Tag Archive: dance


 

by Gordiya Khademian

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On June 5, 2016, Silk Road Dance Company helped represent Iran at the Fiesta Asia street fair in Washington DC. This was the first time Iran has ever been represented at Fiesta Asia, thanks to the hard work of a group of young Iranian-American professionals in the Washington, DC area.

After an initial procession of costumes and banners down Pennsylvania Avenue, representing countries across the continent of Asia, Silk Road Dance Company first performed on the main stage, with the impressive Capitol Building creating a striking image behind them. Their performance, choreographed by Dr. Laurel Gray, consisted of three selections: Spring Rain in the Rose Gardens of Esfahan -a classical-style Persian dance to instrumental music; a Balochi folkloric dance; and a contemporary Persian dance to Moein’s Zendegi ba Toh.

Silk Road Dance Company performed again at the Iran tent for a smaller, more intimate audience. The day was filled with energy and excitement as people learned more about Iran’s diverse culture, dress, music, and dance. It was an honor to be able to share this heritage in our nation’s capital. .

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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.

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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.

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.

Today is #GivingTuesday!

Today is Giving Tuesday, a national day to show support for non-profits and their good works.

Silk Road Dance Company is a non-profit tax-exempt arts organization devoted to “Cultural Understanding through Beauty and Delight.” You can support our work with a donation, by following us on Facebook and Twitter, and by volunteering.

To show our appreciation for your support, we have a special gift of a beautiful concert DVD that is not commercially available, for a donation of $50.

Learn how you can support our “Caravan of Joy” SRDC at http://www.silkroaddance.com/support

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.

Tirgan Festival's Prestigious Arash Award

Tirgan Festival's Prestigious Arash Award

TORONTO, Ontario. Laurel Victoria Gray, Artistic Director of Washington DC’s Silk Road Dance Company, received the prestigious Arash Award at the closing gala of Toronto’s Tirgan Festival, the world’s largest Iranian cultural celebration, held July 21-24, 2011. The honor is bestowed on leading artists and literary figures in Iranian culture. Gray is the first American of non-Iranian descent to receive this award.
Known for her innovative choreographies based on the movement vocabulary of traditional Persian and Central Asian dance forms, Laurel Victoria Gray actively promotes understanding of the Islamic world through her cultural presentations, performances, and lectures. She founded the Silk Road Dance Company in 1995; the ensemble has since performed throughout the US as well as in Qatar and Uzbekistan.

At the invitation of the Tirgan Organizing Committee, Silk Road Dance Company presented several programs at this year’s festival. Tirgan 2011 showcased the talents of over 150 Iranian artists, many of whom traveled thousands of miles to attend the festival. Exemplary performances in music, dance and theatre were presented, and world class masterpieces in cinema and the visual arts were made available to the public.
The Arash Award is named for the legendary Persian archer who, during a dispute between Persian and non-Persian peoples, put his soul into a magical arrow destined to peaceably mark the boundaries between two kingdoms. The stunning statuette was designed by Iranian sculptor Ahmad Sakhavarz. Made from 24 carat gold-plated pewter, the Arash Award was manufactured by the same company that created the Oscars.

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.