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Fire of Anatolia: Turkish dance takes over Egypt

The Turkish dance troupe the Fire of Anatolia has just completed its fifth run at the Cairo Opera House, but the story of this extremely popular show–which has plans to return to Egypt later this year–extends far beyond the borders of Turkey and the walls of the Opera House.

When most little boys were playing with guns and dreaming of becoming brave soldiers, Mustafa Erdogan, the general director of the Fire of Anatolia, was dreaming of forming his own dance company. Although he went on to study philosophy at the University of Hacettepe and public management at Gazi University, he remained focused on dance, winning many awards in local and international dance competitions during his school years. While at Gazi University, he formed a dance troupe, trained its dancers and helped them compete.

It was not until 1997 that Erdogan decided to focus on folkloric dance at Bilkent University, taking the first step toward realizing his dream. He immersed himself in performing, adapting and choreographing Anatolian folk dances. Although he worked as the choreographer for the publicly owned and run Istanbul-Gul Dusunduru Theater and Besiktas Cultural Center, it remained his goal to establish a private company. In 1999, his dreams were realized when he formed a troupe, originally (and sometimes still) called the Sultans of Dance.

An advertisement in the local newspaper attracted 750 applicants, from which 90 talented dancers were chosen. Rigorous and concentrated training started immediately in all dance disciplines with specific emphasis on ballet, modern dance and the intricate footwork of folk dances.

After the resounding success of the company, the number of dancers expanded to 250, which allowed the company to perform both locally and abroad. In 2002, the Fire of Anatolia visited 88 countries and gave over 3000 performances. In spite of the rock star status Erdogan has achieved in Turkey and throughout the world, he is media shy and keeps a low profile.

For a while the company stopped performing in their homeland due to high taxes. But recently the Turkish Minister of Culture awarded them the status of a national folkloric dance company, enabling them to perform twice a week in their own theater. During peak tourism season, they put on four or more shows a week.

The Fire of Anatolia is a unique project based on the ancient mythological and cultural history of Anatolia, the historical name for what is now Turkey, combining Anatolian dance, modern dance, and ballet. Dances tell the story of the land where the first fire was lit, the first wheel was made, and where Antiochus ruled over the plains of Mesopotamia and the foothills of Anatolia, watching the ambitions, passions and dreams of his people.

The recent show at the Opera House was in three acts. Act I told the story of the discovery of fire on the Nimrod Mountain, the mountain of the gods, and how that fire was brought to humanity by the Anatolian Prometheus. Act II depicted the eternal fight between good and evil, the rise of hope and victory of good and the wonder of peace. At the end of the show, the dancers stood in one long row, drumming furiously and throwing red roses at the audience.

The steps were inspired by Alevi religious dances and the folk dances of southeastern Turkey, and were coupled with masterful belly dancing, whirling dervishes and a style of dance very similar to another folk dance popular worldwide, Irish river dance. The dancers in Fire of Anatolia showed great passion, vitality and agility, but the wonderful musical score, composed by Fuat Sakat and Taner Demiralp, stole the show. A fusion of Turkish music, Aegean notes and European classical music, the score enhanced, and sometimes created, the drama. The elaborate costumes were inspired by the Shaman Turks of Central Asia, and have elements from Zoroastrianism, as well as the Aegean and Mediterranean regions and the traditional clothes of the Balkan Sea area.

Previously, the Fire of Anatolia performed in front of the Pyramids. This year, the immensely popular performance at the Opera House sold out a week before the dance troupe arrived in Cairo. Because of this, the company is planning to return in November to perform twice a week in Sharm al-Sheikh. If all goes well, arrangements will be made to stage shows in Alexandria and Hurghada.

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