NEJLA YATKIN is a multilingual choreographer. While the Berlin-born dancer and choreographer pegs her mother tongue as German, she also speaks English, French, Turkish and even Latin. But, says the tall choreographer with jet-black hair, "My first language is movement. Body language says so much more than spoken languages." A recent recipient of a Metro DC Dance Award for outstanding individual performance, Yatkin, who teaches at the University of Maryland, recently returned from a six-week European tour. This weekend at Dance Place, Yatkin concludes her choreographic trilogy, "Existence," with "Gravity," a quartet of solos and duets.
Even in movement, Yatkin maintains her multilingual status. The developing D.C.-based choreographer pulls from a rich accumulation of dance traditions: from Turkish folk dance to classic American modern forms, including the Martha Graham and Jose Limon techniques, to the expressionistic modern dance tradition of Germany and the apocalyptic theatricality of Japanese butoh. Yatkin is accustomed to crossing borders, living in multiple cultures, thinking in a variety of conjugations and telling time across several zones. Sometimes, she says, the airport, with its cacophony of languages and rush of travelers from all corners of the globe, feels most like home.
"My parents are from a variety of backgrounds," she explains. "My father's family is a mix of Russian and Turkish; my mother's side is Jewish and Egyptian. Growing up I began dancing Turkish folk dance, which itself is a mixture: some dances look more Russian, some more Greek, some more Indian, some African."
At a German dance academy, modern dance, flamenco, jazz, ballet and dance history provided Yatkin's foundation. "Now that all is embedded for me . . . I take elements of these different forms that are there for me to use as I create my own work."
Yatkin's "After" deals explicitly with loss. Created as a personal response to Sept. 11, the choreographer says she interviewed and recorded people from around the country about what they would say if they only had 10 more minutes to live. "Many reacted the same way," she says. "Talking to people, I saw them going through the process of loss: anger, denial, dealing with it by talking and, finally, letting go, releasing it and making peace with it." Fragments of these conversations and video projections accompany the choreography.
"Nightmare in April" asks for an account of the past year, Yatkin explains, like the arduous process of preparing tax returns. Described as dreamlike and lighthearted, the work includes writer Milan Kundera's ruminations on memory. Two duets -- the tango-flavored "Relations" with Raphael Perdomo, and "Moments," with Dance Place founder and artistic director Carla Perlo -- complete the evening.
"My first concert, 'Wings of Desire,' dealt with ethereal Heaven. "Notes From the Underground' dealt with the world underneath. 'Gravity' deals with the middle, life between Heaven and Hell," Yatkin says.
Does Yatkin, who settled in Washington two years ago to pursue her solo career, call the city home? "The world is my home. Everywhere I go, it will be home for me."
NEJLA YATKIN-NY2DC GLOBAL DANCE in "Gravity," Saturday at 8 and Sunday at 4. Dance Place, 3225 Eighth St. NE, Washington. 202-269-1600.