Davit Vardanyan

Our Man in Hong Kong

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By Artsvi Bakhchinyan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

YEREVAN/HONG KONG – My interviewee is ballet dancer and dance teacher Davit Vardanyan. Originally from Yerevan, he has lived in Hong Kong for three years. In 1997-2003 he studied at the Yerevan Choreography College and in 2003-2005 he continued his studies in Germany with the famous dance instructor and Soviet ballet veteran Pyotr Pestov. Davit participated in the Bolzano International Dance Competition, where he took second place, and became a finalist in the Istanbul ballet competition. He has worked in the Schleswig-Holstein Theater, Stuttgart Ballet, Dresden Opera, Amsterdam’s National Ballet and the Royal Ballet in Antwerp (Belgium). Davit starred in ballet classic repertoire, as well as in modern ballet performances by Kylián, Forsythe, Neumeier, Cranko, Van Manen, Ekk, David Dawson and many other famous choreographers.

Davit, how did you choose ballet?

I did not choose: my parents took me (laughing). There was already a dance tradition in our family. My grandfather Henrik Vardanyan was one of the founders of the Armenian State Dance Ensemble and the first soloist. My uncle Ashot Vardanyan is also a folk dance artist. So one day, held by my hand, I was taken to choreography college, to the ballet class, and my fate was sealed.

And you, like the other brilliant boys from your generation, have become pupils of Hovhannes Divanyan and Armen Grigoryan, the aces of Armenian ballet pedagogy. What is the reason that almost all our international ballet dancers were trained by these two teachers?

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First, they are great devotees of their work. They gave you so much energy that you become engaged in your chosen profession with great love. Unlike today, during our college years there was no YouTube and no internet, so we learned everything from our teachers. Later, when we went abroad, we learned a lot of other things. Some of my senior friends who had participated in the Lausanne Ballet Competition said that if we wanted, we could send a video of our performances, and in case of admission, continue our education in Europe. I did it, my video was approved, and I received offers from three European ballet schools at the same time. I consulted comrade Hovhannes and comrade Armen, and I chose John Cranko’s ballet school in Stuttgart. So I have never danced on the Armenian stage as I was already out of Armenia at the age of fifteen. In Yerevan I danced only once in 2015, dancing Escamilio in “Carmen.”

After graduating from Cranko’s school, you started dancing at different theaters in Dresden, Amsterdam and Antwerp, but despite your successes you did not stay in Europe.

I had a different reason to appear in Hong Kong. You know that dancers are often subject to traumas. While working at the Royal Ballet in Belgium, I had some problems with my back so that I was advised to leave dance for good. For some time, I was able to dance even with my injured back, but the problem had to be solved and I was advised to go to Hong Kong to recover my health through Chinese medicine. Here I danced for a few months and decided that it is time to shift to my two other specialties — dance education and culture management. And so I was invited to teach in one of Hong Kong’s most prestigious ballet schools, SJ Ballet des Arts.

So you are the first Armenian in history in the dance world of Hong Kong. Is ballet life there very different from that of Europe?

If in Europe we had prepared for three weeks for about fifteen performances, in Hong Kong we prepare for four performances for two months. Here, the rhythm is a bit slow. On the other hand, Hong Kong, like Armenia, is backward in terms of modern ballet. Here ballet is just a classic, always the same “Swan Lake,” the same “Sleeping Beauty”… there are no modern performances at all.

Did you start talking Chinese?

Topics: Dance

Only few phrases. There is no need for it because everyone speaks English. By the way, the Europeans who work here, mostly Americans, do not receive a warm welcome, but because I am Armenian, the attitude towards me is very pleasant, although few people know about the Armenians.

Although one of the most prominent figures in the history of Hong Kong, was the Armenian state figure and philanthropist Khachik Astvatsatoorian, aka Paul Chater, who made a great contribution to his development…

Yes, there is a small Armenian community here. I have met with them once, although there is no connection, and in general, my time in Hong Kong is very busy and full. We work even during weekends. And despite my very busy schedule, I feel very good here. I love my job and I really enjoy working with children. As I have mentioned, I am also working in the area of ​​cultural management and I have a great desire to present Armenian ballet art in this region.

Yes, it seems that the first steps are being carried out. Last year, our ballet band traveled to Malaysia. How do you evaluate their performances?

Geographically being so close to Malaysia, I went there, especially taking into consideration the fact that my teacher Armen Grigoryan and his son and my good friend, the Zurich-based dancer Arman Grigoryan, were there. Our ballet band was invited to present first of all Aram Khachaturian’s ballets. For the first time in the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, divertimentos from the “Gayane” and “Spartacus” ballets, as well as the “Swan Lake” and “Marduk-Jarduk” ballets were shown. Since Malaysia is an Islamic state, the concerts were governmental. The princess of Malaysia was present at our performance. I personally witnessed that there were many people  present during four evenings, and our performances were very well received.

Years ago, when our artists presented “Spartacus” in another Islamic country, in Qatar, the ballerinas were forced to cover their legs and arms. Did the same thing happen in Malaysia?

Fortunately no, there is not much severity there.

Where do you teach now?

Last year, while in Yerevan, I suggested my services and cooperation in ballet education to the Ministry of Culture of Armenia, but finding no interest, I came back to Hong Kong. Recently I met Angela Ho and Peter Kjaer, big ballet lovers, who invited me to work in their newly opened Ho Ballet school as dance director. This is a beginning of a new project, so I hope my activity in upcoming years will be connected to this school.

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