Michael Clarke gets all the press – and a young Turk, Mehmet Sander saw his seminal These New Puritans at the Chisenhale Dance Space, over from Istanbul on a scholarship to a posh dance college, “which I largely missed, because I was at the Batcave.”*
*THE goth club of the 80s, frequented by friends such as nightclub legend Princess Julia, and producer, and bassist of Killing Joke, Youth aka Martin Glover, and Dave Barbarossa, the drummer and writer, who introduced us.
We meet in Melanie’s restaurant, one of the last remnants reminiscent of filmmaker Derek Jarman’s Soho [who made Tilda Swinton famous, after making Jubilee about the punk scene].
Mehmet Sander is a radical artist. One of the few.
His manifesto on dance that he developed in Long Beach, California, after his time in London, took away gender, and all the moves, to become a fast, physical thing that challenges every preconception of dance. The videos from this period of the Mehmet Sander Dance Company here are essential viewing. Creating constrained environments, bodies slam around like the stardust amoeba we are.
“I do not call myself a choreographer, but an ‘action architect’,” he explains, with a strong gaze, undistracted by the pavement walkers down Old Compton Street. We’re reconvening after I’ve taken his life-changing workshop which teaches more about inner-strength, resilience and empowerment than any yoga class, or guru-type teaching you’ll ever experience. I am dropped on the floor after running into the arms of strangers. I cry when some kind of muscle memory is triggered as I impact into another participant. And it is gloriously freeing to rid oneself of the shackles of expectation and immerse yourself to walk on walls, run with conviction, and do 75 press ups. And to trust a group of people with your body. For starters.
In a 2014 workshop at the Tate Modern, three nurses from the NHS joined Mehmet Sander to experience the spirit he is capable of revealing within. Each participant is only brave enough to know they can recover from a few bruises. “By challenging habitual ideas of what a dance should be like, I associate more closely to the fields of architecture and physics rather than performance and music.”
Somewhat brilliantly, the body slamming on the floor horizontally creates its own sound, so he never uses music in his pieces. It is physical. The body creates the music.
“I love that,” he shouts jubilantly at the workshop, as we boom to the floor, winding ourselves. It’s something masochistic that may not lie in everyone, but the group of us who submitted to this strange dance, which we perform as an entire piece at the end of the session, leave rejuvenated and high.
I ask him whether bones have been broken. “Of course, ribs, and fingers,” but this sacrifice for art is so vital, and his knowledge that we are capable of mending ourselves, is another level of self-respect. And this is his philosophy. A much needed play in our times of time-wasting, faux-inspo, bad-poetry Instawashing. We reach a higher respect for ourselves through understanding what fundamental fitness abilities are, and how fear is used to control us in public or private space.
On July 7-8th he invites more NHS staff, working in the mental health sector, to throw their bodies around in this unusual quest for freedom and liberation.
No dance experience is needed to take part, just a willingness to experiment.
The workshop is FREE to all attendees and finalises with a performance at the Tempting Failure 18 festival in Croydon on Monday night, which is a biennial of international performance art and noise.
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Find Mehmet Sander on Instagram.