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Antranig Dance Ensemble Takes New York

It was a night for Armenians to feel great about being Armenian. With every seat filled in Alice Tully Hall at New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the AGBU Antranig Dance Ensemble
presented a true cultural tour de force with their latest stage creation, "Journey Through Dance."

The air was electric with anticipation before the show, both in the theater and lobby, as well as among the dancers and aides backstage. The Antranig Ensemble had presented so many memorable performances on this stage in the past thirty-five years that long- time devotees knew they were in for something special. And even the newer followers of the dance group and a sizeable non-Armenian audience had heard enough to expect a big event.

They all got what they wanted. From the opening number, "Hayastan," with the full ensemble filling the stage with bright costumes and flowing choreography, plus the excitement of sword dueling among the men, the Antranig Dance Ensemble had a thousand people in the palm of its hand. Applause shook the hall, comments of amazement passed from one spectator to another, and so it
continued through more than two dozen dance creations.

The exceptional variety of dance presented in the program was especially striking. Ethnographic dances from historic regions of Armenia have always been a staple of the Antranig repertoire, but
where did they ever find such a unique dance as that from the "Hamshen" area? Traditional Armenian dances have become routine, but who could have guessed that a simple "Tamzara" could look like this?

Specialty dances showcase the skills of some of the better dancers of the ensemble, but was that really an investment banker, a cancer researcher and a high school student in "Garnanayeen?" Many dance shows might include one or two joke or skit dances, but who would have expected four in this program, with audience reaction confirming that the jokes and skits really were funny?

And no review of "Journey Through Dance" could be complete without mention of the "Der Vorghormya/Avarayr" finale. Creating movement and displaying meaning to a song of prayer is hard enough, but bringing half the audience to tears showed the message was both delivered and received. After being enraptured for over two hours this audience was still strongly moved and motivated by a dance that told more about the Armenian people than a history text ever could.

Perhaps it was this exceptional range of dancing that made this such a remarkable show. The music produced in Armenia specifically for this program, the outstanding but not overdone costumes also designed and produced in Armenia, the subtle but effective lighting treatments and absence of stage props, all allowed the audience to focus on the artform that had been created.

The different types of dance and the exceptional choreography allowed for constant motion without distraction. It was a dance program that featured dance, advanced enough to impress the
discerning eye, simple enough to entertain a novice.

And how about those children? Over sixty young ones from the Hye Bar Dance Group of the Armenian Church of the Holy Martyrs, under the direction of Rita Kizakian, and the Hamazkayin Society of New Jersey brought their own dance surprises to stage as they showed the fruits of many weeks of their own hard work in "Lorgeh" and "Azgagragan."

The Antranig Dance Ensemble is a combination of young Armenian men and women who have been members from less than one year to over twenty years. The time and dedication that goes into the making of such a dance production is given freely because it's something the members have chosen to do. The skills and energy that are presented on stage are the results of nearly two years of preparation.

Although many hands went into the making of "Journey Through Dance," it was the unequaled creativity and tireless training provided by Gagik Karapetian, Antranig's choreographer from
Yerevan, Armenia, and Joyce Tamesian-Shenloogian, the Ensemble's long-time dedicated Artistic Director, that made the show what it is. Their teamwork is unmatched in the world of Armenian dance, with bigger and better productions each time the Ensemble takes the stage.

For those who couldn't get tickets to Antranig's Lincoln Center performance and for those out of the New York area, there is more good news. Plans are currently in progress for encore presentations of "Journey Through Dance" as early as the Fall of 2004 in New York as well as in other Armenian communities, with details to be announced shortly. This is one show you don't want to hear about...you want to see it for yourself.

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