Remembering Nevarte Hamparian, Passionate Visionary of Armenian Dance

1926-2019

Known as the “matron saint of Armenian folk dance,” Nevarte Hamparian passed away on February 12, 2019. She was born in New York City on August 1, 1926. She was the daughter of Nazar Der Manuelian of Palou and Zarouhi Avakian of Sepastia, who were both born and raised in Western Armenia. From a young age, Nevarte learned many native Armenian dances from her father, and she grew up to become a leading exponent of the Armenian folk dance and a founder of the Nayiri Dance Group of New York.

At the age of four, Nevarte began taking dancing lessons from Madame Seda Suny, and later earned scholarships to study ballet at the Ballet Arts School of New York and Balanchine’s School of American Ballet. Nevarte auditioned with the formidable Muriel Stuart—her instructor at the time—for a scholarship to attend the Balanchine School. Stuart, who herself was a student of Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova, admitted Nevarte and placed her in the advanced division. While Nevarte studied the Italian technique with the renowned ballet master Maestro Vincenzo Celli, she was also receiving a musical education in piano, theory and voice. She was a graduate of the High School of Music and Art in New York City, and in 1943, this school elected her a member of the Music League.

When she was 16 years old, Nevarte made her first professional appearance as a dancer with the Metropolitan Opera Company in the opera “Aida.” Prior to this, she was performing in numerous dance recitals and Armenian functions. One in particular was the Armenian opera “Anoush,” in which she played the title role in the ballet dream sequence. Nevarte was also a member of the Armenian Folk Dance Society of New York, and at one time, served as its director.

In 1946, Nevarte joined the U.S.O. Camp Shows for their production of “Russian Revels.” This exciting group of highly trained artists, some of whom were members of the famed Don Cossacks, presented Russian and Gypsy songs and dances. Nevarte danced and sang with this group for two years, touring with the U.S.O. to United States military hospital bases from coast to coast.

As the co-founder and director of the Nayiri Dance Group, formed in 1963, Nevarte presented dances from the Armenian regions of Erzerum, Erzinga, Palou, Sepastia, Shabin-Karahissar, Van and elsewhere. She also choreographed exciting new dances for the group’s performance for “Armenian Day” at the New York World’s Fair in 1964 and 1965. The Nayiri Dance Group received a commemorative award from Gov. Nelson Rockefeller for its outstanding performance at the New York State Pavilion at The World’s Fair.

In the years that followed, a series of highly acclaimed concerts took place, which presented authentic folk dances entitled “A Dance Trip through Armenia,” which Nevarte conceived expressly for the Nayiri Dance Group. These performances took place at New York’s Carnegie Recital Hall, Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall and elsewhere. The group also performed at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s birthday party in 1964, the Folk Festival of 50 Nations at Convention Hall in Philadelphia in 1966, the New York City Bicentennial Heritage Festival at Rockefeller Center in 1976, and the Pontifical Banquet for Catholicos Khoren I, among many other recitals.

The Nayiri Dance Group, which at its apex, consisted of 30 adults and children, performed well into the mid-1990s for Armenian and American audiences. The group represented three generations of American-born Armenians whose knowledge of their heritage is derived from their forebears who survived the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Throughout these many years, Nevarte’s professional career and her training equipped her well for her role as an instructor, choreographer, dancer, director and mentor. With an impressive background from which to draw, Nevarte did much to carry forward and bring awareness to the historic Armenian dance.

Nevarte was the wife of the late Nishan Hamparian, an art director, former principal of the St. Illuminator’s Armenian Saturday School and a set designer of the Nayiri Dance Group performance at Carnegie Recital Hall. She is survived by her three children: Aram, Anahid and Vartan; cousin Elizabeth Derderian and family; godson Edward Kalajian and family; brother-in-law Garabed Kasbarian; and loving nieces and nephews.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations may be made to St. Illuminator’s Armenian Apostolic Cathedral or any organization that assists the blind or visually impaired.

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Guest contributions to the Armenian Weekly are informative articles written and submitted by members of the community, which make up our community bulletin board.
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