Sayat Nova Dance Company
A birthday for the ages
Sayat Nova Dance Company celebrates their 20th Anniversary
It was 20 years ago this month that Apo Ashjian, the founder and director of the Sayat Nova Dance Company of Boston, officially established the dance troupe as a fixture in the Watertown Armenian community. In the absence of fanfare or organizational guidance, the first meeting of this dance group took place in Belmont, MA at the home of Eliz Voskanian, one of the original cast members. This meeting established an organization that over the next 20 years would change many lives and create a community based group that continues to be one of the most successful, prosperous, and well respected cultural organizations throughout Armenian and non-Armenian communities worldwide. The story of the Sayat Nova Dance Company is one of determination and perseverance, but mostly a story of dedicated individuals who felt that through the art of dance they could promote Armenian history and culture. The group was established in 1985, but the seed was planted in the founding members over many years and through various ways. The Sayat Nova Dance Company is truly an organization born in a community whose love of their culture is unquestioned and whose dedication to Armenia is unparalleled in similar ethnic communities worldwide.
"I wanted to form Sayat Nova because of my love for Armenian dance and I knew that this community could benefit from a dance company like what I envisioned for Sayat Nova," claims Apo Ashjian, "I was tired of political problems within organizations interfering with the arts and knew that we could serve the public best by being an independent group with the ability to be original and creative."
The dance company has remained an independent group despite the proud fact that each of its members is from varying backgrounds, both social and political. The members of the company range in age from 17 - 50 years and on any given Sunday the cast is a venerable who's who in the Armenian community. From auto mechanics to accountants to different political affiliations, all is left at the door and when the music is played and the group lines up to perform they are one group with one simple mission - "to preserve and promote the Armenian Culture through the art of dance."
"Our mission is simple. On paper it sounds great and makes a lot of sense, but until you experience the group and the passion that we bring to each and every event we are involved in, you can't get a flavor of what we as a group are able to accomplish. They say action speaks louder than words and that rings so true for our dancers," claims Shaghig Palanjian, an assistant director, who along with Ashjian was an original member of the Sayat Nova Dance Company. Palanjian is one of two assistant directors (the other is his brother Hagop Ashjian) that Apo Ashjian relies on to run rehearsals and to teach the newcomers. "The Sayat Nova Dance Company counts itself as one of the luckiest groups in the world because of who has walked through our doors, and we know that those individuals feel the same way about their experiences. That is truly the beauty of what we have been able to accomplish."
The very first show performed by the Sayat Nova Dance Company was July 4, 1986 at the esplanade during the 4th of July celebrations presided over by the City of Boston. That performance was followed by two sold out performances at the Belmont High School and the Waltham High School that established the group as a community favorite. The curious community came out in full force to see what the group was all about and left each performance amazed at what Sayat Nova was able to bring to the stage in such a short amount of time. In addition to these performances, their first donation ($1,000 from prominent community member Nishan Atinizian) and a number of self-sponsored fundraisers, the Sayat Nova Dance Company was able to gather and cultivate a group of dedicated family members who together raised more capital and became very involved in the day-to-day operations of the group. In the beginning, the mothers of member's sewed costumes, the fathers of members built props, and each family championed Sayat Nova to their friends and relatives. Sayat Nova is a family oriented organization more than one that is based on rules, structure and strict regulations. Individually, every member understands their role and knows what is necessary to make the group successful. This formula has proven successful.
Joshua Tevekelian, General Manager of the group says, "The Sayat Nova Dance Company by far is one of the most important groups in our community. It is one of the few organizations that bring together over 60 Armenians three times a week to teach and involve them in something as important as cultural preservation. By coming to rehearsal, each of us is making a statement that says that we are not only proud of our rich culture and heritage, but we are willing to invest the time and effort it takes to make others feel the same pride we do in our nation and her people. Above all else it is an integral part of keeping Armenians in the Diaspora connected to our homeland. I think it's one of the greatest things we can do as Armenians not living in Hayastan."
A couple of years ago, the Sayat Nova Dance Company moved their weekly rehearsals to the Armenian Cultural and Education Center (A.C.E.C.) located in Watertown, MA. As a community center that strives to bring all kinds of people together, the union is one that makes sense. Although there is no affiliation between the two groups, the goals are the same and each is served well by the mutual cooperation. On November 26, 2005, the dance company will be hosting an alumni reunion at the A.C.E.C. and is expecting well over 200 people to be in attendance. The collection of individuals will come from all over the United States and have different memories to share and experiences to laugh at, but most importantly they will come together as Armenians who have shared in the Sayat Nova Dance Company experience and all that the group has embodied over the last twenty years.
"Today, I am so proud of what we and the whole community together have created. The dedication, spirit, and determination of our membership and alumni is unmatched by any other. We must be doing something right," reiterates Ashjian.
This year will mark two decades of what each member of the group would describe as community involvement that is both satisfying and important. The commitment displayed by every member of the group is service to the Armenian community and the rich culture and history that embodies the land called Armenia. The Sayat Nova Dance Company of Boston remains a group of volunteer community members who come together three times a week to dance, socialize, and most importantly carry on the legacy that began in October of 1985. The importance of this group and the message that each member promotes is refreshing in light of the trials and tribulations that society is faced with in the 21st century. Cultural awareness and the act of embracing ethnic identity, considered taboo for a people of Middle Eastern heritage in a country whose melting pot image has been challenged since the events of 9/11, is alive and well in Watertown, MA and within the confines of the Sayat Nova Dance Company of Boston. This proud collection of Armenians is looking forward to the challenges that they will face in the future. The future is bright for this dance troupe. The contributions they have made in their community are to be applauded and exemplified to successive generations.
Sayat Nova Dance Company of Boston
P.O. Box C
Newton, MA 02456
Contact: Joshua Tevekelian, General Manager
E-mail: information @ sayatnova.com
- Web: http://www.sayatnova.com - official site