Reviews & Articles
ANNA DJANBAZIAN Keeping the Torch Alight
ANNA DJANBAZIAN Keeping the Torch Alight
By Karen Apostolina

verdugaAt first glance, the busy Djanbazian Dance Academy in Glendale looks like any other ballet studio. The white walls and floor complement the soft swirl of girls in pink and white leotards spinning by. Young dancers stand in precise rows executing graceful exercises while their teacher, Anna Djanbazian, swans through the room gently calling out instruction and snapping her fingers to emphasize the meter of the music.

Hanging on ballet-barres behind them are garment bags stuffed with colorful, gauzy costumes for a rehearsal later that evening. The ethnic tunics and headscarves spilling out on to the floor hint at greater depth beyond this sugary tableau.

The Djanbazian Dance Academy has a rich history that began in Russia with its founder, Sarkis Djanbazian, one of Leningrad 's principal dancers and Anna's father. In the 1940's he emigrated and eventually became the successful and respected ballet master of a studio in Tehran . But sadly, in 1963, while still in his prime, Sarkis died suddenly of a heart attack. Though she was only 11 at the time, Anna understood she would dedicate her life to dance to continue his legacy. At age 16 she went to the Soviet Union on her own to continue her training.
 
After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in ballet and traditional dances from the Yerevan Choreographic Pedagogical Dance Institute, Djanbazian returned to Iran in 1972, intent on returning her father's school to its former glory.

However, after her five-year absence, the business was floundering, despite her mother's best efforts to keep it afloat.

“I promised myself that after five years I would bring the studio back to the level my father had it at and continue going further than before,” says Djanbazian, “ but unfortunately—the revolution happened.”

The Islamic revolution became a catalyst for the next phase of Djanbazian's career. Being Armenian put her in the minority, and under the new regime dance was forbidden. New rules condemned the mixing of Muslim and Armenian or male and female students in the school. This was a big change from the way things had been in her father's day.

“When the revolution came, we couldn't have music, dancing was forbidden. So in the studio, I was covering all the windows with paper so nobody could see what we were doing.”

anna_articalAt one point Djanbazian says “Islamic soldiers” came to the studio and demanded to know what they were doing. They spent eight hours investigating the premises.

“We were in a class with dance clothes on—a pas de deux class—which is the lifting of the female dancers by the male,” says Djanbazian. “It was very, very terrifying.”

Although she continued working and choreographing surreptitiously until the 40th anniversary of the academy, Djanbazian grew tired of dancing “underground” and decided to leave. Her whole family came to Los Angeles and she attended UCLA, receiving her Masters degree in education and modern dance choreography.

“I really needed to get out. I wanted to continue my education and reach more information, which was very hard to do there.” In 1988, she opened her studio in Glendale .

On this evening, company members are hard at work rehearsing Asemoun-Beh-In-Gapi (Joy Lifted to the Heavens) for Welcome to Persia , a collection of Djanbazian's choreography to be performed at California State University Northridge. The piece is reminiscent of the traditional folk dances of Iran and portrays a pre-marriage celebration. The dancers twirl and fling their full, white skirts; their moves are saucy and flirtatious. The music of a Tar, a middle-eastern long-necked lute, accompanies their joyful movement.

Djanbazian plucked the best dancers from her academy to form the nucleus of her company in 1992. With a knowing smile on her face, she watches as they bend and sway, performing the intricate choreography of these traditional Persian dances with ease. She understands that she is preserving tradition while deconstructing stereotypes here in the West.

“Right now, in this situation in the world, we all have information—but not the full information. Nobody can imagine that Persian, Iranian people can have happy dances, colorful dances. They're very, very hospitable, easy, good and friendly people, and it shows here in their own dances.”

One example of this is Girl Talk, with music by Hosseyn Vaseghi. This dance from Tehran depicts playful girls gossiping in the Syrian court of Ghajar. Another is Zang, a sensuous dance with finger cymbals. In both pieces, the women wear sparkly shoes and radiant smiles. This is not the stereotype of Iranian culture Americans are typically fed. But Djanbazian says the time is ripe for people to get acquainted with her culture.

“We don't anymore think, oh, Iran is too far. We know for instance about Zankou chicken and so we think, I know the food—so I know the people. This is true, when you begin to know more about the culture, you begin to know the people. It is difficult, but not impossible. I really want to invite people to open their hearts and come and take a chance…Persian dance is pretty.”

Djanbazian also choreographs in other genres—ballet and modern. She says she prefers dance over words to tell her stories or channel her emotions, and she considers the audience an integral part of the process, always hoping to touch them in their hearts, because “…with their energy and my energy, we can dance around each other.”

This symbiosis extends to her dancers as well. Twenty-one-year-old Araz Ranjbar of Glendale says dance is her passion and that Djanbazian's choreography brings out a different side of her.

“I feel free. I just do what I want to do and her choreography… it takes me to a different place, I could never imagine myself dancing with somebody else.”

But choreography is only as good as the dancers performing it; Djanbazian's have clean technique and an emotional commitment to the material. As they rehearse Friends, an ethnic dance from Tehran , they manage to radiate cheerfulness without artifice. Perhaps these native dances allow a freedom that the “too cool for school” strictures of contemporary California culture forbid. Djanbazian's choreography incorporates over 60 years of tradition from Iran ; This is what sets her company apart.

“I think history is keeping this foundation very strong. I didn't just get here—my father had this school and many people knew him and respected him.”

And so she works—and works! “Can you believe since 1972, I've never had any vacation?” She hopes that someday one of her students will take over and keep the legacy going. But right now, she is focused on expanding her audience.

The strains of piano music by Shardad Rohani fill the air as the dancers rehearse Love Dance. Last year, PBS chose this piece, choreographed in 2003, for national broadcast from the Music Center in downtown Los Angeles . It's based on an old Persian fable that says you can turn any evil to good if you repeat the word love three times. Djanbazian put this idea to good use by turning the loss of her beloved father into a declaration of her love of dance, and her early artistic suppression into a mission to find greater creative freedom.
 
Welcome To Persia

Welcome To Persia

Persia_20070423bBeautiful costumes, sweet chimes, percussions of Persian music, and graceful dancing is what I experienced this past Saturday evening. And how lovely it was! I took along a little guest, my two-year-old son, Felix, who was mesmerized by all the vibrant colors and exotic music. Toddlers are notorious for short attention spans, but apparently this production captured his attention…for two hours!

With quick costume changes (14 in all), every piece tells a story from each province in Iran, or a special dance for an occasion. With doll–like presence, the dancers gave life to old folklore dances and stories. All of the dances flowed evenly together, with a 15-minute intermission in between two acts.

Superbly choreographed by multiple Lester Horton Dance Awards winner Anna Djanbazian, each piece is surely memorable, especially with the gorgeous costumes. The luxurious fabrics and ornate embellishments easily put the costumes into the Vogue magazine stratosphere. We have finally found where Muccia Prada and Jean-Paul Gaultier draw their inspiration every season! My personal favorites were “Friends”, a joyful, tease dance from Tehran, and “Sarveh-Kashmir”, a traditional dance from a southeast province of Iran, called Baluchestan, where they are dancing the rites of passage for a wedding celebration.

As if the feast for the eyes were not enough, the ears also had theirs. The upbeat thumps of the drums coupled with the ancient string instrument, the santoor, and high-pitched violins were recognizable to me growing up in a Persian household. That distinct sound brought back many fond memories. Along the way, there are some brilliant words of wisdom in the form of poetry, called “ Rumi: The Path to Enlightenment”--excellent mediation material.

If you enjoy and appreciate the arts, this performance is not to missed. Not only is this art and divine entertainment, but it also is a wonderful look back at the history of one of the world’s greatest civilizations, rich with culture and originality.

"Welcome To Persia" Author: Roxanna Bina Originally published: Sun, 22 Apr 2007

 
Rumi's passion in half steps

Rumi's passion in half steps
The ancient poet's words are given some ingenious expression at the Freud — not so his homosexual romancephoto_home_2

By Lewis Segal, Times Staff Writer

In our secular society, it's hard to imagine the enduring controversy over the relationship between 13th century Islamic poet and mystic Molana (or Mevlana) Jalaleddin Rumi and the much younger holy man and dervish Shams of Tabrizi.

Some sources say these men were lovers and that Shams was murdered by Rumi's jealous followers; others insist that their relationship was purely spiritual and Shams disappeared on his quest to become what he called "God-intoxicated."

At its premiere Saturday in UCLA's Freud Playhouse, the full-evening dance drama "Rumi: Path to Enlightenment" found choreographer Anna Djanbazian and her locally based company mediating between the historical facts and the rich philosophical lore of Rumi's writings.

Richly costumed and performed with devotion, the result often boasted great ingenuity in making Rumi's words inspire contemporary dancing — but just as frequently fell prey to creative confusion and timidity.

In Act 1, the phenomenal Arsen Serobian as Rumi and the intense Ronaldo W. Bowins as Shams hotly eyed each other. But when it came time to dance their passion, they partnered Kristin D'Andrea, a ballerina cast as a symbolic character named Experience.

This same strategy or subterfuge served Frederick Ashton in "Illuminations," his one-act ballet about the homosexual poet Arthur Rimbaud — but that was in 1950.

In Act 2, Narineh Ghazarians skillfully danced a character identified as "the Soul of Rumi," one of several female surrogates presiding over a plotless suite, based on the man's teachings. Set in motion by sound bites, the divertissement culminated in Aziz Abbatiello's powerful solo depicting the so-called whirling dervish ceremony, a practice that the grief-stricken Rumi inaugurated after Shams' death.

Distinguished musicians added their artistry to the "Meditative Prayer" sequence while Edik Balaian's misty video abstractions periodically established a context for Djanbazian's choreography.

But by refusing to let Rumi and Shams dance together and banishing them from her final ritual of celebration, Djanbazian allied herself with the followers who tried to drive them apart eight centuries ago. Didn't she understand that the quote "Bring the secrets in the midst" (used in Act 2) was a demand for absolute openness? As such, it represents a repudiation of all the evasions that left her glossy dance-spectacle safely PG in content but with no real room for Rumi. e for all ages

 
"Los Angeles honors its own"

"Los Angeles honors its own"

 Victoria Looseleaf , Dance Magazine, September 2005

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Befitting the melting pot that is Los Angeles, the city celebrated an array of multicultural talent at the 14th annual Lester Horton Dance Awards.  Leading the pack was choreographer Anna Djanbazian, whose revival of her 1982 contemporary ballet, Komitas, Kroong Bnaver (Komitas, Banished but not forgotten), premiered by Djanbazian Dance Company last fall, received honors in four categories.

Named after the West Coast modern dance pioneer, the Horton Awards, which are voted on by the membership of the Dance Resource Center of Los Angeles, were presented in April at North Hollywood’s El Portal Theatre.  The three-hour ceremony featured touching speeches, archival film clips, and live performances, including tribute to the late modern dance icon Bella Lewitzky and departed tapper Leonard Reed.

Djanbazian’s evening-length opus about Armenian composer Komitas, who went mad after witnessing the 1915 Armenian genocide, garnered awards for revival, reconstruction, and staging, as well as for long form choreography.  Arsen Serobian and Narineh Gazarians snagged prizes for their performance in Komitas.

Sitting on January, performed at last year’s Celebration of Dance Festival, also netted multiple awards.  Jennifer Backhaus Mclvor  took home the short form choreography prize, with Rhonda Earick copping a costume design award Monique L’Heureux taking it for lighting design.  Jill Sanzo/Ballet of the Foothills won Horton for producing the festival.

Other awards went to Rei Aoo, Erin Dwyer, Carrie Green, and Carin Noland for small ensemble choreography, and Rev. Tom Kurai and Satori Daiko for music.  Nina Kaufman and Bradley Shimada scored for set design.  Stephanie Gilliland’s “hyperdance” troupe, Tongue, captures outstanding performance by a company.

Special category Hortons went to ballet master Stefan Wenta, composer-pianist Michael Roberts, and Los Angeles Times dance critic Lewis Segal, who spoke of the bleak fiscal times faced by both critic and artist.  Postmodern guru Rudy Perez, still active at 75 and over the moon with his lifetime achievement award, credited dance as “the thing that keeps me going,” echoing the mood of the ebullient, sold out audience.

 


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