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Rene Women Interview 0008: Ilke Kodal

Ilke Kodal Interview Questions 

1. How did you first become interested in ballet, and what inspired you to pursue it as a career?

On this long journey that I started with the guidance of my dear mother, there was an intrinsic inclination, actually. I can’t exactly remember why and how I came to love it, but I do recall dreaming of being a great ballerina before entering the conservatory.

2. Can you tell us about your early training and the mentors who have influenced your ballet journey?

My first ballet teacher was Megi Veronika Arman. We were in Adana at that time, and it was the first ballet school opened there. I was five years old, deeply influenced by her, and had a great affection for her. When I returned to Istanbul, I continued with my studies part-time and prepared for the conservatory exam. I had also won admission to the Italian high school and the State Conservatory ballet department at Mimar Sinan University. At this crossroads, when my mother calmly asked which one I wanted, I naturally chose ballet. One of the unforgettable dialogues was during the final audition at the age of 10 when Meriç Sümen asked, “Do you know how challenging the path of ballet art is?” I confidently replied, “Yes, I know.” Looking back, I realize it was quite a strong stance for that age. Instead of naming each of my precious instructors one by one, let me once again express my infinite gratitude to all of them.

3. Can you share some of your most memorable performances or roles and the emotions they evoked?

I can say all the works… I had the chance to interpret all the classical ballets I had dreamed of. My first piece was “Ferhat and Şirin.” The libretto belonged to Nazım Hikmet, and the choreography was by the world-renowned Yurie Gregorovich. To elaborate, I somehow danced in the premiere, and the piece had three acts… quite challenging for the first lead role. On the second performance day, during the preparation stage, I was overwhelmed with incredible fear and anxiety. Thirty minutes before the performance, I started crying and trembling. The whole piece was jumbled up in my mind, and representing the Istanbul State Opera and Ballet on the big stage in the role of Şirin, carrying the responsibility of this grand and divine duty, had put me in a mental and emotional deadlock. At that moment, my dear colleague Lale Kazbek held my hand, looked into my eyes, and said, “Ilke, calm down, take a deep breath, and think about the first act first; the rest will follow, don’t worry.” This key has always been in my heart in all the works I have interpreted so far.

4. As a ballet dancer, you’ve likely worked with various choreographers. How do you adapt to different choreographic styles and approaches?

Since each work has a different theme, the emotion also varies. To experience and convey that emotion, and to enjoy interpreting the story and character, technical movements need to become as fluid as water. In other words, you need to elevate ballet steps to the highest level of your body technically, requiring daily patience and practice.

5. Ballet is known for its grace and precision. How do you balance artistic expression with technical excellence in your performances?

Understanding the theme of the piece is the most important point for me. To get to know the character, I research about them. I analyze the character, then I investigate how I will interpret that character in my body, how I will express their love, resentment, anger with my hands, arms, and eyes. I like to try different things in each rehearsal so that I can truly experience the most suitable version for that character. I must have already mastered the technique so that when I combine everything, I can reflect the emotion without struggling with technical movements.

6.How did you transition from classical ballet to contemporary dance? Have you encountered unique challenges when transitioning between these two dance forms, and how have you overcome them?

Classical ballet, including modern and contemporary dances, nourishes and complements each other. I believe it’s because of my education at school that classical and modern dance were one. This started with our teacher Aydın Teker, with whom we began improvisation lessons in middle school. Thanks to Aydın, my creativity and perception of life strengthened and became more flexible. The flexibility and liberation between the molds of ballet art still continue for me, reflecting who I am right now both artistically and physically, mentally, and spiritually. The answer to this question is briefly not being able to get enough of dancing on Pointe because, you know, dancing barefoot in contemporary dance made me very happy, but I can say that Pointe is a separate area of freedom for me. My quest is to bring together classical and contemporary techniques on Pointe. When I realized that this couldn’t happen within the system we are in, I fell into depression because they told me I had to choose either contemporary dance or ballet. My love for Pointe prevailed, and I returned to ballet.

7. Could you describe the key differences in your approach and mindset when performing in a contemporary dance piece compared to a classical ballet production?

The same concentration, the same excitement, the same search. After all, when we step onto the stage, we tell a story without speaking, only through body language, facial expressions, and our soul. One of the biggest differences is that in contemporary dance, the energy of the movements is more internal; we feel it towards the ground. In classical ballet, we externalize the energy, keeping our head and back straight. But I can say that Neo-Classical ballet is the technique that appeals to me the most because it is a combination of these two separate techniques and, of course, the most challenging because you need to master both techniques.

8. In classical ballet, there are well-established techniques and traditions. How do you balance preserving these traditions with exploring new directions in dance?

I can say that I learn while teaching. The details never end. Transitions between movements are one of the things I give great importance to in both ballet and contemporary dance, and I try to make students realize the importance of these transitions while teaching, along with technical exercises.

9. Can you share a performance or role that seamlessly blended elements of classical ballet and contemporary dance, and how did you approach this fusion of styles?

The Neo-Classical interpretation of “The Nutcracker” staged by dear Uğur Seyrek in 2016 was one of the works closest to all my searches. I also had the opportunity to share valuable works with dear Beyhan Murphy in the field of contemporary dance. The most special among these was the ballet “Afife,” which focuses on the life of Afife Jale. This unique piece, narrating different chapters of her life with various colors, became one of Beyhan’s favorite works and is also unforgettable for me in interpreting Afife’s emotional transitions in the Gray Afife section. Mehmet Balkan’s ballet “Kamelyalı Kadın ve İlişkiler,” Aysun Aslan’s “Ağır Roman,” and William Forsythe’s ballet “The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude” are also among my unforgettable experiences.

10. What advice would you give to aspiring ballet dancers who are looking to pursue a career in this art form? And what advice would you give to dancers who are considering a transition to careers off the stage, whether in choreography, teaching, or arts administration?

Being versatile and curious in every aspect is crucial. I believe we develop as we become more curious. Patience is essential in artistic fields. Of course, success also comes from repetition. It is important to attend concerts, operas, and theaters, pay attention to stage design, decor, and costumes, and examine light design. Recognizing which field you are interested in and curious about, making contact with people in that field, and participating in educational programs and workshops are important. But most importantly, regardless of the chosen field, I believe that all related fields should be examined because art is a whole.

11. Are there any upcoming projects or collaborations that showcase your versatility in both contemporary dance and classical ballet that you’re particularly excited about?

We met with the audience at Moda Stage for three seasons with our project “Balerin,” directed by my dear friend Bedirhan Dehmen, where we scrutinized the challenges I faced in ballet art, confronted myself, and explored my fears and hopes. It was an interactive dance theater where we investigated the aspects of the ballerina on stage that we had not seen before, delving into the other side of the coin and sharing it. We had worked on it for three months, and a multidisciplinary work had emerged. I had the chance to apply many techniques on stage that I had not experienced before. For example, moving and reciting rhymes verbally, shouting while turning my pointer in my hand, and reciting the ballet manifesto we wrote: “All ballet dancers of the world unite! If we don’t dance, this is not our revolution.” I hope “Balerin” revives and meets the audience in different scenes again. *During the pandemic period, in the project for Fazıl Say’s series on Turkish composers, we designed concepts and choreography by selecting pieces. We shot dance videos, and it was a very special and enjoyable encounter. *For the project “Miracle Women,” selected to be broadcast on the Gain digital platform, I was chosen as one of the successful women in sports and art. I had participated in a different and special project where I shared my journey. Being part of such projects makes me feel the reward for the efforts I have put in over the years.

12. In addition, we are asking questions about concept of “home”. What are the essential elements or characteristics that make a place feel like “home” to you? Can you describe a specific memory or moment that made you realize you were truly at home in a particular place?

I can say it’s a sense of belonging. The stage can also be a home for me. The feeling of completeness with the lights, decor, and costumes of the piece, the close connection I establish with it, the comfort, and the sense of adoption in that space. For example, the scent of environments is what affects me the most.

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