The Establishment of Turkish Ballet during the Second World War

Gülüm Umay Yakar
4 minutes

Hello, dear readers, I am Gülüm Umay Yakar. I am a 19-year-old part-time ballet student and also an assistant ballet teacher. In this first article, I wanted to tell you about how ballet education started in our country during the Second World War and what was done to develop the art of ballet.

Ataturk, who showed the importance that should be given to art and artists even in the most difficult period of our country, said the following words in the Turkish Grand National Assembly in 1936: “I would like to revitalize our interest in fine arts. It is a pleasure for me to mention that a conservatory and a representation academy are being established in Ankara. The interest and effort to be shown by the congress for each branch of fine arts is necessary for the human and civilized life of the nation and for the increase in the productivity of hard work.

In 1940, the founders of the Ankara State Conservatory planned to open a three-semester, ten-year ballet school. As these attempts failed for various reasons, the Second World War slowed down the search for the establishment of ballet. While these developments were taking place in Ankara, Lydia Krassa Arzumanova, who had settled in Istanbul after the Russian Revolution, started private ballet training and began to give performances in various places with some student groups as of 1931.

In the performances organized in 1944 under the name of Eminönü Halkevi, Antique Shop, İnci’nin Kitabı and Bir Orman Masalı are staged. The music of Bir Orman Masalı (A Forest Tale) and İnci’nin Kitabı (The Book of Inci’nin) were composed by Ahmet Adnan Saygun and choreographed by Arzumanova. During the period when the work was performed, the following headlines stood out in the press: “Ballet is a brand new type of performing art for the Turkish stage.

After the Second World War, the foundation for institutionalized ballet training was laid again; the Turkish government invited Dame Ninette de Valois, founder of the British Royal Ballet, to found the Turkish ballet. In 1948, Dame Ninette de Valois pioneered the opening of a ballet school in the Western sense and founded the Yeşilköy Ballet School.

Dame Ninette de Valois

Dame Ninette de Valois and the British delegation selected 29 students (11 boys and 18 girls) from different schools and started education at this school. Some of Arzumanova’s talented students also transferred to this new school. It was the first national ballet school established by the British in a foreign country.

In the early years, short works were staged by the school’s instructors to bring ballet to the community and encourage students. At the end of two years, it was decided to move the school to Ankara in order to support the conservatory in Ankara and to establish a solid artistic tradition, and Yeşilköy Ballet School became a part of the Ankara State Conservatory.

Yıldız Alpar Emiroğlu, who studied in France during this period, opened the first private ballet school of our country in Istanbul in 1952. In 1953, ballet training began at the Istanbul Municipal Conservatory under the leadership of Olga Nuray Olcay and in the same year Olga Nuray Olcay founded her own private ballet school. While these developments were taking place in Istanbul, the Ankara State Conservatory gave its first graduates in 1957. In those years, in order to support the art of ballet, statesmen often watched the performances and supported the artists. In those years, our precious young students danced with the world’s leading artists with the contributions of Dame Ninette de Valois. For example, in 1958 they had the chance to share the stage with Margot Fonteyn and Michael Somes in a student performance at the Opera House.

As can be seen, the art of ballet has a very recent history in our country, but despite this, it has made great progress in this field until today and has achieved world standards in its branch. Thanks to expert trainers, the art of ballet has become more recognized and encouraged.

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