded me the other night: “I was a professor in Turkey for seven years, researching Kurdish culture, dance, music; at that time, it was illegal there just to use the term ‘Kurdish.’”
As a result of his work, he was harassed, and detained for a week without being charged with any crime, and much of his research was destroyed.
He had to leave.
These days he is both teaching and studying dance at York University. He has also founded the Dilan Dance Company. Lately, he has been preparing his dancers for the world premiere of Mem u Zin.
You may think of them as the Kurdish Romeo and Juliet. The story is ancient, its beginnings are oral, and it forms the basis for Kurdish culture and politics: lovers who are killed before they can be united.
Now that’s a metaphor.
The story is reckoned to be true; to this day, Kurdish couples visit the gravesite of the star-crossed couple in Cizre, a town in southeastern Turkey, near border of Iraq; Kurdistan, if you prefer.
The staging of the story is a significant event for Kurds worldwide. “It’s never been on stage like this before. People from America, Japan and Germany are wishing us luck; the news of this production is all over the Turkish news, all over the world.”
His dancers are also from all over the world: Turkey, India, Iran, even a couple from Colombia. I asked at rehearsal if there were a lot of Kurds in Colombia; merriment ensued.
I prefer rehearsal to performance, because it is mere steps — in this case literal steps — from the act of creation.
You should also know this: dancers are grounded more solidly than the rest of us when they move; paradoxically, they also fly more freely.
Fethi prepared to put them through their paces. To me, he said, “I play the bad guy. I will poison Mem, and his lover Zin will commit suicide.”
He reached into a bag of props, rummaged around and said, sternly, “Okay, I had a scarf from Kurdistan. It is missing. I would like it back.”
He’ll get it back.
The dancers took the stage — men with men, women with women — and Fethi instructed them: “Remember, guys, you are showing your power. Remember, women, you are looking at your lovers.”
He did not have to tell them twice.
And then, to a leaping fellow he said, “You are representing the god of fire, you are jumping through the fire.” There was a heap of bright scarves on the floor: cloth, doing duty as flame.
At one point, the women circled about, running swiftly, ululating as they ran; I have never found this less than stirring: if you, um, squint with your ears, it is not unlike Cree drumming songs.
Fethi’s plan is to premiere Mem u Zin here, and then take it on the road. “We have had invitations from Germany, Austria, and from northern Iraq, the Kurdish part.” The company may also perform in Montreal, New York and Los Angeles.
Performing with the Dilan Dance Company is the Kurdish singer Sena Dersimi. She had just arrived from Germany when I met her, and if her keening threnody does not break your heart, you do not have one.
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