From the Opera Hall to Yesayan Hall
BY HEGHINAR MELKOM MELKOMIAN
It’s eight thirty and we’re already standing at the corner of the street where we live. We’re waiting for a taxi. One thing I love about the taxis in Syria is that they have colored lights on top of their roofs. The red light indicates that the cab has passengers, while the green one means it is vacant. I see a yellow cab approaching with its green light on and my husband extends his hand. I immediately look at the face of the driver. This is a very important thing for me. His face, his appearance is the key to how I will act. This time I sit silently, gazing out of the window next to me.
We reach our destination. All I know is that we are going to watch a performance by the “Sardarapat” dance ensemble. We enter Yesayan hall and it is full. I can sense that there is an air of indifference and cynicism about me. I come from Armenia and have watched performances by “Baregamutyun”, “Bert” and “State Dance Ensemble” national dance groups several times throughout my life and subconsciously I wonder what amateur dancers can do to amuse me.
Before the start of the performance I flip through a brochure in my hand. On the cover of this brochure there’s a beautiful girl holding a large sword, representing the “Mayr Hayastan” statue in Victory Park. In front of her there are four guys with swords and shields. In the background there’s Mount Ararat, Armenian stone- crosses and the Aleppo fortress. Under all this there’s the eternal flame of the Genocide Memorial in Yerevan. The cover of the brochure adds to my cynicism. “Typically Diasporan,” I think. At the very bottom of the brochure, “Artistic director, Armenian Cultural Gold Medal Dance teacher, Petros Gharibian”, is written. I begin wondering if Gharibian is a Diasporan or Hayasdantsi surname, when the curtains open.
The music starts and boys and girls of different ages, wearing beautiful costumes with Armenian ornaments begin dancing the first dance “Jeyrani”. In all, there will be 16 different dances preformed by more than 45 dancers. Somewhere between the second and third pieces, my cynicism slowly begins to fade. I look at the faces of the people sitting around me and notice there are Muslims Arabs sitting in our front row. I realize that I am not the only person who is absolutely absorbed and amazed by the performance of these “amateur” dancers: so are they.
The boys form a circle and another group of boys climb on top of their shoulders and they present the classical Armenian dance move “Berd” (fortress). The girls with their hip-long braids move from one side of the stage to the other as light as a feather and dance the “Naz par”. Then the boys jump high in the air and land on their knees and they perform other hard dance movements and I can feel my jaw beginning to drop open. These are people of different ages, different professions and by using the word “amateur dancers” I am no longer underestimating them: quite the contrary. I am amazed at the willpower of these people. I can see and am astounded at their effort. I am also amazed at the dedication of their teacher. The Arabs in front of me clap with broad smiles on their face and I realize that I am not the only one bedazzled.
Each dance has its own literally beautiful costume designed by Kevork Shadoyan. Each song has been chosen with great thought. Each move has been taught with patience and love. I no longer care if the Dance teacher is Diasporan or Local Armenian, I love him wholeheartedly. My emotions are in turmoil and what I’ve known for so many years somehow becomes irrelevant. These amateur dancers, who have no professional dancing background, somehow dance much better than those in “Berd” or “Baregamutyun”. There’s passion, there’s love, there’s dedication, there’s pride and all this towards our national dances.
The Armenians in Syria have been living amongst Arabs for over 100 years. The fact that they have managed to preserve their national identity for so long is something to be proud of. The fact that they have hired a professional dance teacher shows dedication. The fact that each of these dancers has practiced so hard after their working hours to dance today, to dance for their fellow community members and others, to keep our traditions and culture alive in foreign lands, overwhelms me. I sometimes wonder if I become too sentimental when dealing with national matters, but this is what I feel and I want you to see through my eyes too. This is amazing, this is beautiful. What these people are doing is beyond beautiful words and emotions.
I suddenly get this urge to walk towards the Arab guests in the audience and say,” I’m from Armenia and this is a part of our rich and beautiful culture. This is who we are all around the world and in the motherland”. I get this urge to put this stage in the middle of the street and see my fellow Armenian sisters and brothers dance for the entire nation of their host country and show them how beautiful and empowering our dances and songs are. I can’t control my feet and my head and I silently dance in my seat. The performance is over before I realize two hours have passed. No one stands on their feet to clap in honor of these brave dancers and their teacher. No one shouts “Bravo”. This is not Armenia and I am not in Opera hall.
At the end of all this I no long find the cover of the brochure ridiculous. I am once again a Diasporan Armenian longing for my home and this is the moral of this story and experience.