Archive for May, 2013


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by Miriam Asmerom

On Thursday, May 23, 2013, the city of Takoma Park will screen the film of the folkloric ballet, Haft Paykar: Seven Beauties, performed by Silk Road Dance Company. Created by Takoma Park resident. Laurel Victoria Gray, this dance concert features choreography and costuming inspired by seven different Eastern cultures.

Gray’s work is based on Nizami Ganjavi’s poem Haft Paykar (“seven beauties”) is remembered as one of the great narrative epics of medieval Middle Eastern culture. Although Nizami lived in the city of Ganj – located in present day Azerbaijan – he wrote in Persian, the court language of the day. Haft Paykar is a meditation on the beauty of diversity and humanity’s constant quest for perfection.

The story is a simple one — a young Sassanian prince, Bahrām Gur, discovers a locked room in a Yemeni castle where he has been sent for his upbringing.. Opening it, he finds the walls adorned with the portraits of seven beautiful princesses from distant lands; he immediately falls in love with all of them. Each princess comes from a different country and is associated with a specific color, virtue, planet and day of the week.

After a time, Bahrām’s father dies and Bahrām becomes the King of Persia. Upon assuming his throne, he sends for all of seven princesses, intending to marry each of them. He instructs his architect to build each princess her own “dome” – a residence decorated in her signature color scheme and aligned with her particular planet. The king visits a different princess each day of the week — for example, on Saturday he visits the Indian princess who lives in the Black Dome, on Sunday the Rûm princess of the Yellow Dome, and so on. Each princess regales Bahrām with a story that illustrates the virtue she must impart to the king.. From these stories, Bahrām gains wisdom and self-mastery of different aspects of his character.

While Haft Paykar is an allegory about the necessity, and enlightenmen, that comes from diversity, but 12th century style, when you don’t befriend the “other,” you marry them. The epic poem is also a love letter to the wisdom of women. Bahrām Gur would not have become a great king without the uplifting, inspiring, and moral lessons taught by the princesses. His quest for human perfection is nurtured by the wisdom in their instructive tales. By listening and learning, Bahrām Gur reaches his full potential.

Experience the beauty and the poetry of Haft Paykar at the free screening on Thursday, May 23rd at 7:30 PM at the Takoma Park Auditorium 7500 Maple Avenue in Takoma Park, Maryland. Presented as a “red carpet” event, the film premiere will give guests a chance to meet the dancers and the choreographer. Everyone is encouraged to dress up for the “royal” occasion.

Learn more about this event at https://www.facebook.com/events/554094294630800/?ref=ts&fref=ts

Silk Road Dance Company is a 501(c)3 exempt tax non-profit organization.
Silk Road Dance Company ® is a Registered Trademark
The contents of this blogpost, including all text and images, are protected and may
not be used without the express written permission of Silk Road Dance Company®.
Copyright 2013, Silk Road Dance Company®. All rights reserved.

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by Miriam Asmerom

On October 26 , 2013, Silk Road Dance Company will present Egypta – a dance drama inspired by ancient Egypt – at Baltimore’s Walters Museum. Dr. Laurel Victoria Gray created Egypta from a suite of six pieces she initially set on a German ensemble in 1995. Looking back however, Egypta has roots that go back to the pioneer of modern dance, Ruth St. Denis, one of the first American choreographers to introduce Eastern dance traditions into the American mainstream. Gray named her dance production after the famous work Egypta by St. Denis, both as a tribute to the original seed of Egypta’s current incarnation. After all, the dance which Silk Road Dance Company will perform at the Walters Museum is an even more progressive, open-ended take on Egypta.

Though today’s choreographers obviously don’t really know what Ancient Egyptian dance looked like, movements are usually performed as stiff and awkward. Gray bucked the traditional interpretation. Her logic? “This civilization was extremely sophisticated; these people performed brain surgery. We are still unable to explain precisely how the pyramids were built, let alone replicate the endeavor. Why do we think their dances were so simplistic?” Instead, Gray constructed a more rhythmic, fluid dance based on Alan Lomax’s theory of choreometrics. Lomax links certain styles of dance to levels of development in a civilization — for instance, a society with a centralized government will have a generally different style of dance than an agrarian one. Using this theory, Gray approached the famous tomb paintings that appear on the interior of pyramid walls as snapshots of Pharaonic dance. She also incorporated elements of East African dance into the performance, noting that “white male archeologists of the Victorian era tried to detach Egypt from the rest of Africa, even denying the obviously African appearance of many of the individuals depicted in paintings and statuary. It is time to put Egypt back into Africa.”

The German ensemble of Raqs Sharqi was first to work with Gray on her depiction of Ancient Egyptian dance. In fact, they were the test subjects for the six dances that would come to comprise the core of Egypta – Egypt is the Gift of the Nile, On the Land, Pyramids, Foreign Domination. Banquet Dance, and the Death of Egypt. Though the production went through a series of hiccups, Egypta was performed in Dusseldorf, Germany in February of 1997 where it premiered to great critical acclaim. It was then taken to Memmingen in April of that same year, with Gray traveling from the US to perform a new piece, Priestess of the Snake Goddess Reneutet and the celebration of Bastet. Seattle’s Delilah joined the production, performing the roles of the Goddess Hathor and Cleopatra.

The new costumes worn in Egypta also bear notice. Instead of the gold metallic fabric, stiff collars, and huge headdresses which normally characterize Hollywood depictions of Ancient Egypt, Gray moved to more patterned textiles to forge a deeper connection with Egypta’s African roots as well as ancient Egyptian fabrics. The large headdresses were reserved for gods and goddesses since they tended to curtail movement and contributed to stiffness normally associated with Ancient Egyptian dance. With significant costuming contributions by Elizabeth Barrett Groth, a designer who was then a student at George Washington University, the new choreographies by Gray got an excting new look that drew on historical traditions. By updating the costume choice and staying away from Hollywood sterotypes, along with the innovative choreography, Gray created one of the first truly revised portraits of ancient Egyptian dance.

Gray continued to refine her work on Egypta with a performance by Silk Road Dance Company in July of 1998 at Baltimore’s International Festival. Now, Egypta returns to Baltimore, almost twenty years after its first inception. With grants from the Kennedy Center in 2003 and many past performances, the production has bloomed into a full length dance concert. As the Washington Post wrote of a 2004 performance, “The evening was a visual treat of whirling, glittery costumes, fluid movement narrative, rich exotic music, and a dance troupe that was clearly having fun.”

Sources:
1. http://www.egypta.org/about-egypta.html
2. http://www.silkroaddance.com/egypta.html
3. http://www.egypta.org

Silk Road Dance Company is a 501(c)3 exempt tax non-profit organization.
Silk Road Dance Company ® is a Registered Trademark
The contents of this blogpost, including all text and images, are protected and may
not be used without the express written permission of Silk Road Dance Company®.
Copyright 2013, Silk Road Dance Company®. All rights reserved.