Sayat Nova dancers keeping pace with Apo Ashjian
Published: Wednesday May 09, 2012
Kidding aside, Ashjian would stage a special performance for the wandering minstrel, even invite him to partake.
"If Sayat Nova ever saw our ensemble, be would be both flattered and amazed at what we've created," Ashjian feels. "He would be in tears at how well we've depicted his music and his life. Most of his songs are about the beauty of women and so romantically written. We describe them to our dancers and to audience members. Unless the lyrics are explained, those choreographed dances become meaningless movements."
The artist has imbued every facet of Ashjian's life --- from his songs to his instruments. Ashjian grew familiar with the kamanche.
"Sayat Nova wanted to be the best in his art and he exemplified that by playing in Georgian palaces and for the king's guests," Ashjian explained.
Those who come under Ashjian's wing call him a "perfectionist" and a "taskmaster." Half-heartedness is not an option. It's total immersion or nothing. Dancers arrange their work schedules, studies and family obligations to make every rehearsal and performance.
"The more I demand perfection, the harder they work," Ashjian points out. "When we take the stage, I'm confident that all our dancers have done everything possible to ensure a flawless presentation."
Take it from alumni like Josh Tevekelian. He spent 16 years with the ensemble and saw what it did for him. He's still dancing his way through life with a happy shuffle and holds special gratitude for the likes of Apo, Hagop and Shaghig.
"The company re-energized me in the community," says Tevekelian. "I walked into that first rehearsal and was greeted by people who found importance in the upkeep of our heritage. We danced not only for ourselves, an audience, but for a nation --- our martyrs and those who survived the genocide. The dancing was important. But the passion and the friendships are what build nations."
Every day offers a new beginning with Ashjian. Rehearsals. Appearances. Coming attractions. No doubt, something very special will be prepared for the genocide centennial in 2015.
There's the Peabody International Festival in September where Sayat Nova dancers have performed the past 20 years. Worcester is on the agenda for early October, followed by a return visit to Montreal later that month. The "Journey Through Time" show is also being given some thought for a return engagement in Boston.
"When I look at all the friendships that have been created, even marriages, I begin to realize what a unique mission we're taking," he says. "In our own world, we're creating a little corner of Armenia in the Diaspora."