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November 8, 2002

Dance Tracks: Artist leaves mark with a life of keeping national art pure

By Gayane Mkrtchyan
ArmeniaNow reporter

Photo by Shant KhayalianOn October 31, about 3,000 dancers from 90 ensembles gathered at the Karen Demirchyan Sport and Concert Complex to honor one man whose work is a link to theirs.

The 10-hour celebration of dance was to commemorate the 75th birthday of Vanush Khanamiryan and to pay tribute to his influence in maintaining and spreading the heritage of Armenian folk dance.

"He is a living legend and I think that it is happiness for anyone to dance and create close to him," said head of "Barekamutiun" dance ensemble Norik Mehrabyan.

A "People's Artist" of the Republic of Armenia, Khanamiryan (pictured above) is credited with applying the discipline of ballet to the emotion and patriotism of Armenian folk dance and making the national dance known world-wide.

Ensembles that he created dance in Marcel, Paris, Argentina, Uruguay, Aleppo and Glendale performing the dances that he has staged.

The great master himself says, "I'm very much obliged to the way I've passed. I thank my people, my friends. Thanks to the strength and diligence that I've got from them I managed to gain numerous people's hearts."

Khanamiryan was born in 1927 in Yerevan. He lived near "Moscow" cinema.

"In 1936-37, when the Opera House had just started to be built I was a little boy," the dancer recalls. "I was watching construction works with excitement and was even assisting workers. So that was the moment when my future fate had already been decided. I would have been dancing on the stage of that building for 27 years."

Photo by Shant KhayalianKhanamiryan's road to dance art started in 1935, when he entered the Ballet Department of the Dance School. In 1941 he began dancing at the Alexander Spendiaryan Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet.

"I was lucky to play almost all the parts first. 'Spartak', 'Gayane', 'Sasuntsi David', 'Swan Lake' and others. Characters of Spartak and Sasuntsi David were my idols. Those parts in the theatre made me 'Vanush Khanamiryan' and people knew me."

From 1946-1968 were golden years for Armenian opera and ballet and Khanamiryan played a significant role in the art's development.

Director of Dance Art College Tereza Grigoryan says, "I've spent all the creative period of my life together with him. Vanush was an ardent dancer. I never had a dance mate like him. His talent was endless."

Khanamiryan tells with pride that after composer Aram Khachaturyan saw the first performance of "Gayane" he told the dancer: "Now I feel that thanks to your dance my music is so Armenian. How do you dance like that?"

At the age of 35 Khanamiryan reluctantly left ballet. In 1968 he took over the State Dance Ensemble of Armenia.

"I brought the world of ballet to the ensemble," says Khanamiryan, still full of youthful energy. "I didn't turn it into ballet but I made Armenian dance gentler. My dancers' bodies were prepared very well, they were like ballet dancers."

"I didn't think that Vanush would be able to devote himself to Armenian national dance after the ballet," Grigoryan says. "However he spread Armenian dance all over the world, keeping roots of national dance pure and untouchable."

Khanamiryan recalls, "We turned the world upside-down. During three months we conquered Latin America. Not only Armenians were our audience. People mostly liked 'Berd', 'Sardarapat', 'Views of old Tbilisi' dances. The dances which I have produced (more than 70) are in the program up to now."

He tells how he produces a dance and the master's eyes shine brightly. He doesn't tell but he paints. Images are born with bright colors and as he says each dance has its own color.

"Mainly I'm captured by good music," he says. "If I think that music fits to the dance I start to think over the theme and sketches. During performance the audience must apprehend both dance and music."

Khanamiryan was art director of the ensemble and chief choreographer. Pupils believed in their leader.

"I had been dancing in the ensemble in 1973-80," Mehrabyan (pictured above right) says. "He was our leader and we had learned much from him. We learned acting technique, the correct using of make-up and dressing. Thanks to him we felt the communicable breath of Armenian dance."

These days Khanamiryan is still busy. Since 2001 he is in charge of Union of Art of Dance Workers of Armenia, where he works to preserve the purity of the national dance.

Khanamiryan says Arabic and Turkish influences have become mingled with Armenian dance.

"Modern dance must be performed restrained, correctly and competently," he says. "They dance Arabic dances to the strains of Armenian music. They can dance all dances but they must do that with taste and in beautiful manner."

The artist's searching soul is always restless and his creative abilities never let him down.

And his eyes fill with tears when he talks of the influence of his dance productions on Diaspora youth.

"They cannot speak Armenian but they dance Armenian," he says. "Armenian dance opens their souls. They become Armenian and stay Armenian. I keep them Armenian."

Photos by Shant Khayalian

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