Black Garden - Hayk Azaryan for Summeet Dance Festival

Summeet of International Contemporary Dance in Armenia


YEREVAN — On August 23-29, an unprecedented and very important event in the history of Armenian culture took place in Yerevan — the International Summer Festival of Contemporary Dance. The title of it is “Summeet” — short for “summer meetings.” Since it is a play on the word “summit,” as well as the Armenian word “samit” (dill), the symbol of the festival became the image of that plant.

The festival was organized by the Cannon Dance House in St. Petersburg (headed by Vadim Kasparov), the “Sarer” (Mountains) Cultural Association of Yerevan (headed by Erna Revazova), the Opera Studio of the Yerevan Conservatory (artistic director Hasmik Papyan, director Hayk Vardanyan) and the Balmanukyan Dance Project (headed by Arman Balmanukyan). The festival was supported by the RA Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports.

For seven days the Armenian dance community had a unique opportunity to watch modern dance shows, performances and dance-themed films, attend lectures, participate in master classes of dance teachers from different countries, watch… Yerevan Conservatory Opera Studio, the Small Theater of the Yerevan National Center of Aesthetics and the Theater of Young Spectators hosted big and small performances of Armenian and Russian choreographers. Contemporary dance, indeed, has never been so comprehensively presented in the Armenian world.

Armenian Showcase – #44 – 2 by David Babayan

The Opening

The festival opened with a full-length performance of “Black Garden” by the Cannon Dance House of St. Petersburg. The choreographer, Valeria Kasparova (aka Vaneh Kasyants), who rediscovered her Armenian roots also through national dances, one more time expressed her heritage through modern choreography language. The show has been presented the war in Artsakh (no matter which one), aka “black garden” (kara bagh in Persian) from the perspective of women and children. The ominous sounds of planes and bombs, the loud music that intentionally rushes from the stage to the audience, the sometimes considered reverberation of some songs, the opposite effects of the stage lighting created a very emotional atmosphere, especially for our war-torn society. The choreographer did not use Armenian dance movements: in fact, if we take out Armenian music, it can be seen as a choreographic opposition to the common evil. The day before the performance, Valeria took the dancers to Yerablur — the cemetery of war victims; the performers entered the emotional realm of their stage characters, and these young Russian girls were in an extremely emotional state even after the performance. By the way, last June “Black Garden” was presented at the “Nord Dance” festival of modern choreography held in Petrozavodsk (Russia), equally shedding tears from both Armenian and Azeri spectators present in the hall.

Armenian Showcase by David Babayan

The Speakers

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Three representatives of modern Russian choreology took part in the festival. Svetlana Ulanovskaya coordinated the meetings and questions and answers between the artistes and the audience after each performance, providing professional discussions and proficient analysis of what was just has been watched. The other two experts, Ekaterina Vasenina and Irina Sirotkina, gave public speeches: both had already been to Armenia and were somewhat familiar with the local field. Vasenina presented the current state of contemporary dance in Russia, emphasizing that in Moscow and St. Petersburg the low-cost performance is more active and interesting (although ten groups of modern dance are state-funded), while stage dance is most popular in the regions. The speaker singled out three points. a. today anyone can stage a modern dance performance, regardless of the availability of a diploma, b. anything can become a modern dance performance, c. economic segregation defines the genre segregation of modern dance.

Irina Sirotkina, a historian of modern dance in Russia, in her lecture “Modern Dance. Interrupted Flight” introduced Inna Chernetskaya, a representative of Russian contemporary dance, and her Armenian student, Srbuhi Lisitsyan, who later became an eminent figure in Armenian dance and choreology. In her turn, Chernetskaya was a student of Mary Wigman, German modern dancer, thus, according to Sirotkina, there is a direct link between German expressionism and Armenian modern dance, thus attributed Lisitsyan’s practice of modern dance to the influence of her teacher. Choreologist Nazenik Sargsyan, a long-time researcher of Lisitsyan’s life and work, made additions and run discussion with the speaker, objected to the mentioned opinion and substantiated her objection. As we see, such festivals also contribute to instructive professional dialogues.


Foofwa of Mobility

Outstanding guests give life and color to every art festival, creating a festive atmosphere or intensifies it only by their presence. Such a character for the “Summeet” was the Swiss dancer and choreographer Foofwa de Imobilité. His pseudonym translates as Foofwa of Immobility, however, this 52-year-old young man was the exact opposite of his name. Even when he was motionless, he was like moving and dancing. Foofwa, this always smiling, super-positive artiste with unusual drive, has been traveling the world for several years with his unprecedented initiative, “Peace Dancewalk.” He walks dancing or dances walking in different countries of Europe, Asia and Africa, with or without his supporters, with or without music, with or without clothes, thus covering more than two thousand kilometers, to which were added the last few kilometers in Yerevan, accompanied by Armenian musical instruments, zurna and dhol. Planet Earth is a great dance hall for Foofwa, all humans are his dance partners, and the mankind dancing together is the guarantor of peace, mutual respect and tolerance. A documentary about Foofwa’s footsteps was shown at the Small Theater, during which the elegant and charming Alizée Sourbé repeated the dance moves on the screen or improvising, meanwhile telling about her experience of dancing.

Old-Fashioned Modern

Let me note, that I also use the commonly used definition of “modern” or “contemporary dance” with some reservations: perhaps it would be more correct to use the words “innovative,” “experimental,” as it is not correct to describe a phenomenon with more than a century of history as “modern” (“Modern dance is so old-fashioned!” once Samuel Goldwyn exclaimed).

English dancer Deborah Bull once said that she enjoys the freedom of modern dance as well as the constraints of classical dance. Watching the works of different choreographers, one can be convinced that modern dance also has limitations and constraints in its seeming freedom; repetitions of dance movements are inevitable, especially in long performances. As a result, some performances seemed unnecessarily long and had several endings. This is a universal phenomenon in the modern dance world. But what is important here, is the stylistic diversity, which was happily present at the Summeet. It was wonderful to be convinced again that there is a huge potential of modern dance among Armenian dancers, that next to the already established names of choreographers (Arsen Mehrabyan, Ara Asaturyan, Arman Balmanukyan, Lilit Hakobyan, Arshavir Muradyan) new, young talents stand out (Anush Sargsyan, Lusine Davtyan, Nina Hayrapetyan). This potential was also significant in the works of dramatic theater directors who performed modern dance performances and did not lag behind their choreographer counterparts. Their inclusion in Summeet gave additional colors to the festival: I mean Arsen Khachatryan’s “Offline” and Vahan Badalyan’s “La vie en rose” (“Life in Pink”) performances with the eminent participation of both experienced and new young artistes.

As for the performances presented by the Russian guests, we must once again mention and single out the creative style of Valeria Kasparova (see my interview with her in the Mirror-Spectator here: She gave moments of excitement to the Yerevan audience also with her performance of “Voices,” sensibly adapting the movements of modern dance to the Armenian traditional music.

By the way, let us mention that the brilliant performance of Russian dancers might arouse good envy, however, for the sake of justice, let us also note that Armenian dancers are not inferior to their northern counterparts in their openness and understanding of this type of art. Some may be only technically.

New Trends On- and Off-Stage

Bringing together the performances of Armenian and Russian choreographers, one can notice other similarities too. The youth of the twenty-first century are taking on the challenges of mankind in a globalizing world, the first of which is the problem of human communication. “Babylon” by Valeria Kasparova and Arman Balmanukyan, a unique choreographic “cacophony” “Communication Disruption” by Anush Sargsyan or the characters of aforementioned “Offline,” a boy and a girl highly dependent on the latest technologies, depict choreographically the complexities and contradictions of today’s human communication. And for the Armenian artistes, unfortunately, the war topic is still relevant today (“Black Garden” by Valeria Kasparova, “# 44” by Ara Asaturyan and Arman Julhakyan): all that remains is to wish that our artistes (and not only) never touch upon that topic again.

For years, people have rightly mentioned the lack of a proper choreographic stage in Yerevan. The Summeet showed that such a platform could be the Opera Studio under the auspices of the Yerevan Conservatory. Its directors Hasmik Papyan and Hayk Vardanyan, being representatives of vocal art, were always present at all the performances, ensuring not only the responsible attitude and positive aura of the hosts, but also emphasizing the need for the presence of representatives from different spheres at the important cultural event. Moreover, one of the organizers of the festival, Arman Balmanukyan, did not hesitate to clean and polish the stage with a stick after the performances. This is a change of mind, from which all the positive changes in the world begin.

Of course, there were also organizational flaws that are unavoidable, especially for the first one. For instance, in a significant part of the plays, there was an oral speech, which, without being translated, often caused difficulties to understand. Let’s hope that the organizers will learn a lesson from them, whose efforts, in the end, gave the desired result, giving at least a small part of the post-war Armenian society a fest of high art.

The festival ended with another pleasant newness. A new Armenian brand, Tateon apple drink, was introduced to the public at the closing reception. This strong alcohol beverage was started to be produced in Vardenis, during the wartime, by singer and businessman Armen Karapetyan, who lived in France for many years and now established in Armenia. A new festival, new names, new drink… new hopes.

The Breath of Dance Fest

At the festival, dancers from Voronezh, Igor Prudsky and Nikolay Gavrilin presented the “ARRRR” show, choreographed by Pavel Glukhov, during which they take water from bottles and splash each other.

This trick, typical of the comic film, seems nothing to do with choreography, but the boys did it so diversely, refreshingly, provocatively, humorously, that, it seemed to be pleasant to watch if they empty two more bottles.

As Vadim Kasparov, one of the organizers of this dance fest, says: “My dream is that the whole world says: we want us to be ‘like Armenia.’ And I am sure that everything will work out!”

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