Turkish born Austrian dancer and choreographer Ziya Azazi remembers his first trip to India (in 2012) as a surreal experience. While he had read about the country, being here helped him experience the “strong vibe of colours, customs and a rich cultural heritage,” he says. It changed the way Azazi looked at spirituality in dance. “I started re-questioning what the human spirit is, and the existence of a broader universe,” he says.
A practitioner of the Sufi whirling dance form for the last 16 years, Azazi will be performing at the Sufi musical festival Sama’a: The Mystic Ecstasy. A form of ‘sama’ or motion, which originated in Sufism, the meditative dance is practiced by dervishes in Turkey who spin repetitively.
While the dance is a traditional way of offering a prayer, Azazi has tweaked his version and calls it experimental whirling, more like a performance. “I started observing how spinning is practised globally and borrowed moves from Middle Eastern and contemporary dance,” Azazi says, over a telephonic conversation from Italy, where he’s rehearsing for a performance.
The 46-year-old Vienna-based dancer will be performing his premiering productions — Bolero In Preview and Ember — during the festival. “Following your senses is important in spinning. It helps increase awareness of your body and senses,” he says.
For Azazi, whirling is a language that transcends barriers. For Ember, he will be dancing with fire: “I am using fire as an element because it depicts an episode in Greek mythology when Prometheus stole the fire (knowledge) from the gods and gave it to humans. And in the process, he was banished by the gods,” he says. For Bolero In Preview, Azazi will use videos, lights and repetitive spinning to pay homage to musician Maurice Ravel and choreographer Maurice Bejart, both of whom inspired him.
As a student of mountain-mining engineering at the Istanbul Technical University, Azazi started practising Sufi dance. “I remember stitching my first skirt (worn by dervishes for the dance). I added my own interpretation through the colour and size of the skirt.”
His first solo performance was Unterwegs Tabula Rasa, Vienna (1999). Soon after, he was awarded a scholarship by the Summer Dance Week Vienna and given the title of The Most Outstanding Dancer of the Year in Austria by Ballet International Magazine.
Through spinning, Azazi hopes to eventually change the way we pray: “We only pray the way we’re told to. It’s not about the God, but the message you want to convey to them.”
What: Sama’a: The Mystic Ecstasy,
* Bolero In Preview: On November 21, 6pm
* Ember: On November 21, 7.30pm
Where: NCPA, Nariman Point
Call: 6622 3737