Sezen Tonguz (Balıkesir, 1981) studied contemporary dance and improvisation at ÇATI Dance Studio (Istanbul) and completed the Choreographic Creation, Dance Research and Training Programme at Forum Dança (Lisbon, 2009). She collaborated with many artists in various interdisciplinary projects. She has been a resident artist at in different institutions and her work were presented in Turkey, Europe, Brasil and USA. She completed MA Communication and Arts at New University of Lisbon (2015). Tonguz is an independent performing arts professional and investigator and continues her research and activity on artistic research and curatorial practices in performing arts. She lives and works in Lisbon and Istanbul.
What made you “move”?
When I was in high school I used to go to the shows. At that time Atatürk Kültür Merkezi ( Atatürk Culture Center) was very active. A couple of my relatives used to work at the ticket office there. This was a huge opportunity for me. I watched a lot of shows there; theatre, ballet, opera… I think what sparked the curiosity towards movement was this interaction.
The city life comes with a necessity of constant movement. At that time I lived in Avcılar -a very remote spot to the city center- to go to Atatürk Kültür Merkezi one had join the urban choreography. In my university years, I began to “move” professionally. I joined the Theatre Club in Istanbul Technical University, following to that I contributed to the establishment of Çatı Contemporary Dance Artists’ Association. That is basically how the “movement” started, and it is still evolving to its alternative forms, it is a process. Istanbul as a metropole, has a great deal of influence in this process. I remember those restless years… In the daytime I had classes and /or work, before the evening dance classes. I was always on the move.
How do you tell a story with your body? Can you talk about this process?
The creative process, at first, is an isolated experience in the studio. The exploration and creation process before the performance meets the audience is very different than it’s final version. I think my body as a storytelling tool. Naturally, there is a spectrum of imagery from personal to cultural. I try to pursue a movement quality which can host and embody this rich spectrum together as whole. I look for that quality expanding my body’s capacity with new techniques.
I target an effective communication with the audience reaching out to a collective imagery via cultural codes while keeping a certain distance with the personal aspects. I film myself while improvising in the studio and I watch them later on. I invite my colleagues, friends and interested ones to come to the studio for feedback sessions. After this process, I compose the final performance in the direction I want it to be. These rehearsals are never the last versions of the performance because my work evolves with the audience. These days I especially aim to create audience inclusive performances.
How does creativity reflect on other parts of your life?
It reflects in all kinds of matters like in domestic life or taking a walk in nature… Generally, artists are known of living on the edges, being different. We can say that it is thinking outside the box. This is an exercise which I believe everyone should be doing. There may be a tendency to the mainstream within society. But everything is in constant change and transformation. This change is powered by our creativity. We use fancy words like “innovation” but we are still talking about the creativity inside of us. The education system may repress our creativity and may cause individuals to turn into stereotypes. For example, the term “beauty” is now far away from being a subjective concept. Art is associated with the idea of beauty. Yet even as one decorates his home, they reveal their own sense of beauty. What is beautiful and functional may not be the same for someone else. At that point, we see that everyone is expressing their own creativity. This may occur in different ways in everyday life.
Do you think there are a specific time and space for dancing?
Well if you ask me, no. I started dancing in my later years, that is how I know that in the world of performing arts there are many possibilities. By the way, I can’t call my practice “dance”. I would locate my artistic practice on an interdisciplinary map where of dance, music, and installation under the roof of contemporary performing arts. Dance is a matter of an anatomic dynamism. Dance as a practice is commonly accepted as a series of education which starts after a childhood bale education and conservatoire. At the same time, this dancer stereotype is being questioned. There are other artists who started dancing in their 20s and even later who dance as much as their body allows them to. It is a homogenous mixture now. The general discourse started to shift from a classical dance style to discovering our own bodily capabilities. We are getting used to seeing this journey on stage now. For example, ballet is a historically rooted and a strict dance technique that requires a high discipline. The modern dance evolves from the ballet and from that the contemporary dance originates. Now even if you don’t dance in your performance it can be considered as one. This is a controversial issue in the contemporary dance community and sometimes even a joke. So basically what I am saying is, there are no specific time or place to dance.
For me, dance is not something exclusive for the stage. Dance is everywhere in life; weddings, street musicians etc. dance can appear anywhere in our daily lives. If you want to dance, you should dance. If you want to be a professional in this field, then go for it. For sure like in every sector, there are different final products and specific cases. Certain artists can look for certain artistic expressions. For example, if I want to build and express an imagery on the stage I may need to work with someone in the age of sixties. Because I may want to pursue that specific essence of that body on stage. We can think of other examples like a very young person or a disabled person without any professional dance experience. In the dance industry, there are people who are classically educated, of course, what they seek is different than mine. They may prefer contemporary dance techniques. As an artist, I prefer to keep open to a wide spectrum of expressions.
Do you want to say something to the “Future You”?
I would say, “Do not hurry.”, “Make a good use of the opportunities that are in front of you.”. Do not carry ideas like: “You can not be a professional dancer after this age, this is only gonna be a hobby for me.”… The society supports the idea of a stable job. In the area of arts and culture, it is not always possible to find a job within social security structure. That is why people may be more distant to the idea of a career in the arts. Where ever you go in the world you will see that artists have side jobs where they earn the their living. For example in Europe, there are governmental funds yet most of the jobs are still temporary, project based. Having a permanent contract or being a government artist is a rare thing. Sometimes I get pessimistic about my future when I see established artists who work in the field for 20-30 years and still struggling. Sometimes I am worried and but mostly I accept the conditions as it is and try to improve the things in solidarity. I see artists producing their works proudly and their positive attitude gives me courage. I would tell my future self not to back down from this challenge. “In the end, everything will be alright.”
Does working side-jobs at the beginning of an artist career effects the artist’s life in the long term?
Yes, it eventually does. But I see this as an added value. Because working in corporate environments taught me a lot in matters of organization and technical skills. It expanded my professional capacity to organize international events such as (Re)union. On the other hand, communicating with people from various parts of society is quite beneficial. I would like to see this variety of people in my performances too. Being in contact with different people gives me the advantage of getting to know different opinions. This is quite important for me. However, the negative side of this is that, it is time-consuming. I would prefer to spend my time in my artistic practice.
As an artist who moved to Portugal, how does the place you live influences your work?
Even though Lisbon is the capital city, it is still small in size and in population. On the other hand, since it is the capital city there are a lot of cultural activities going on. It is really satisfying. Even if you don’t want to participate in those activities, it is a city where you can chill and feel safe.
Honestly, for me, Istanbul is a very chaotic city. It worns me out. You spend a lot of time on the road, doesn’t matter how good you organize your day, in the end, your calculations don’t match. When I arrived in Lisbon, I felt an actual relief. In Istanbul you always have the anxiety of “What did I miss this time?”. You are always trying to catch something in a rush. In Lisbon, I can easily tell myself “You don’t have to hurry. It will be fine.”. I have attained this habit of reminding this to myself in here. Although in Istanbul, the choreography of the city pushes you to a rush which may enrich the artistic processes. But still I am in a period where I prefer the peace in Lisbon.
Does the time you spend in Portugal is better for your creativity to flourish? Do you have more time to focus?
Not lately. If you asked me before I would definitely say yes. Because now I have been conducting several projects simultaneously. This may be the excessive multitasking habit which I took with me from the Istanbul lifestyle. This habit led me to enter many projects at the same time. Nevertheless, these projects are supporting each other, pieces come together like a jigsaw puzzle. Probably if was living in Istanbul now this would happen again. So I am not sure that if I can faithfully do a comparison in this case.
If you consider the population vs. production, Lisbon has much more creative production than Istanbul. The government funding is a positive influence on this. Portugal has many types of fundings and support for the cultural industry. If you have a solid project, there are lots of opportunities for funding. They recommend activities and encourage you to feel comfortable about your future. For example, with the project that I initiated with the alumni of the 2-year course I graduated from, namely (Re)union, I could raise funding from different foundations and the Municipality of Lisbon. Despite all the difficulties in Istanbul, there are exciting initiatives in the field of culture and art. Contributing to the visibility of organizations like Atelier Muse has a significance for me. I am still connected to Turkey, so far it was a personal connection, now I want to develop professional projects for the future.
What is the influence of luck in the process of becoming an artist?
Luck is everywhere in life. But being an artist is more about perseverance. If we consider luck as meeting the right people at the right time then yes, luck has a great importance. However, there are some people who can develop strategies to do that. I am not that strategic, I try to improve myself on that. Maybe luck for me was to have acquaintances at the ticket office of Atatürk Culture Center back then. If I did not have this opportunity maybe I wouldn’t be in arts now. I think the balance between perseverance and luck is very significant. The people you are connected to have a great importance. If you are with people who share similar visions with you, you naturally proceed and develop in that direction. Simultaneously one needs to add some diversifications to that direction so that you will always have an open door for possible alternative opinions and people. Meeting the key contacts is also important. Maybe this can be considered as luck. For example, when I first came to Lisbon I was looking for scholarships. My childhood friend who worked in a bank back then was working with a customer. I knew one of the owner’s of that company was interested in contemporary dance. It was hard for me to reach to that person. My childhood friend somehow facilitated this and I could complete my studies in Lisbon with a scholarship. Human relations are about luck but also about nourishing them.
For you, what does it mean to be lucky, or not?
I think that to reach my aim there are certain steps to take. Honestly, I don’t believe in luck that much. If one believes that she is not lucky, this may lead to identifying yourself with as a victim and this situation is not good, professionally and personally. I think that one should believe in herself and take responsibility so that they can reach their goal. At this point, it seems like luck is not a considerable factor at success. Still, I feel lucky because I am the daughter of openminded educationist parents. One can not choose their parents. I can say that having such parents who always support me in my cause is my greatest luck in life.