Described by The New York Times as "a magician, telling tales and creating worlds," and "a fierce and supple performer," choreographer Nejla Yatkin travels around the globe inspiring empathic connection between people and their environments. She creates solos, choreographs ensemble dances for stages and sites, collaborates on plays and film/video projects, and educates young artists. She is the recipient of multiple grants and awards from the Princess Grace Foundation, the Jay Pritzker Foundation, the Turkish Cultural Foundation, the National Performance Network, and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, among others. Based in Chicago since 2010, she has gained recognition and support from 3Arts, the Chicago Dancemakers Forum, the Illinois Arts Council, and the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. In all her endeavors, Nejla seeks what British philosopher Isaiah Berlin refers to as an “awareness of the deep currents” — a comprehension of the connection between all people.
Nejla is sought-after as a choreographer, performer, and educator; sharing a contemporary dance artistry that draws on extensive training in numerous dance styles as well as rich personal ancestral, cultural, and artistic roots. She was born in Germany where she began her intensive dance studies and earned a BFA in Contemporary Dance from The Etage, a performing arts college in Berlin. Her expertise also enfolds Japanese Butoh Dance, Middle Eastern dance forms, pantomime, and acting techniques. Curious about dance as a vehicle of heritage and ancestry even in situations of radical displacement, Nejla came to the US in 1995 to dance with African-American modern and contemporary dance companies. As a principal dancer with the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble (1995 — 1999) and later with Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (1999 — 2000), she interpreted the choreography of great Black choreographers Donald McKayle, Eleo Pomare, Katherine Dunham, Ron Brown and Dianne McIntyre and many more. Nejla's body is an encyclopedia of dance masterworks: she has also studied and danced the works of Jose Limon, Anzu Furukawa, Mary Wigman, Pina Bausch, Jiri Kylian, and others.
In 2001 Nejla began to share her deep love and knowledge of dance through teaching at university and professional levels. As a teacher, she supports the development of each student's unique style of expression. She earned tenure while serving as a Professor of Dance at University of Maryland, College Park 2001 — 2008; From 2008 to 2012 she was an Artist-in-Residence at the University of Notre Dame. She has also taught and created dance with students at Bates Dance Festival, Harvard University, Northwestern University, SUNY Purchase, Webster University, Washington University, and many others; she continues to accept guest artist and visiting professor engagements.
Nejla's solo creations express her multifaceted personal and artistic lineages: The Washington Post called her "a woman with deep reserves of feeling and experience and an invigorating, memorable way of expressing them.” Dance View Times has written that "Nejla Yatkin doesn't disappear for an instant, not within a role and not under the impact of movement. She's a performer inside and outside, from a piercing gaze to expressive shoulder blades and from the coils of her long black hair to her fingertips and toes. As a dancer, she measures on a major scale, thanks to a strong, long body and the amplitude she sustains. Watching her can become hypnotic, even off stage." Nejla's solo pieces include De/Reconstructing Mata Hari, Solo With Bach and most recently What Dreams May Come (2015), created with music by Turkish composers Ahmet Saygun and Kamran Ince and video design by Enki Andrews. This piece—which has toured in the US to New York, Washington DC, San Juan, and Chicago and internationally to Mexico, Russia, Honduras, Peru, El Salvador, India, and Kenya—explores spaces between oppression, freedom, identity, and anonymity.
Dancing Around The World is a major ensemble project for which Nejla literally circumnavigated the globe over the course of one year. Every two weeks she was in another country, guiding community groups in choreographies that blended dancers' personally expressive solos with tenderly merged unison groupings. The piece has traveled to 20 cities in 20 different countries since its 2015 premiere; delighting, surprising, and intriguing audiences in urban spaces. The project continues to be available for bookings. A record of the project created with videographer Andrews was awarded the 2018 Silver Palm Award for Best Documentary Short Film by the Mexico International Film Festival and was officially selected for additional screenings in Norway, Mexico, Italy, Bogota, Kenya, India, and the Philippines.
Nejla's interests in deep, authentic moments of human connection have attracted commissions from dance and theater companies across the US. In 2016 she was invited by the Diversionary Theater of San Diego to develop choreography for The Boy who Danced on Air. When the play opened off-Broadway at the Abington Theater in NYC, Nejla received nominations for Outstanding Choreography from the Chita Rivera Award and the Drama Desk for her culturally-informed and sensitive dance portrayal of the problematic, centuries-old Afghan tradition of bacha bazi (dancing boys). She also developed choreography for Sleeping Weazel's production of James Scruggs' 2017 theatrical 3/Fifths Trapped in a Traveling Minstrel Show, in which three high-voltage actors slyly perform the racist history of the US. Nejla has also created original choreographies for the Abingdon Theater, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, the Dallas Black Dance Theater, The Modern American Dance Company, the River North Dance Chicago, the Open Door Theater, and the Washington Ballet, among many others.
Connection to place and land is a theme that emerges throughout Nejla's oeuvre. Recent creations for small ensembles of dancers such as Moving Nature Dreams (2019), Conference of the Birds (2018) and Dancing With the Garden of The Phoenix (2017) are designed for parks and outdoor spaces. These pieces show Nejla's sensitivity to nature as an underlying source of energy and movement that nourishes dance and human life; they have established an emergent ecological/environmental trend in her body of work. She is open to new partnerships to continue this direction.
Nejla's newest project, The Other Witch, is a multi-lingual hybrid performance/ritual/installation/documentary in response to Wigman’s Hexentanz which Nejla describes as "A dance that manifests the mythical in a deeply sculptured movement, intimating ancient insights in the shadows of a ghostly choreography." The Other Witch is set to premiere in the Fall 2020 as a virtual performance series.