Kasparova "Plowman's Song"

Valeria Kasparova-Vaneh Kasyants: ‘Modernity Is Love and Respect for the Past’

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YEREVAN-SAINT PETERSBURG — Choreographer, dancer, contemporary dance teacher Valeria Kasparova (whom many in Armenia know as Vaneh Kasyants) was born in the family of art manager Vadim Kasparov and choreographer Natalia Kasparova – founders and directors of the Saint Petersburg “Cannon Dance” House of Dance. Since 1998 Valeria has studied jazz, modern, contemporary, partnering, improvisation and other dance techniques at the “Cannon Dance.” She studied, trained and danced in the productions of such choreographers as Natalia Kasparova (Russia), Bob Boross (USA), Renana Raz, Idan Sharabi (Israel), Jirí Pokorný (Netherlands / Czech Republic), Carolina Mancuso (Argentina / Netherlands), etc. Valeria attended academic vocal training at Yerevan Conservatory (teacher – Anna Mayilyan), as well as trained with the Honored Worker of Culture of the Republic of Armenia Gagik Ginosyan and became a qualified specialist and teacher in Armenian traditional dances and songs (in 2013-2016). As a performer, she took part in the productions of “Children out of the Cage,” “Revelations of Ararat,” “YouMake ReMake,” “The Art of Movement: Stereoscopic Dance,” “She,” “Waiting for Godot,” etc. Among her own productions are a number of performances children and teenagers, as well as “The House In Which …”, “Voices”, “Dardzi Tever” (“Wings of Return,” a multi-genre Armenian ethnic performance), “Others,” as well as choreography in dramatic performances (“Wake up and Sing: Remake”, “Ay, yes, Pushkin,” “Autumn Sonata”), etc. Valeria is a performer, choreographer and teacher of “Kannon Dance,” tutor and teacher of jazz dance at the “Karambol” State Musical Theater, at the department of contemporary dance at the Boris Eifman Dance Academy, artistic director of the “Kannon Dance Young” and “Kannon Dance Project,” etc. Since 2017, she is the founder and artistic director of the ensemble of “Aralez” Armenian ethnic songs and dances. She regularly conducts master classes and training courses in Russia and abroad, participates in choreographic festivals in many countries of the world.

Dear Vaneh, let’s start our conversation by talking about your parents. Vadim Galustovich Kasparov is the creator of the largest contemporary dance festival in Russia, “Open Look,” the head of the modern dance department at the Boris Eifman Dance Academy in St. Petersburg. And your mother, Natalia Vladimirovna Kasparova, is the artistic director of Kannon Dance, award-winning director of a number of productions. And it is no surprise that their daughter chose the same path.

In general, I always had a choice. Nobody ever, especially my parents, forced me to choose this particular field of activity. But, on the other hand, I was born exactly when my parents were just starting to develop their business, and I spent all my childhood exclusively in the dance halls and behind the stage. In my life there has not been a single day without dancing in one form or another (to this day). So I often jokingly say that I absorbed the love of modern dance during that period, along with my mother’s milk. Or maybe this is not a joke.

And the classics? After all, modern dancers must master the technique and art of classical dance…

Absolutely! Ballet technique is an unconditional foundation for the training of a high-class dancer. But it is important that while studying the classics, the student should not get the impression that this is the only correct way of movement. Nowadays, in any European ballet company there is necessarily modern dance performance in the repertoire. And without mastering the modern technique, even with an incredible classical base, no one is taken there. Personally, I believe that in parallel with the classical education, the dancer simply MUST develop himself in other directions in order to expand his horizons and be ready / open to everything.

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Your first choreography was in the play “The House in Which …” based on the acclaimed Russian-language novel of the same name by Mariam Petrosyan, a writer from Yerevan. The novel was translated into more than ten languages. There are so many characters in it, yet there is no traditional plot. What was your choreographic approach to this unique literary work?

It was my debut as a choreographer (frankly, a very ambitious and daring, even insane, step). The book hooked me with the fact that children with disabilities are presented in it as independent, deep and creative personalities. The key thought was that these children are no different from ordinary children, and only our attitude towards them makes them truly vulnerable. After all, that is why they refuse to go out into the alien outside world, where no one is waiting for them, and find a way to stay in their own forever. Igor Stravinsky’s music “The Rite of Spring” is connected with this powerful theme of sacrifice. I selected the characters, relying on the dancers, and, of course, I tried to complement the picture with figurative set means (scenery, costumes, video projection).

I wonder if Mariam herself saw your production.

Honestly, I wonder, too. It is always a great responsibility to interpret the work of another author in your own way. But I still remember how in 2014 the members of the St. Petersburg fan-society of “The House in Which” came to the premiere, and after the performance they approached me in complete delight. They said that they were initially skeptical, but the performance very accurately and subtly conveyed the atmosphere of the book, despite the metaphor and a slightly different plot of the production. I do not think that Mariam herself saw my work or heard about it, but I want to believe that when this happens, she will be happy.

Born outside Armenia, being half-Armenian, half-Russian, how much do you consider yourself a part of a large Armenian family?

In my life there was a difficult moment in self-identification, when I could not figure out who I was: “at home among strangers, a stranger among my own.” And when the realization came that I am an Armenian, there was a feeling much more than belonging to a large Armenian family. The blood that flows in me connects me (even indirectly) with Mashtots, Narekatsi, Komitas, Nzhdeh and other great minds of our people. And this realization led me to a completely different mindset. I suddenly felt vividly my responsibility for the face of my Motherland in other countries, and this is incredibly motivating. You have no right to fall face down into the mud when there is such age-old wisdom, strength and history behind you.

Where are your roots? Artsakh or Syunik?

Oh, in fact, one absolutely incredible story is connected with my roots, I cannot help but share. The family of my father is noble, and from both parents it reaches to Northern Iran, that is, the ancient Armenian region of Parskahaik. When I was very little, my mother staged the “Songs of Komitas” performance, and I grew up listening to the music from this production. But most of all, one melody was imprinted in my memory, as if it was always with me. Many years later, I learned that this is the melody of an ancient Armenian princely dance, and I decided to learn it. I got it right the first time, as if I had been dancing it all my life. And then Gagik Ginosyan, who taught me this dance, asked where my roots came from, and when I said that my ancestors were nobles from Parskahaik, he literally lost his voice for a while. It turned out that this dance is EXACTLY from there and of my ancestors, of their class! Then we finally believed in the call of the blood: you cannot imagine this on purpose.

I also love to perform that wondrous, powerful, truly aristocratic “Ishkhanats par” – “Dance of Princes.” And in general, you once said that the turning point in your creative life was the day when you watched the performance of the Karin ensemble of Armenian traditional songs and dances, after which you began to study Armenian dances in depth.

Yes, that is right. On that day, I almost physically felt how I had changed completely and irrevocably. Our folklore is something that is transmitted along with DNA and, accordingly, the feeling of performing these dances on a completely different level. I would even say that this is a kind of thread that is outside of space and outside of time, preserves our national memory and awakens the true spirit in the body. In our time, many are trying to be modern, ignoring the centuries-old cultural heritage. But modernity, for me, is, first of all, love and respect for the past. It is impossible to become modern by rejecting the past.

Do you agree with the idea that it is possible to delve deeply into folk dances only if you have also learned the language well?

In general, yes. Each language has its own poetry, words and untranslatable phrases that do not sound right in another language and lose their significance. The Armenian language is literally satiated with such sayings and expressions, and no language in the world can convey their true beauty and grandeur. Plus, if you have already started to study the movement and music of your people, how can you ignore his voice?

Both your mother and you have staged plays and choreographic pieces on Armenian themes. I really like your “The Plowman’s Song” (“Horovel”). Please tell us about them, as well as the style of the Aralez troupe.

In the 2000s, my mother, inspired by Armenia, staged the play “Songs of Komitas,” which was nominated for the “Golden Mask” award in 2008 and was highly appreciated by Russian and foreign audiences. After that we worked together (as a dancer and an assistant) on other Armenian projects, such as “The Revelations of Ararat,” “Sketches on Armenia,” “1915”, etc. I will not list my Armenian performances – there are a lot of them. As for the “Aralez” ensemble and its style, everything is quite simple – ethnic Armenian dances in their pure form, as the “Karin” ensemble does. Our ensemble was created with the aim to give the Armenian youth living far from their native land the opportunity to touch it through the dances of our ancestors. As my great friend and teacher, Gagik Ginosyan says: “We do not just teach dances. We return the pride of being Armenian to the Armenians.”

What exactly are you doing today, and what place do Armenian dances take in it?

At this time, I have a higher goal: I am developing my own dance style and lexical language, based precisely on Armenian traditional dances. Israel is now the Mecca of modern dance. And why? Because local choreographers have found their own unique language of movement, which is modern, but at the same time has a bright national flavor. And I asked myself – why cannot Armenia do the same finding his own unique language of modern dance? This is my main task now. And I am on my way. Literally in March of last year, I created the performance “Voices,” which is entirely based on Armenian traditional dances in a modern interpretation. And it had great success, both in Russia and abroad. So, there is a lot of work, there are new ideas and dreams, and I try to follow them, no matter what.

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