‘Harem,’ Turkey’s longest-running ballet

‘Harem,’ Turkey’s longest-running ballet

‘Harem,’ Turkey’s longest-running ballet

Merih Çimenciler

The Turkish balletHarem” (Seraglio), which blends classical ballet with Ottoman music, has become the longest-running ballet show in Turkey, having been staged by the Ankara State Opera and Ballet (ADOB) for 20 years. 

The choreographer and director of “Harem,” Merih Çimenciler, said she had designed the show in two acts to mark the 700th anniversary of the Ottoman Empire. 

Çimenciler said the ballet, which has been performed to a full house at every show for 20 years, is also the first Turkish ballet work performed with Turkish classical music instruments such as the reed, qanun, frame drum and double drum. 

She said she had conducted studies on the Ottomans, the seraglio culture and the life of sultans.

“The harem may be considered a place which determines the fate of concubines, but for me the harem is an academy. I have carried out a lot of research on this, read and worked with experts in the field. Princes take music lessons, read the Quran, learn Arabic, dance and learn manners, and then they are presented to the sultan. I wrote the play in 1998.”

Çimenciler said that when she asked herself how she could reflect the Ottoman era on to the ballet, she decided to depict the seraglio with the instruments of that era. 

Stating that award-winning ballet dancers were performing in the show, Çimenciler said, “’Harem’ is the work of the firsts. It was the first work staged in the Selamlık [men’s section] of the Topkapı Palace. It is the first ballet that entered the Dolmabahçe Palace and Sait Halim Pasha Mansion; the work that made the opening of the Bodrum Ballet Festival in the Bodrum Castle. It was performed in many cities of Anatolia, including opera and ballet festivals in Kayseri, Sivas, Gaziantep and Trabzon. It was staged in Aspendos. Turkish people are interested in history, I thank them. They appreciate our history and ballet.” 

She said “Harem” is also the first Turkish ballet in the German ballet repertoire, adding that it was staged in Dortmund a couple of times. 

“We took the stage in Shanghai in EXPO 2010 and received a standing ovation by the Chinese audience. It made us very proud of ourselves. We also represented Turkey in 2014 in Ashgabat. We received invitations from women’s organizations in the U.S.,” Çimenciler added. 

Çimenciler said he had worked on the décor and costumes of the play with Alexandre Vassiliev, who had written a thesis and worked on Architect Sinan in Moscow, and that he had benefited from his knowledge. 

The “Harem” ballet tells the stories from the seraglio in the Ottoman imperial palace as well as the love of the sultan and Gülbeden and the intrigues of Valide Sultan Kösem.

‘Harem,’ Turkey’s longest-running ballet