Deniz (2011)

An examination of cross-cultural relationships between women in Muslim and American cultures.


Susie Thiel in collaboration with the dancers


Susie Thiel and Lynn Holbrook


Mary Cole


Turgut Ercetin


Shanna Cruza

The University of Michigan Rackham Graduate School funded Deniz, created and performed as part of my MFA thesis performance in 2011. I chose Deniz as a current work sample as it directly relates to feminism and social change. The work examines cross-cultural relationships between women from a primarily Muslim culture and from an American culture conveying how similar themes of gender inequality and how women empowerment transpires in both societies.

First, I traveled to Istanbul, Turkey and I learned authentic Turkish folk dance, studying its formal structures, cultural narratives and investigating how gender roles were linked with the dances. Returning to America, I began creating a dance work based on my cross-cultural relationships between women as well as my Turkish folk dance experiences. I selected a group of seven female dancers and collaboratively the dancers and I created phrases based on discussions and free writing exercises about women empowerment and issues surrounding women equality. 

The work begins with displaying bonds between women identifying with similar themes of gender inequality and how women empowerment transpires in both cultures. In the next section women’s individuality and strength is portrayed in a series of solos. In section three, I used folk dance as a model for expressing the traditions and rituals of women, in particular my cast of female dancers. It is a celebration of community, employing unison movement built from a shared vocabulary of gestures and rhythms.

My collaboration with composer, Kelly Moran were a critical foundation for Deniz. I constructed a fifteen-minute music score in collaboration with Kelly Moran, a University of Michigan alumna who is at the time was a Master of Fine Arts candidate in composition, improvisation and technology at the University of Irvine, California. I have collaborated with Ms. Moran on three other occasions at The University of Michigan. Ms. Moran and I began with a discussion about my experiences in Istanbul and the feelings I wanted my group work to exude. I sent her music selections that I was drawn to, including Turkish music and American music conveying the Turkish feel. I sent her links of videos of Turkish folk dances and links to images of my travels in Turkey. Ms. Moran sent me drafts of her music, which we discussed and reshaped as the dance evolved. I sent her videos of my choreography as it developed as well as new ideas that emerged from working with my dancers. We also worked with a graduate candidate in the composition program at Stanford University in California, Turgut Ercetin. Mr. Ercetin, an Istanbul native, captured sounds of Istanbul when he traveled there in December 2010. I also took sounds from video footage that I captured during my in-field research to interweave into the soundscape.