Neighbours: Sydney Festival 2023

Michelle East
14th Jan 2023

Brigel Gjoka, Rauf “RubberLegz” Yasit, and Ruşan Filiztek come together in conversation. Before it even begins, you know Neighbours is going to be something special.

Gjoka was born in Albania and trained in the classical ballet. He has performed with Ballet de l’Opera National Du Rhin, Staatstheater Mainz, and Nederlands Dans Theatre. Gjoka joined The Forsythe Company in 2011. He continues to collaborate with ground-breaking contemporary choreographer William Forsyth.

Yasit’s father taught him traditional Kurdish folk dances. A self-taught B-boy renowned for his unique abstract breaking style. "RubberLegz” is his very apt nickname. His creative work utilises his photography, animation, design and dance skills. He has performed with William Forsythe, National Opera of Paris, Sadler Wells, and PACT. Yasit was born in Germany and resides in L.A.

Filiztek is from Turkey and studies musicology at the University of Sorbonne, Paris. His influences are from the ancient regions of Anatolia and Mesopotamia. He works with modern day musicians from Turkey, Armenia, and Greece. Oriental influences inform his jazz, baroque and traditional compositions.

Neighbours opens in silence. Gjoka and Yasit dance holding a Kurdish daf drum. This intertwined puzzle of limbs will continue to mesmerise throughout the performance. Minimalist lighting design by Zeynep Kepekli and costume design by Ryan Dawson Laight keeps our focus on the communication. Silence continues for the first half of the performance. Gjoka and Yasit create music with their breath and movements. Playful pose and counterpose as they find common ground.

The expectation is we will see two peacocks in a game of one-upmanship. Instead, we witness curiosity, humour, respect, and connection. As each gets to know the other, they build on the experiences and moves offered by the other. So intense was the concentration of the audience, I didn’t hear anyone breathe for 30 minutes.

Filitztek doesn’t come on stage until the second half of the performance. When he does, the conversation process begins anew as the dancers respond to his music. The haunting sounds of the saz and Filitztek’s vocals layer on the emotional load. If your heart has not already melted, you might be dead.

Gjoka and Yasit dance in solos and as a duo. In one solo, Gjoka wears a veil. During the Albanian civil war, marriages were held in exile with only the bride present. A photo standing in place of the groom. He removes the veil to reveal clouds of dust from a soldier's jacket. In another solo, Yasit highlights his B-boy skills. He arranges his limbs in unfathomable positions with amazing grace. At no time is it showing off ‘look what I can go’, more ‘this is who I am’. In one duet, they hold red handkerchiefs, a tradition at weddings and in folk dances as a reminder of their roots. The dance ends with Filitztek’s slow beat of the daf and a standing ovation.

Neighbours is a unique insight into the creative process. Movement and sound of different traditions unite in a respectful and intimate conversation. We find there is more in common to bind neighbours together than differences to drive them apart.

Neighbours remaining performances at Sydney Opera House as part of Sydney Festival:

Friday 13 January 7pm

Saturday 14 January 7pm

Sunday 15 January 4pm.