Sayat Nova Celebrates 25th Anniversary with a Look Back at History

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WALTHAM, Mass. — More than 1,000 fans came together on Saturday, November 19, at Waltham High School’s Robinson Theatre to watch the 25th anniversary performance by the Sayat Nova Dance Company (SNDC), titled “Journey Through Time.”

The program was a journey into Armenian history, as well as a journey to the group’s start.

The dances in the first half of the program each had names referring to Armenian regions

or chapters in history. The first eponymous dance showed the pre-Christian era and the various

nature-based religions practiced by the people then. On and on the dances moved up in time to the present time, with “Khor Virab” paying tribute to St. Gregory the Illuminator’s refusal to worship the pagan goddess Anahid. SNDC founder Apo Ashjian portrayed St. Gregory, showing his persistence in the face of torment.

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Another dance, “Yarkhoushda,” told the story of the battle of Vartanantz. Of course, the group’s namesake, the

ashough (or troubadour) Sayat Nova received a special tribute. In addition to a dance in his honor, various poems by him were recited during the evening.

One dance in particular, the “Dance of the 20 Brides,” was difficult to watch without emotion, as it portrayed the deaths of young Armenian brides killed by Ottoman authorities during the Armenian Genocide. The brides try to escape immolation after rejecting the advances of the Ottoman soldiers.

The dancers and some clever effects brought to life the tragic fate of the young women. Various historical characters, including Komitas Vartabed, came to life on the stage. The second half of the program was much lighter in tone, with bright costumes, high energy and graceful dancing.

The most sustained applause was for the first dance in the second half, that of the alumni from the very beginning of SNDC. The men, much greyer, truly relished their chance to be back on stage. They seemed to be experiencing many emotions: shyness after so long away from the stage, excitement at being back and performing this time in front of their children, and sheer exhaustion after being away from regular rehearsals. The audience embraced them wholeheartedly, with thunderous applause.

The older women performed next, more subdued but no less excited about being back, with wide grins on their faces.

Other dances in the second half paid tribute to love — the romantic, patriotic and platonic varieties. Also, the dancers celebrated various regions of Armenia and their dances, with “Zankezour” and “Kochari.”

The youthful Ashjian looked little different from 25 years ago and was able to leap and dance with the rest of the male dancers. The same could be said of assistant director Shaghig Palanjian, who has been with SNDC since the start.

SNDC will next perform in Glendale on January 15. For tickets, visit Sayatnova.com or itsmyseat.com.

— Alin K. Gregorian

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