Azat Gharibyan and Naho Jo Gharibyan

Armenian Dance Teacher from Japan: Interview with Azat Gharibyan

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By Artsvi Bakhchinyan

Special to the Armenian Mirror-Spectator

FUKUOKA, JAPAN — In the Japanese town of Fukuoka, a ballet school and a dancing company function, bearing the Armenian name Gharibyan Ballet Academy and Gharibyan Krunk (Crane). They were founded by the young dancer and dance teacher Azat Gharibyan from Yerevan. He also manages the organization “Ballet Aplomb,” which promotes getting a ballet education abroad.

Azat Gharibyan at St. Mary’s Armenian Apostolic Church, Melbourne, Australia

The grandson of the award-receiving representatives of the art of Armenian ballet, Azat Gharibyan and Tereza Grigoryan, Azat Gharibyan Jr. (born in 1981 in Yerevan), received a professional education in Yerevan and Saint Petersburg. In 1997 in Yerevan, he was awarded a silver medal in the Amadeus dance competition in the category of Folk Dance. In 2004, in Castiglione, Italy, he was awarded a golden medal in the international ballet competition and the award for the best technique.

During 1999-2001, he served in the Sardarapat ensemble of the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Armenia at the Officers’ House of Yerevan and in 1999-2002 danced in the Spendiaryan Opera and Ballet Theater. In 2002, he started his activities abroad, first in Czech Republic and in Slovenia, then six years in the German theater of the Flensburg region. Here he has appeared with main roles in the classic and modern repertoire.

Retiring from dancing and settling in Japan in 2011, Azat Gharibyan is busy now teaching dance. During the 10th “Ballte-Kone” competition, he was declared the best dance teacher of Fukuoka. He was also considered the best ballet teacher at the Namue classic ballet competition thrice.

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Azat, you have the name of the eminent representative of the Armenian art of dancing Azat Gharibyan.

I was seven years old when he died. My grandmother Tereza Grigoryan once told me: “You do not deserve that name” (by the way, at that time, everyone called me Macho). But when I returned from Petersburg with a Vaganova Academy diploma, my grandmother told me: “Now you deserve to be called Azat Gharibyan.” I took my first steps of choosing a profession with my grandfather. It was predetermined that I become a dancer. I was 3½-4 years old, when I played the role of the rooster in the big performance “Wedding” staged by my grandfather and I got on the professional stage with the Krunk Dance Company.

Our male ballet dancers have generally left for Europe or America and now you are in the country of the Rising Sun.

The reason is that during the years of living in Germany I got acquainted with my future wife – ballet dancer Naho Jo, whose surname is Gharibyan now. Getting married, we decided to settle down in Japan and open a ballet school here. We chose the town of Fukuoka. Now we have two children, Max, who is six years old and Melania, who is three years old.

And in Japan, where few Armenians live, you founded an Armenian dancing ensemble and called it after the Krunk company founded by your grandfather back in 1986.

We perform Armenian folk and new classical performances. We also perform from the repertoire of Krunk: for example, “Memoirs,” excerpts from “The Spindles” dancing performance. On March 11, 2013, our group had a charity performance in Fukuoka in memory of the victims of the tsunami in Japan of March 11, 2011. Twelve dancers have performed dances staged by my grandfather to the sounds of Armenian music. The money received from the concert was given to the foundation for children who had become orphans as a result of the disaster.

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Do our folk dances speak to the hearts of the Japanese?

They were totally unknown to them, but they loved them very much and demand us to perform them again.

How often do you have performances? How many students and how many dancers do you have?

Once every two years there is the performance of the school, and in-between them, there is the performance of the group. Our dancing group is combined and the number of participants depends on the performance. Competition is very great in Japan. There are more than 100 ballet schools only in our town, but people already know us. We are very active; we participate in different competitions and have certain achievements. We have won second place in the Japanese dance competitions seven times. We have 60 students. There are no age restrictions. I have also a separate “Miss Class,” where there are 11 people — women over 40.

But do you prepare professional dancers?

Today, one of our students continues his education in Germany, the other in the Czech Republic. A 12-year-old student has entered Hamburg ballet school; the other has entered a Novosibirsk school. We try not to keep them with ourselves, in order for them to be able to perform on the world stage.

This time you have come together with a beautiful Japanese girl.

Utako Hanada is from Fukuoka. She participated in the Kyushu international competition, where I coordinate the education and work abroad. She had the opportunity to come to Armenia and to appear with our ballet group in the corps de ballet of the performances of “Spartacus” and “Gayane.” This is a symbolic participation. It would be wonderful for our ballet education especially if we organize master classes with the participation of international guest lecturers and students studying ballet in the Far East (as they are many there and they need international experience and the students studying in Europe already study in good terms).

Do you follow our ballet and ballet education? What problems do you see?

First of all, I think that the bridge between the school and the theater is very important. Starting from just the first year, they should go to work with our artists and do performances. There is no such thing now; that way is closed. We have a lack of good teachers, strong pedagogical staff and professionals. We have specialists of both folk dances and characteristic dances, who do not teach at the college now; meanwhile we need them very much. The list of the classes taught should be expanded: variations, Pilates, yoga, anatomy. I do not even speak about modern dances (we have not studied modern ballet, neither in Yerevan nor in Saint Petersburg). Unfortunately, our curriculum is very outdated. Today we cannot educate an international ballet dancer according to the system of the 1970s. Now the 12-13-year-old international ballet dancers know much more than our 16-17-year-old students. That is why at the age of 20 our students enter the theater unprepared. Ballet has become something secondary among us. One dancing generation should be better than the other one; meanwhile, today 90 percent is folk dance and only 10 percent ballet is taught there. Although there are many specialists of dance, however it seems that ballet is disappearing. There is no change of generation. We should use our resources abroad and to bring students as well. In short, Armenian ballet education needs revision.

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