Today, I attended a matinee show of Boston's Sayat Nova Dance Company at the Baronian Theater right next to Hotel Armenia. It started at 12:15pm and ended at 3pm with its target audience made up of almost all locals and mostly children and their parents. Coming in to the show, I kept thinking back to almost 15 years ago when I was almost roped into dancing with them by my close friends Aram and Josh. Many have come and gone in the 20 year old organization. I have seen a few of their shows in Boston and would have classified them under the label of an amatuer over-acheieving community group that represents the Armenian Diaspora proudly to all audiences outside the homeland. However, today was another story.
Backed by a robust 14 member Armenian Folk Orchestra and a Master of Ceremonies that would rival the smoothest voice you've ever heard reciting poetry and the credits, Sayat Nova Dance Company from Boston performed a emotional and rivieting almost three hour set today that had the local crowd cheering in the rafters and up on their feet screaming when the final number concluded. For this self professed cultural snob, I must say that I was stunned. This was once of those performances where you knew exactly what you going to get, and still the whole production got you right in the heart. Like a formulaic movie that succeeds, Sayat Nova Dance Company was disciplined, dedicated and fearless in their performance. The locals were also visibly moved.
Tomorrow, on July 7, 2006, Sayat Nova Dance Company will conclude their Armenia tour at the Opera House at 7:30pm. Tickets are about $2. If you can get one and are in Yerevan, I highly recommend seeing the "Armenian Riverdance". As my colleage and friend Arman Padaryan mentioned, "they are the best amatuer ensemble I've have ever seen". Indeed, this dedicated bunch paid their own way to get here, performed for the Armenian soldiers in a private concert in Yerevan, went to Karabagh and strutted their stuff, moved on to Goris for a show, and also had two performances in one day in Gyumri. Their show today was for locals with free tickets having been distributed citywide. Tomorrow's show will be sponsored by VEM Radio, YerazArt, and Armenia 2020. While the dancers of Sayat Nova are not paid professionals dedicating their normal working hours day in and day out for pay back in Boston, they are the next best thing. Apo Ashjian, the brainchild and heart and soul of Sayat Nova Dance Company proudly made his way to the stage at the end and stated his message loud and clear, "we are one nation, and one people regardless of where we live." For the first time during my stay in Armenia, I have seen the true soul of the Armenian spirit when the crowd and performers interacted together in an unforgettable experience.
More Yerevan Oddities:
1. Stray cats scrounging for food.
2. Cab rides around Yerevan for less than $2
3. 90% of record store merchandise being illegally produced and sold
4. Average salary for a tour guide working 7 days a week being $150 a month.
5. Kids with cell phones
6. 15 story apartment buildings being constructed
7. Russian Music Videos
8. Varied color shirts on men other than black
9. Women wearing formal dresses on 100 degree days in the middle of the day
10. Loud talking during concerts by localsEmotionality
: A made up word. I have been in Yerevan since June 10. My wife accompanied me until June 20th when she had to return back to Boston for work. I have stay to work on YerazArt since then and will return to Boston on July 11. Thus far, my trip has been very positive. However, the emotional rollercoaster of Armenia takes its toll on my some days. Being an emotional sort, I can't help feel very proud of my Armenian background and heritage. Indeed, I am having a grand time here overall. However, there are days when I simply cannot stand it here. At least in Yerevan. I am told by those who live here that this is normal. On one hand, Yerevan has virtually everything you could ever want. Cafe's, restaurants, internet access, cars, etc. You name it, it has it for the most part. Still, I feel uncomfortable hearing first hand accounts of corruption here. There is a huge bribery issue here in almost every area of life. Also, the common citizen here earns very little with prices going up daily and the value of the dollar dropping. For excellent coverage of daily life and politics from a controversial, yet, uncompromising angle, I highly recommend Onnik Krikorian's blog OneWorld.am. It can be accessed here
. I have spent some time with Onnik here in Yerevan and have become a fan of his work.
I was taken out to dinner by the family of one of my YerazArt kids the other day. The kid, his mother, aunt, and sister took me to Urartu on Proshian Street. The father works in Russia 6 months out of the year to support the family. They live all together in a modest and dingy apartment in the Zeitun district of town. Since YerazArt had funded our young performer to come to the States and gave their family a large honorarium for the tour, it was the families turn to take me out. I felt very uncomfortable knowing that they were about to spend $60 on the night, however, the one thing you do not dare do here is offer to pay or even pay covertly for a meal if they have decided to take you out to eat. True to form, the family spent lavishly on a very pricy meal. Here, meals are not just meals, they are an experience that lasts for about 4 to 5 hours. First, the drinks, then the food, then the dancing, then the more dancing, after comes the ice cream, then the coffee, and finally a meeting with the band. Haroutyun, who is 15 years old and the prized student of duduk legend Gevork Dabaghian was taking this all in stride. He was invited on stage to perform a few numbers whil the crowd was captivated.
During the course of dinner, the mother cooly told me how much it costs to put Harout through to the Komitas Conservatory once he hits 16 or 17. It roughly costs $1000 a year. If the money isn't raise, Harout will not be able to go to school and would have to work as a restaurant musician for the foreseeable future. I pledged the first year of Harout's tuition to his mother and in turn, I was informed that when Harout gets married, I will be his Gavar (best man, mentor in life).
There is a certain amount of theatrics that goes on in this part of the world when it comes to these relationships after meeting a family once. There is no doubt that seeking an outside source to latch onto is a tactic. However, call me naive, but, sometimes you feel the responsibility to support our talented youth and these one on one connections can be haunting, yet promising.
One person at a time.