Aida Amirkhanian

Aida Amirkhanian: Dance Is in Her Blood


YEREVAN / GLENDALE — Aida Amirkhanian is a choreographer and performer in dance theatre, as well as a yoga teacher. Born in Tehran, she graduated from the world-renowned École Mudra in Brussels, Belgium under the direction of legendary choreographer Maurice Béjart, where she studied dance, theatre, music, improvisation and interdisciplinary composition. She has performed internationally with École Mudra and Béjart’s Ballet du XXème Siècle for several years including performances at the Covent Garden in London, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus in Athens and the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires among others.

In 1982, Aida moved to Australia where she continued her multidisciplinary career as a choreographer, performer and theatre director working in collaboration with many dance and theatre companies including the Human Veins Dance Theatre, the Canberra Dance Theatre, the Jigsaw Theatre Company and Women on a Shoestring Theatre Company in a variety of capacities.

Aida has been based and continues her artistic journey in Los Angeles and has been creating and performing new solo works as well as collaborating with various artists. She has also performed in Dance Kaleidoscope festival, Fountain Theatre’s Festival of Solos and Duets and Interplay Santa Barbara among others. In 1991 Aida was the recipient of the Canberra Critics’ Circle Award for her creativity and artistic integrity as evidenced in her choreography and performance over a number of years and as exemplified in “Mephisto Waltz.” In 1992, she completed her solo piece for which she became one of the five finalists for the Canberra Times Artist of the Year award. In 2004 Aida was nominated for the Horton Dance Awards in Los Angeles as outstanding solo performer.

“To say that Aida Amirkhanian is a dancer is a little like saying the Eiffel Tower is a lookout. Certainly, you can take a lift to the top and the view is engaging. But by then you aren’t seeing the tower itself with its lean strength, it’s soaring spirit, its spare design, its truthful lines. You are looking in the wrong place to find its essence – for that resides inside the structure and it is seen only with an inner eye. She is not just a dancer. She is an artist, and dance is part of her art form,” Robert Macklin, wrote in the Canberra Times in 1992.

With the legendary choreographer Maurice Bejart

Aida, first we met in 1998 in Yerevan. Are there some essential changes in your artistic and personal character?

I was very fortunate to have met you more than two decades ago in Yerevan and know you an incredibly knowledgeable, inspiring character that advocated various performing art forms, and for that meeting I am grateful. As about what has been changed — for one thing I am 20 years older and hopefully — a little wiser. I am calmer and yet the life force is still flowing through my veins with intensity, so I have learned a little about subtleties and nuances and maintaining my integrity and using my inner energies mindfully and generously, that is a good thing.

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Your biography includes various countries and cultures — Armenian, Iranian, European, Australian, American, Hindi… How has each shaped you as an artiste and person?

I love traveling and seeing the world. I have lived in various countries in four continents. I have been exposed to different cultures and traditions; I have co-existed with these different cultures because at my core I had my own strong culture. Being an Armenian in this world is not an easy task! Even though I was born in Tehran and not in Armenia, the roots are deep. Experiencing all the other cultures were adding different flavors to my own culture: some were very different, some were similar, some were unpleasant, some were rich, but at the very core I understood that humans are the same; no matter where you go, they just react differently to different things and have different perspective on various things in life.

Your surname is not easy to pronounce for non-Armenians. Have you ever thought about a stage name?

My name is easy to remember, my great-grandmother who was a Genocide survivor had chosen this name and I have no idea why. My surname was mostly spelled by different people incorrectly, that would intrigue them and they wanted to know where I was from, so I always had the opportunity to tell them that I am Armenian. No, I never thought of changing my name to a stage name, it’s not because of your name and your fame that you get up on stage, the stage does not welcome you because of your name, you get up on stage because of your own merit, because you have something to say, because you want to reach in and touch people a little bit deeper and hopefully put them in touch with their deeper selves.

I am sure many ask you to tell about your years with Maurice Béjart. After his death I asked you to write down your memories about that legendary artist. Will you give us such gift one day?

My years at Mudra (the performing arts school under the direction of Maurice Béjart) and later in the Ballet de XXème siècle under the artistic direction of Béjart was “Magical” with a capital “M”! He was a genius, he was the creator, he was the destroyer of obstacles like Shiva. He was kind and very intense. He had tremendous love in his heart; his love was contagious and genuine. He suffered and felt pain for humanity. He had humor, he truly was a legend, one of a kind a genius. As a 17-year-old I was exposed to these qualities in a human being and that was so rich and unique. He wanted his interpreters to not just use their bodies, but their voice, their intelligence, their awareness. He wanted us to be alive and present and conscious from moment to moment in whatever we did.

You performed also in Australian dramatic theater. How was that, not being a English native speaker?

When I used to live in Australia I wanted to learn more acting skills, so I approached various theater directors and asked them to give me a chance to act in various plays as an actress. I had learned French, but had never learned English, even less Australian English. I picked up the language and studied on my own, but resisted learning the Australian accent. When I auditioned, some directors told me that they appreciated my movement vocabulary and my skills in voice and singing, but they could not give me a role, because I did not speak Australian English. Other directors got a whole play written to accommodate my accent! I wanted to build my acting skills and would refuse to be used as a dancer just doing a dance as a part of the play. I found out actors were lazy compared to dancers; that was an interesting discovery for me.

Aida Amirkhanian

How do dance and yoga complement each other?

Yoga is an internal journey, an internal expression, that doesn’t need to be exhibited. Dance is an external expression though it has to start from deep inside, but it has to be expressed and exhibited. Over 30 plus years I think I have found a way to find a bridge between the two, a bridge where I can cross deep inside from one to the other if needed.

Being an Armenologist, in my interviews I often ask people about their roots. What do you know about your ancestors?

My grandfather from my mother’s side, Nerses hayrik, was a survivor of Genocide from Van. I believe there were seven children, two of them survived. I loved him dearly. He had survived his trauma with his great sense of humor and his tenacity. He was generous, loved Komitas and sang songs. My grandmother also was a survivor of Genocide; her family had tea farms. There were also seven or eight children; two of them survived. She was the most loving and caring and generous person with a smile on her face at all times. When she was in her early 60s her trauma as a Genocide survivor manifested as deep depression and much confusion. This is all I know about my grandparents from my mother’s side. I was not born when my grandmother on my paternal side passed away. All I know about her was that she was a very kind and spiritual woman. She had one wish and that was to go to Jerusalem for a pilgrimage and she did, then on the same day she returned tired and asked to rest in her bed and she passed away. She had her wish fulfilled.  I didn’t particularly connect well to my paternal grandfather and don’t know much about him.  I know that they were both from Tabriz.

Twice during 1998, you presented contemporary dance in Yerevan — a rare guest on our stages. Fortunately, this art type has been developed in Armenia, and today we have few, but quite interesting innovative choreographers and dancers. While watching their performances, I always remember your words that in order to have experimental dance one does not need to borrow dance technique, that should be developed on the national basis.

That is right, I came to Armenia twice in 1998 and met the wonderful artists from Yerevan choreography college, from the mime studio and even a couple of street artists and musicians and we decided to put a performance on that was a rich experience. My second trip in 1998 was to collaborate with Maestro Aram Gharabekian (the music director of the National Chamber Orchestra of Armenia) on Topophono musical and dance project by eminent Armenian composer Haroutiun Delalian. It was a very creative and unforgettable experience. I had the grand honor to dance on the voice of late Hovaness Badalyan live, an experience of a lifetime.

In our interview I remember talking about not wanting to use the word contemporary dance instead I called it innovative or experimental dance. Most people in the dance world, when they think contemporary dance, they refer to the various American contemporary dance techniques which is fine, but I think that each culture has to develop their own contemporary techniques based on their own cultural roots. Various cultures have developed that very successfully and we can achieve that as well, specially that we already have such strong roots in dance and movement.

Our national culture is very rich,  the movements in our traditional dances, not staged ones,  the naz pars etc. but the true traditional dances from various regions are the base movements from which then the new vocabulary can develop, and this is what I call innovative, a true exploration in the  heart of the movement and then an evolution of it, an expansion of it.  Very difficult to explain in words because this is a true experience not an intellectual activity. I believe one has to know the very root and the heart of one’s own culture in this case the dances and then proceed from there if the intention is to become innovative.

In 2006, Gharabekian again invited you to choreograph and perform Shchedrin’s Carmen, at the site of the ruins of Zvartnots cathedral. I am sure if Aram Gharabekian did not leave us so early, you would continue to perform in Armenia. Do you have any plans to return?

Maestro Gharabekian called me up to ask me to participate in this project and I straight out rejected it saying he should look for someone else and here was his response: “When I stand in the ruins of Zvartnots I can’t see anyone else but you. This seems to be your responsibility and no one else’s.” The trust he gave me was remarkable, and that level of trust made me take on this responsibility. It was an extremely challenging project which we co created. Not just the creative process, but also during the performance we (the musicians, maestro and myself and everyone involved), we were also challenged by the powerful winds that at times I felt that it may sweep me away in the air! There was a moment during the performance where I had a powerful experience of belonging to that land standing solid on my two legs getting a glimpse of what is it like to feel so deeply and to dance with the music, the wind, the stars, the sweeping dust and everything and become one with it all. Zvartnots is a very powerful place and had tremendous energy if one is open to receive it. As you can imagine I was devastated when maestro left us in body and moved on to other dimensions. We had a lot of plans for other projects. I performed in his tribute in Los Angeles and thereafter I could not perform and I did not want to perform for the longest time. Maybe my next performance will be in Yerevan when that time comes.

Unlike classical dance, contemporary dancers do not retire early – do you continue dancing and what are your current projects?

Please allow me to answer this question with a poem by Rumi:


Dance when you are broken open’

Dance if you’ve torn the bandage off,

Dance in the middle of fighting,

Dance in your blood,

Dance when you are perfectly free.


It does not really matter anymore if anyone sees me dance. When I am inspired and feel that from the depths of my being I have something to express which will serve other, then I will.

Thank you for your interest and your care as well as your patience!

Here is what Pina Bausch said:

DANCE, DANCE, DANCE! without it we are lost!



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