For the past 50 years, the State Dance Ensemble of Armenia has been synonymous with grand, dazzling performances.
In the Soviet era, it helped preserve the rich heritage of traditional Armenian music and dance, energetically cultivating its repertoire within a modern artistic context. As the ensemble regularly appeared on the world stage and garnered great acclaim, it also functioned as a cultural bridge between Armenia and Diaspora communities.
Following Armenia’s independence, the ensemble initially fell on hard times and even faced closure. But it re-emerged, stronger than ever, thanks to the dedication and many sacrifices of its leadership and performers alike.
Today, as the State Dance Ensemble of Armenia prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary, a string of special performances is in the works. The concert series will kick off with a gala Yerevan appearance in late April. Subsequently the ensemble will tour Diaspora communities across the globe, beginning with a performances on May 1 at the prestigious Kremlin Palace Theater in Moscow, with more appearances in the Middle East, Europe, the United States, Canada, and elsewhere.
Given the considerable scale of the tour, artistic director Eric Chanchurian says the ensemble is welcoming sponsorships to help offset the cost of the planned performances. Event sponsors can include governmen’s, embassies, international arts agencies, and corporations, as well as Diaspora foundations and individual benefactors.
Frequent Asbarez contributor, Sona Hamalian, who is based in Yerevan, caught up with Chanchurian in Yerevan, where his troupe’s rehearsals are in full swing.
Below is their conversation:
Sona Hamalian: During the Soviet period, what role did the State Dance Ensemble of Armenia have in terms of preserving traditional Armenian music and dance, and also helping them evolve and gain further popularity?
Eric Chanchurian: With its prolific output, both within the Soviet Union and beyond its borders, the ensemble became one of Armenia’s most recognizable calling cards. It came to represent a certain cultural brand. The ensemble was created with a clear goal: to safeguard the age-old traditions of Armenian music and dance. Today this goal continues to be realized, and with considerable success.
S.H.: What were some of the basic practical and aesthetic challenges which the ensemble faced in the decades between its founding and Armenia’s independence?
E.C.: The challenges were many. In general, the ensemble needed to sift and purify Armenian music, dance, and folk attire. It needed to achieve a certain level in terms of dance design and vision so that the spirit of the people, its struggles, triumphs, existential philosophy ‘s that is to say, the very identity of the Armenian nation ‘s would be reflected in the ensemble’s repertoire and presented to the world at the highest standards of the art form. This, I believe, was fully accomplished.
There was another set of challenges, one that pertained to the difficulties of ‘s and obstacles to ‘s staging purely national dances. The Soviet authorities mandated that the dances of “brother” peoples also had to be staged, in conjunction with the Armenian repertoire that Armenia and Armenian dances had to be manifested as part and parcel of the Soviet fatherland. I’m proud to say that, despite the restrictions of those years, the ensemble was able to maintain its performances of Armenian dance at the highest artistic level.
S.H.: What can you tell us about the ensemble’s performances in diaspora communities during the decades prior to Armenia’s independence, when links between Armenia and the diaspora were quite limited?
E.C.: Our ensemble was that “wing of the crane” which, overcoming the “iron curtains” of the Soviet Union, presented to the worldwide Armenian community the homeland it yearned for. It was often jokingly said that the ensemble was guest-performing in Armenia ‘s that’s how often the troupe toured abroad. Indeed, through its performances, the ensemble brought a breath of fresh air to diaspora communities and, by doing so, contributed to the burgeoning of an Armenian consciousness, a heightened sense of identity.
Today, too, our compatriots abroad welcome our performances with utmost enthusiasm. I even know people who travel from one country to the next to catch one of our appearances.
S.H.: In general, have the ensemble’s overseas performances helped enhance its artistic evolution?
E.C.: Absolutely. Isn’t it a fact that contact with various cultures and traditions helps expand and enrich one’s artistic and intellectual horizons?
S.H.: Would it be accurate to say that Armenia’s independence was also a turning point for the ensemble? What were some of the practical changes that occurred, and what were the new challenges, especially in the early years of independence?
E.C.: We all know what it took to establish the independence of which our nation had been dreaming for centuries: earthquake, war, economic blockade, those cold and dark years… All this couldn’t have not impacted the country’s culture as well. In turn, the State Dance Ensemble faced many difficulties. There came a point when it was in danger of being shut down. I’ve been witness to those days, when the Ministry of culture tried hard to convince my father, Suren Chanchurian, to assume leadership of the troupe in the absence of costumes and musical instrumen’s. In the absence of every necessity imaginable. But, within a short time, the ensemble regained itself. Everyone involved proved to have an indomitable will to persevere. And they all pulled through.
S.H.: Would you say that Armenia’s independence, and consequently the new social and cultural situation, compelled the ensemble to change its artistic direction, to any extent?
E.C.: Of course. Today, as the republic’s main dance troupe, we have a duty to help reassess and give fresh meaning to the Armenian identity. This entails fundamental changes in artistic, programmatic, and aesthetic terms.
S.H.: Today, when the ensemble prepares to commemorate its 50th anniversary across the world, what is your vision regarding the troupe’s next phase of development?
E.C.: We are now in the process of finalizing an entirely new concert program, dedicated to celebrating the ensemble’s 50th anniversary. With this program, which very much reflects the troupe’s next phase of evolution, we seek to speak to the world in today’s language.
A culture is not measured by the size of a country. We have the will to become one of the world’s most sought-after dance troupes.
S.H.: Given the fast pace of economic and possibly cultural changes taking place in Armenia today, and also a more pronounced clash between the traditional and the modern, how do you envision the role of a phenomenon like the State Dance Ensemble, in terms of larger patterns of cultural evolution?
E.C.: Throughout its history, the ensemble has harmonized the traditional with the contemporary. I think this is one major reason that the troupe today remains artistically relevant and its performances continue to draw large audiences, in Armenia and the Diaspora alike.
I think genuine cultural values always remain modern and relevant. But beyond this, I think it is precisely in times of transition, such as the one experienced by Armenia today, that traditional culture ‘s the classical ‘s helps nations not to lose their character, not to plunge into mediocrity, to avoid becoming mere consumer societies. Wise nations always succeed in accomplishing this.
S.H.: What, would you say, are some of the defining artistic and thematic characteristics of Armenian music and dance? And do you agree that these art forms generally express an irreducible youthfulness?
E.C.: If we were to enumerate those characteristics, our conversation would take hours, if not days. In the main, Armenian music and dance remain distinct insofar as the Armenia’s as a nation remain distinct. And for as long as the Armenian nation exists, its music and dance will continue to be youthful, given their inevitable and welcome evolution. We only need to make certain that the evolutionary changes take place within an Armenian context.
S.H.: Do you think that traditional Armenian music and dance ‘s with their compositional structure, aesthetic sensibilities, and thematic possibilities ‘s can have a meaningful place in the development of Armenian culture in our century, and consequently in the daily life of the Armenian people?
E.C.: Yes, without a doubt. I say this because I believe that the Armenian is an Armenian not merely because his or her passport says so, but on the strength of language, mindset, and culture ‘s which certainly includes music and dance. Indeed, on the Armenian cultural palette and in our daily lives alike, Armenian music and dance have their unique, and essential, place.
Editor’s Note: For more information about the State Dance Ensemble’s 50th-anniversary events and sponsorship opportunities, contact Harutyun Azaryan at 37410 58-14-26 or [email protected].