The Lathrup High School stage in Southfield, Mich. will never be the same after the dazzling performance put on by the Hamazkayin “Arax” Dance Ensemble the evening of Sat., Oct. 23, joined by their equally talented counterparts from the Chicago “Sardarabad” Dance group.
Hamazkayin chair Hermine Manoogian gave the introductions to a sold-out audience on this, the fifth year of the “Arax” Ensemble’s existence. Hermine’s leadership in this community has led it to new heights, setting the standard for others to follow.
Lights dimmed. The mood was dramatically set with soulful music playing “Der Voghormya,” while the curtain was drawn revealing a large back drop screen featuring various scenes from Armenia—cathedrals, Mt. Ararat, the symbol of Armenia, Khrimian Hairig, Arshile Gorky’s famed self portrait with his mother, and farmers working the fields.
Female dancers glided from each side to center stage, arms gracefully extended toward heaven, each hand bearing a flickering light representing the illumination of Christianity, declaring Armenia the first nation to adopt Christianity as the state religion.
With the evening’s theme “We Are…We Shall Be…And Will Become Many,” these third-generation Armenians danced their hearts out, executing perfectly each number they threw at the audience—which, in turn, frequently cheered and clapped along, ignoring the chills they felt and the tears that ran down their cheeks. They were enamored of the energetic youth who represented every aspect of the area’s Armenian community
Nayiri Karapetian, the director and dance instructor, and former Chicago native, was a member of the “Sardarabads” before marrying area resident Greg Karapetian, a well-known AYF Olympics gold medal swimmer. Thereafter, the new Mrs. Karapetian became a member of the Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Society of Detroit.
Nayiri, an intensive care unit nurse at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich., approached Hermine with the idea of forming a dance group—and “Arax” was born. The fledgling novices have since grown to a troupe of over 40 talented individuals.
Joining the performers with zeal in the traditional male dance “Gindo” was guest instructor Eduard Khachatryan from Yerevan, his high energy surpassing males half his age. “Gindo” is the name given to an unskilled laborer who would enjoy playing around and competing with others. Khachatryan did just that with his rapid leg quick steps while emitting “Hoo! Hahs!”
Nayiri says, “I told the dancers the goal is to make every Armenian there proud that they are Armenian and make every non-Armenian leave impressed and wishing they were Armenian too.” Thundering applause proved that was accomplished.
“These kids are very special. Many travel a great distance to be at practice. Preserving Armenian culture takes a lot of hard work and dedication on their part,” Nayiri emphasizes. “It’s not always fun when I have them repeat steps 100 times to get it right, and over 100 hours of practice in a year! As Armenians, I believe that we have an obligation to our ancestors to preserve our heritage, and my dancers truly do their part to fulfill it.”
The dances were varied, some featuring only females while others male, sometimes solos for each, and of course the combination of the two. The program was varied and well planned, the end result being a high level of professionalism. In the final analysis, the most severe of critics would have come to a satisfactory conclusion.
Chicago’s “Sardarabad” performed a 12-minute compilation tribute to Gomidas Vartabed, choreographed by instructors Sona Birazian and Houri Papazian. It was an evening of tribute to many noted individuals making their place in Armenian history.
Tamar Avakian recited Silva Gaboudikian’s “A Message to My Child.” Bayur Sevag’s “We are few, but we are called Armenians” was read. And a tribute to troubador Sayat Nova’s “There’s No One Like You” was done by soloist Narine Shirvanian.
A great deal of thought and design went into making the costumes, which in themselves were dazzling and always modest for the graceful girls, and no less original to the time in history for the men with satin overtops, sashes, and black boots. Their daring pyramids came off perfectly.
Recognition awards were presented to Hourig Aprahamian, the regional executive member of Hamazkayin, and to Hermine Manoogian and Nayiri Karapetian.
The success of this event proved that Armenian culture and tradition will not be threatened into extinction with the passing of time. “Arax” is certainly doing their part. It will grow stronger, and each of these participants should carry themselves with dignity knowing they gave the very appreciative audience a memorable evening and helped to preserve Armenian cultural history. They have truly made a name for themselves.
An event of this stature takes a lot of cooperation and the following were instrumental: Costume designer/coordinator: Ani Kasparian; lighting design: Sona Birazian; music and sound technicians: Dikran Callan and Shant Kasparian; graphic design: Dikran Callan, Michael Kalfayan, Shant Kasparian, Vazken Hartounian, and Sahak Zakarian; set design and construction: Haig, Murat, and Shant Kaspaprian; choreogrpahy: Nayiri Karapetian, Shant Kasparian, and Manoug Habibian.
The Detroit Hamazkayin does many cultural presentations throughout the year. They want to express their special thanks to those who have given overwhelming support to the Arax Dance Group. A large number of individuals have offered their talented seamstress skills and volunteered time, provided financial assistance, and given continual support.