Category: Uzbekistan


Silk Road Dance Company from an early performance. Nyla, who suggested the name for the ensemble, is shown in green on the far right.

Silk Road Dance Company from an early performance. Nyla, who suggested the name for the ensemble, is shown in green on the far right.

Evoking images of exotic places and treasure-laden caravans, the Silk Road appeals to the popular imagination. Over the past decade, Silk Road cultures have gained new audiences with an increased awareness of the history and geography of the region. Much of the credit for this goes to cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the seeds that were sewn when he launched his Silk Road Project in 1998.

Momentum gathered with the epic 2002 Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC. This wildly successful event was entitled The Silk Road: Connecting Cultures, Creating Trust and “celebrated the living traditional arts of peoples of Silk Road lands.”

But Silk Road Dance Company®, founded in 1995, traces its roots to an even earlier source of inspiration – a 1982 performance at the Asia Society in New York. Although Laurel Victoria Gray, who later founded the Silk Road Dance Company, did not attend this concert, she learned of it when a fellow graduate student in the PhD program at the University of Washington handed her clipping from that week’s New York Times. It was the October 29, 1982, article by Jennifer Dunning “In Song and Dance Along the Silk Route,” illustrated with a photograph of one of the concert’s female performers.

For Gray, who was already deeply involved in ethnic dance of Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the Middle East, reading the article was a galvanizing moment. “For years I had been searching for descriptors for the dances in my personal repertoire and that of my ensemble,” Gray explains. “All the terms seemed so lengthy and awkward. When I saw the title of the New York Times article, everything came into focus. Of course, I knew about the Great Silk Road, and how it was the connective thread that united these diverse cultures. From that moment on, I began to use the term ‘Silk Road’ to identify my work.”

Gray had fallen in love with Uzbek dance when she met People’s Artist of Uzbekistan Qizlarhon Dusmuhamedova in 1979 and attended her performance with the Bakhor Ensemble at Seattle University. She added Central Asian dance to the growing repertoire of her group which she renamed Tanavar Dance Ensemble in 1982 in honor of a famous genre of Uzbek women’s dances. Soon their concerts and publicity identified them with the cultures of the Silk Road.

Gray returned to Uzbekistan in 1984 as a cultural representative with a Seattle-Tashkent Sister City Delegation led by Mayor Charles Royer. At the invitation of Uzbekistan Vatan Society, Gray traveled to Uzbekistan to continue her dance studies. In 1988 and 1989, Uzbekistan’s Union of Theatrical Workers invited her to bring delegations as part of an ongoing cultural exchange program, causing Gray to identify Seattle as “a new stop on the ancient Silk Road.”

In 1986, Gray released “An Introduction to Uzbek Dance,” the first volume in a proposed “Dances of the Silk Road” video series. New York Times dance critic, Jennifer Dunning, noted that this video “focuses on women’s dance but offers intriguing looks at the basic arm gestures and characteristic movements of the forms as well as the costumes, jewelry and music associated with the dances.”

Later in the 80s, Gray visited New York and was invited to visit the Asia Society by Beate Gordon, who had seen the first volume of Dances of the Silk Road. “It was such an honor,” remembers Gray. “And it also gave me a sense of connecting to an important source of my inspiration.”

When Gray left Seattle in 1992 to continue her dance studies in Uzbekistan for two years, Tanavar Dance Ensemble gave a few more performances but waited for Gray’s return. She did come back to Seattle for several months before relocating to the East Coast in the summer of 1994.

As Gray began to meet and work with Washington DC area dancers, a small core of students expressed an interest in exploring Central Asian and Persian dance in greater depth. And when the dancer Nyla approached her about performing for Persian weddings, Gray saw the opportunity to create a Washington DC-based performance group.

Soon auditions were held and students began to learn Gray’s repertoire. They also gathered to work on building more costumes. Gray brought several of the Tanavar Dance Ensemble costumes with her from Seattle, but needed new ones for additional choreographies.

But what to name the group? Gray considered reviving the name Tanavar since the Seattle group was inactive, but it was Nyla who made the fateful suggestion. Laurel recalls the moment. Nyla said “you are always talking about the Silk Road, so why don’t you call us ‘Silk Road?”’

And Nyla was right so, in 1995, Silk Road Dance Company was born.

The tiny group graduated from weddings to their first public concert – “Persian Night”- held on February 6, 1996. By 2001, Silk Road Dance Company made it to the Kennedy Center stage for the first time.

The ensemble’s continued success convinced Gray to register “Silk Road Dance Company” as a trademark, which was accomplished thanks to a student who was also an attorney and arranged for her firm to help on a pro bono basis. The process proved to be a time-consuming task, but fortunately Gray’s academic training in history taught her to save documentation, helping to prove their long existence. In 2005, the the United States Patent and Trademark Office issued a Certificate of Trademark Registration to this organization for the mark “Silk Road Dance Company (R).”

It has been an exciting journey but it is one that is far from over. Silk Road Dance Company® has performed in 15 different states and also in four foreign countries, at the invitation and expense of celebrated hosts.

“So many events converged to make this all happen,” reflects Gray. “From my first meeting with Qizlarhon to the New York Times article, from my move from Seattle to Washington DC, to my student who facilitated our trademark – all these things look like kismet.

Yes, it must be kismet. Fate.

Advertisements

by Rachel Zappala

Ahmad Maaty and the Silkies perform "Gur Nalo Ishq Mitha" at their "Bollywood Fever: concert, part of the 2013 Intersections Festival.

Ahmad Maaty and the Silkies perform “Gur Nalo Ishq Mitha” at Silk Road Dance Compay’s BOLLYWOOD FEVER concert, part of the 2013 Intersections Festival.

On March 2, 2013, the Silk Road Dance Company (SRDC) graced the stage of the Atlas Performing Arts Center’s Lang Theatre with their Bollywood Fever concert. Part of the annual Intersections Festival, this magnificent evening of sequin-clad escapism was beloved by more than just audience members; Bollywood Fever was a high-point of the performance season for many of the “Silkies,” as the members of Silk Road Dance Company are affectionately known.

Kat, one of the Silkies involved in Bollywood Fever, perfectly summarized her feelings towards the show. According to her, the fun music and lighthearted energy that Bollywood dancing creates in the rehearsal studio make for a bright spot in her week. This sentiment is certainly shared by many of her sister Silkies.

Shiraz, a new Silky who travels two hours from Delaware to get to SRDC rehearsals, loved her Bollywood Fever experience. Coming from an Arabic dance background, this was her first time ever time performing Bollywood dance. Her favorite part of the performance process has been how it has allowed her to access a different culture. “Dancing is universal,” she succinctly stated during a SRDC rehearsal. “Through different dance styles, you can appreciate other cultures and what they have to offer.”

Bollywood is also a departure from the norm for Ahmad, an Egyptian-American dancer and actor who recently earned his MFA from Pace University. He usually performs Arabic and Uzbek dance with SRDC but ever since the company’s Artistic Director, Dr. Laurel Victoria Gray introduced him to the style, he has loved the friendly, warm, and inviting energy that Bollywood dance exudes. His favorite pieces in Bollywood Fever are two seeming opposites – the Rajasthani Ghoomar dance which he loves for its tribal, grounded, high-energy movement, and the Kathak-inspired Suno Re, a piece that he describes as ethereal and appreciates for the peaceful and pleasant break that it provides from the rest of the high-energy pieces in the show.

Nilufar also loves the excitement and shared energy of Bollywood dancing. However, for her, the Bollywood Fever is much more personally significant. Originally from Uzbekistan, Nilufar takes great pride in her Central Asian origin. (After all, it was the Uzbek conqueror Babur who established India’s Moghul dynasty.) She sees Bollywood Fever not just as fun, but as a way for her to fulfill her duty to preserve and promote her Central Asian culture. Nilufar is also feels inspired and empowered while dancing Bollywood pieces. “For moments in the show, you get to experience being another person. It gives you a chance to have another life.”

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.


The color and grace of Central Asian women’s dance will enliven the Seattle Asian Art Museum when DC-based Silk Road Dance Company presents a series of public programs and concerts on Saturday May 5th. The award-winning ensemble will share rare dance traditions in stunning costumes in conjunction with the current “Colors of the Oasis” exhibition of Uzbek textiles.

Seattle, Washington — The award-winning Silk Road Dance Company will share the beauty of Uzbek dance at the Seattle Asian Art Museum on May 5, 2012. Based in Washington, D.C., the dance ensemble will present family friendly daytime shows as well as two evening concerts in conjunction with the Colors of the Oasis exhibit of Central Asian textiles.

SAAM’s current Colors of the Oasis exhibition features dazzling textiles that were created in the oasis cities of Central Asia, primarily Uzbekistan. Silk Road Dance Company’s extensive repertoire of Uzbek dances and colorful traditional costumes will provide another dimension to exhibit. Family friendly daytime programs at 11 am, noon, and 1 pm, are free to the public. Tickets are required for the 6 pm and 8 pm evening concerts and can be reserved online.

Silk Road Dance Company performs throughout the US and internationally in Uzbekistan, Qatar and Canada. The ensemble’s pioneering performances offer a unique glimpse of the life and art of little known cultures, especially the Islamic world

Silk Road Dance Company (SRDC) has deep ties to the Seattle area through Artistic Director Laurel Victoria Gray, who founded the ensemble in 1995. A native of Washington state and former Seattle resident, Gray was active in the Seattle-Tashkent Sister City Association and lived in Tashkent for two years to study traditional dance and culture.

Seattle residents can also study dance with Gray while she is in Seattle. She will help prepare a Silk Road themed marching team that will participate in the 2012 Fremont Solstice Parade. Rehearsals will take place at VDP studio, a business owned by Delilah Flynn, a Fremont resident and professional dancer who has for 20 years has organized dance teams for the parade.

Info on Silk Road Fremont Parade classes:
http://visionarydance.com/seattle-studio/class-info/solstice-parade-2012/

Online ticket for Silk Road Dance Company SAAM concerts:
http://www.seattleartmuseum.org/calendar/eventDetail.asp?eventID=23980&month=4&day=5&year=2012&sxID=&WHEN=
###

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 2012 and 2013, Silk Road Dance Company®. All rights reserved.

Kizlarkhon Dusmukhamedova (r) and Laurel Victoria Gray


Kizlarkhon Dusmukhamedova, People’s Artist of Uzbekistan, is a world class dance artist who has visited the US fifteen times since 1979. Silk Road Dance Company is honored that Kizlarkhon is our Central Asian Dance Consultant and that she hasplayed such an active role in the development of our ensemble.

Silk Road Dance Company is located in the Washington DC area. We have cultivated a genuine and successful cultural exchange with Uzbekistan as well as other Central Asian and Middle Eastern cultures.

The origin of our Uzbek relationship dates back to the Soviet era when, in 1979, as a doctorial candidate in Russian and Soviet History at the University of Washington, our Artistic Director – Laurel Victoria Gray – volunteered to translate for a group of touring artists from Uzbekistan. (She had been to Uzbekistan as a teenager in 1973. ) That is when she first met the exceptional, superlative Uzbek dance artist, Kizlarkhon Dusmukhamedova, and began a lifelong exploration of Central Asian dance culture.

The details of meeting between Laurel Victoria Gray and Kizlarkhon Dusmukhamedova and their subsequent friendship can be found at http://laurelvictoriagray.com/bio.htm

Seattle and Tashkent became sister-cities in 1973. In fact, they were the very first Soviet-American sister cities. Many fledgling cultural exchanges between the US and the USSR were first launched through this historic relationship. Laurel became active in this committee and participated in numerous cultural exchanges, including Mayor Royer’s 1984 trip to Tashkent.

Thanks to the Seattle-Tashkent Sister City Committee, Kizlarkhon returned to Seattle in 1982 with an official delegation from Tashkent and worked with Laurel and her dancers. Laurel continued to work on Soviet-American cultural exchange, inviting Kizlarkhon and other Uzbek artists to the US in 1989 and 1990.

This non-currency cultural exchange blossomed into the historic Seattle Soviet Theatre Arts Exchange, in which 30 theatre artists traveled to Uzbekistan and had home stays in Tashkent while presenting several concerts throughout the city, including performances at the lkhom Theatre.

This cultural exchange was the topic of Laurel’s 2009 Fulbright Association Selma Jeanne Cohen Lecture. Photos of this historic exchange – including pictures of Kizlarkhon – can be viewed at this link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYbtFKGpDY0 )

Through Kizlarkhon’s generous spirit, Laurel was the first American to seriously study and perform Uzbek dance. She was invited to Uzbekistan many times to continue her dance studies and lived there for two years in 1992 and 1993. In order to share what she had learned and keep this precious legacy alive, Laurel has trained many dancers — both in the US and abroad –and, after moving to DC, created the Silk Road Dance Company in 1995.

With a colleague, Travis Jarrell, Laurel founded the Central Asian Dance Camp in 1995. They began by teaching the first classes themselves. Then in 1998, Laurel began inviting Kizlarkhon to the US to share her knowledge directly with a new generation of American dancers.

Now that Laurel lives in the DC area, she has been instrumental in inviting Kizlarkhon almost every year to come to the US to teach and perform for a small but dedicated group of Americans who are serious about mastering Central Asian dance.

Kizlarkhon embodies a traditional dance style which is rarely seen today but it lives on in her students. She has gifted Silk Road Dance Company with many famous Uzbek dances for our repertoire — Guldasta, Dil Kroch, Kungil Taronasi, Samarkand Ushoqi, Tong Malikasi, Gozel, Katta Oyin, Keling Gular, and many more. Silk Road Dance Company brings these traditional dances to American audiences.

Yes, American women performing Uzbek dances! This is genuine cultural exchange.
And in the spirit of cultural exchange, the Uzbeks have reciprocated. In 2005, Silk Road Dance Company was the first US dance company to be invited to perform at the Samarkand Sharq Taronalari Festival.

Silk Road Dance Company has been instrumental in sharing Uzbek culture with Americans for many years, with performances throughout the Washington DC area, as well as 14 different states, Uzbekistan, Canada, and Qatar. We have also presented programs at the State Department, the Secret Service, the National Defense University and Fort Meade.

Over the years, Silk Road Dance Company has been frequently called upon to perform at the Embassy of Uzbekistan in DC by many different ambassadors. Laurel herself performed for President Karimov when he came to the dedication of the Uzbek Embassy in DC. ( She had also performed in the first two Independence Day celebrations in Tashkent and was the English style editor of Karimov’s first book.)

Last year, in 2010, Ambassador Ilkhom Nematov and his wife attended Silk Road Dance Company’s 15th anniversary concert. Most recently, Silk Road Dance Company the featured dancers at the 20th anniversary celebration of Uzbek independence in DC.

A glimpse of this performance can be seen on the VOA Uzbek Service broadcast. Excerpts begin about 2:00 minutes into the program.
http://www.voanews.com/uzbek/news/central-asia/Uzbek-Embassy-Independence-Day-129160838.html

Silk Road Dance Company is a 501(c)(3) non-profit tax-exempt arts organization. We are dedicated artists who deeply love and appreciate Uzbek traditional culture. We endeavor to honor this legacy in all of our performances.

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 2011 and 2013, Silk Road Dance Company®. All rights reserved.